Though she’s mostly well known for Felicity and the critical darling The Americans, Keri Russell has a long list of credits that stretches back to the Mickey Mouse Club. When she was 17, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera were just coming on the show as cast members. That Disney show was her first big break before the series that has cemented her status in the pop culture firmament, and arguably shaped her career. Russell played Felicity Porter, an idealistic high school student as she’s making her way to college. When she cut her hair, it caused a national uproar. But Russell says she’s got no regrets. “I did not expect all the hysteria,” she says. “I feel like it was so the right move and I’m really glad they did it.” Russell won her first Golden Globe for the show—which was created by Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams, who would later cast the actress in Mission Impossible III—and was nominated earlier this year for her acclaimed spy series The Americans, which is coming to a close next year, a conclusion she’s slowly coming to terms with.”It will have been six years and I just feel like they have a really good ending,” she says.
What was the first thing you auditioned for?
The first thing I auditioned for, which probably is the highlight of my career, was the Mickey Mouse Club. I was a dancer and all my dancer friends in Denver, in Colorado, were going to this big open call with all these teenagers that Disney was doing. And we went and waited in line for probably hours for this Disney casting agent, Matt Casella and you finally get in and he’s like, “Okay do a little dance for me and then sing a song.” I was like, “No I don’t want to do sing a song.” And he was like, “What?” [Laughter] I said, “No, I, I don’t want to sing a song.” And he said, “Little girl, did you see the line of kids waiting outside this conference center to sing a song for me?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “I think you should sing a song.” And I said, “I don’t sing.” And he called me back anyway. I think he had me sing Happy Birthday or something. And so that’s what I did.
And you never sang. Were you excited about this or did you feel slightly embarrassed or was this like a big dream come true?
It was kind of the best first job because I think for a lot of kids who are in this weird business I just think it’s so creepy to be adultified, you’re one of two kids on a set and there’s all these adults. But that job there were 19 of us teenagers and it was just so fun, because the adults were invisible to us. And when I was 17 all the little kids were Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling, [and now] they’re all like hugely famous. But my best, most dearest girlfriends are all still my best friends.
And then after that, did you move to L.A.?
Yes, so I moved to L.A. at 17 to work the streets [laughs] and then I lived there for about ten years and then I did Felicity there and then moved to New York.
Felicity which was a very big deal you. What was the casting of that like because that was a huge thing when you got that part.
Sort of the same thing. Like a giant room full of tons of people and I just thought it was so funny, it really made me laugh. And I remember being in the waiting room with all these girls and we were all so young and they’re going, “Oh this part is so sad and she’s so…” I was like, “I think it’s hilarious.” I was like, “Am I doing it wrong?” But you know J. J. [Abrams] and Matt [Reeves], who created that show, are still good friends and they’re so great. And the whole experience was really good.
All right, so I feel I have to ask you because everyone asks. We have to talk about the hair thing. So you cut your hair or the director cut your hair?
I did. I was 21 or something like that [smacks lips] and J.J. called me over the summer. We had shot the first season of Felicity and then he said, “You know we’re coming with the storylines for next year and we have this idea that the boyfriend breaks up with you and then like college girl’s go, you would go and cut your hair because of this big breakup. Would you be willing to do that?” I said, “Yeah of course.” And so we did it and then there was like this crazy backlash. Yes, so my hair was curly and it was an awkward haircut, but even that I didn’t care, like I loved it. I thought it was so true and great. I did not expect all the hysteria. Strangers did come up to me on the street and say things like, “You were so pretty before you cut your hair.” [Laughs] I was like, “Hmm, thank, thank you.” [Laughs] Thank you for that. Or like people would come and go, “I like your hair!” [Laughs] And you’re like, “Thank you.” It just kind of grew out and was bad. I looked like a Chia Pet for a good few years. And then it was fine, but I have nice shoulders. And you know what, I feel like it was so the right move and I’m really glad they did it. What’s fascinating about our culture is we like women with long hair. But by the way I love women with short hair. Like their necks, it’s such a sensual part of their body. But Americans like women with long hair.
You learned this the hard way.
I learned this the hard way.
How did The Americans come about?
The Americans came about after I had just had a baby and I got a call and they’re like, “Can you go to a coffee shop and meet…” I was like, “I literally just gave birth like I can’t go to a coffee shop and meet someone [laughs] about being a Russian spy, okay?” Like I’m lactating, But I did it. So I went to a local coffee shop and [creator] Joe Weisberg started talking about being obsessed with joining the CIA. And what his vetting process was. And I was like, “Tell me everything.” “What did they ask you?” “What did you do?” “Have you done drugs?” “Did you admit it?” “How many times have you done drugs?” “What was…” I was so fascinated by the whole thing and so I was like, “Okay I’ll do it.”
Do you think you’d make a good spy?
I’m a terrible liar. But I do think people take for granted that I’m nice for some reason. And maybe deep down I’m not really nice. So I think I would get away with things in a way.
So next season is the last season. Are you sad that it’s ending?
It’s perfect because it will have been six years and I just feel like they have a really good ending. They’ve kind of hinted at what’s ahead and it’s really fitting to what it should be and it’s just such a good experience for a girl in this business that’s a good part.
Oh it’s a great part. So, who was your cinematic crush when you were growing up?
When I was a teenager I was making a movie right around the same time as Mickey Mouse Club under Disney called Honey I Blew Up the Kid. The guy who was directing it had also directed White Fang and I was 15, 16 and Ethan Hawke was in that movie and for some reason he was on these posters of a teenage movie with a girl with very curly hair, like, in a convertible. I’m sure it was some bad teenage movie and I thought he was really handsome. And the crew guys on those old Disney soundstages used to play jokes on me. Before there was cell phones everywhere there was a set phone on the wall and they’d go, “Um, there’s a phone call, there’s a phone call for Keri.” And I’d go, “There’s a phone call for me?” And they’d go “Yeah, yeah, yeah there’s a phone. It’s Ethan Hawke.” And I’d go, “Oh what, there’s a phone…” Ethan wasn’t calling me. First of all, he was probably like 25 and I was 14 and just out of braces.