Filed in Articles & Interviews

An American Girl: Keri Russell

A FEW QUICK THINGS ABOUT KERI RUSSELL: she arrived perfectly on time for this profile’s photo shoot; her face was makeup-free, hair slightly damp, smile wide and open; she wore cut-off jean shorts and well-worn Toms; she was unfailingly polite and relatively quiet until her kids arrived on set, at which point she got down on the floor in full-on, silly mom-mode; she says Colorado with the flat “A” of someone who has lived in Colorado; her only specific request for the daytime shoot was beer; she eats anything and everything; she loves—LOVES—her bike; she has been listening to a lot of Tom Petty lately; like, a lot of Tom Petty. And so it probably wouldn’t be out of line to guess that she’s also crazy about Elvis, loves horses, and her boyfriend, too. All of which is to say: Keri Russell is normal. Well, but first, some thoughts on “normal,” at least as it pertains to celebrities. Probably the most tedious part of reading—or, for that matter, writing—celebrity profiles is when the journalist goes out of the way to make the celebrity seem “normal.” After all, isn’t the whole point of an actress being profiled that she isn’t normal? And yet, journalistic back-flips are performed in order to make a woman who is extraordinarily beautiful and charming and talented and wealthy seem completely relatable. Frequently this is done with the all-too-familiar celebrity profile trope of the eating scene, during which the subject over-enthusiastically orders a huge cheeseburger and french fries, only to eat nothing save a solitary fry. What makes these moments so cringe-inducing is how performative they are and how they wind up doing the exact opposite of what they’re intended to do; instead of making the celebrity relatable, they only serve to delineate the difference between her life and ours. After all, we might not be wealthy or famous, but at least we can eat a fucking cheeseburger.

So when I heard that Keri Russell “eats anything” and that the only request for the daytime photo shoot was that “it would be good to have a couple bottles of yummy IPA beer,” well, I was skeptical. Was this just going to be some sort of weird dance where I would have to pretend that she was totally regular and just like everyone else and, like, Hey! You know that actress who basically melted the celebrity gossip world because of a haircut fifteen years ago? She’s just like you and me!

I just didn’t know if I could do it. I don’t want to read, let alone write, about anyone like me. Or even like you. Give me abnormal! Give me “she only eats green beans and jelly beans.” And, besides, surely Russell, whose petite frame is familiar to anyone who has seen her in various modes of undress as KGB spy Elizabeth Jennings on The Americans and who had been described to me, for the stylist’s purposes, as being “small, like, very small,” wouldn’t be guzzling beer in the middle of the day and downing the huge, sandwich from the nearby deli that I planned on ordering for lunch. I mean, these days, isn’t everyone who can be described as “small, like, very small” gluten-free? Or was it maybe possible that Russell would be that mythical creature, that celebrity who was, you know, “just like us”?

Well, ha. As it turns out, yes! From the moment Russell walked into Red Hook’s nineteenth-century factory-cum-art gallery Pioneer Works, with her shower-damp hair and jean shorts, it became apparent that she is, in kind of every way, as normal as they come. Over the course of the long afternoon, Russell knocked back a few bottles of beer, ate a huge tuna sandwich (she’d asked for brisket, but they were out, and she is not one to complain about food), and sat on the floor in order to be at eye-level with her kids (River, 7; Willa, 2), with whom she laughed and joked and goofed around—she clearly delighted in their presence, in the same genuine and goofy way that most mothers do. And then when we started talking about the things you talk about with other people who live in Brooklyn, things got… even more normal? Here’s what Keri had to say about life in Brooklyn, and just life in general:

Keri on why she moved to Brooklyn: “I think what happened is what happened with a lot of people: I got pregnant. And we were like ‘We can’t afford anything! Where are we going to live?’ So we got an affordable house that wasn’t really so affordable and my kids’ father, who is a carpenter, renovated it.”

Keri on what she likes about Brooklyn: “I love the neighborhood aspect of Brooklyn. I love the sky. And none of my friends live in the city anymore; they’re all in Brooklyn, too. It feels very creative and very do-it-yourself. It’s a fun place to live right now. Also, I spend a lot of time alone, and it’s a good place to be a loner. Even if you don’t talk to people for three days straight, you still feel the energy. You can be a loner but not alone.”

Keri on being a Brooklyn parent: “It’s such a great place to have little kids. To be up at 5 in the morning and wandering around and see other people wandering too and feel like there are other people like you: weird people up at weird hours.”

Keri on what she likes about other Brooklyn parents: “I’m just interested in the people I live around. And my close girlfriends who are school friends, some are artists, some are public school teachers, some are photographers. There is such a mix.”

Keri on what she doesn’t like about other Brooklyn parents: “My kids are old now, and so I don’t read parenting books or anything. I’m like, ‘Parenting books? I don’t want to talk about parenting books! I want to talk about cool sex books.’”

Keri on biking in Brooklyn: “I love my bike! I’m not going to hide it. I LOVE IT SO MUCH! I need to start wearing my helmet, though. I heard a little girl say the other day, ‘Daddy, why isn’t that mommy wearing her helmet?’”

Keri on music, not just in Brooklyn, but in general: “I’m in dire need of music. I’m out of touch! I’ve been listening to old stuff. Good stuff, but old stuff, like Neil Young. And I’m really, really into Tom Petty these days. Listening to a lot of Tom Petty.”

TOM PETTY! COOL SEX BOOKS! LOVING HER BIKE! It kind of doesn’t get any more normal than that, does it? It really doesn’t. Keri Russell is the ur-Brooklynite. She’s so normal that it’s almost like she’s an alien (or, um, an undercover KGB agent?) who read some manual about what it is to be a Brooklyn mom in 2014 and absorbed it so fully as to be almost beyond suspicion. Well, probably not that. It’s possible I’m just watching too many spy-based TV shows. The truth is that Russell is a woman who has been famous (in varying degrees but still) for two decades. If anyone would know how to blend in as normal, even while being anything but, it’s Russell. And yet, she is normal, emphatically so. Which, in a time when everyone is trying to prove how exceptional they are, how un-basic, is a relief; it’s special. If this is the new normal, I’ll take it.