“I would’ve played Yoda’s sister, but what I got to do was so much better,” Russell says. The role of Baby Yoda was also probably taken by then, but she promises, “My costume is slightly cooler than that.”
Russell’s not kidding: Her shady character Zorii Bliss, who makes her galactic debut in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (in theaters Dec. 20), is an enigmatic woman who gives off lots of Boba Fett vibes with her gold aerodynamic helmet and twin blasters. She’s only been glimpsed in the trailers so far and fans don’t even know what she sounds like underneath her awesome headgear.
The former star of “The Americans” allows that Zorii is a “tough” personality, the kind of person who hangs out in places like the Thieves’ Quarter on the snowbound planet of Kijimi. “If I was in trouble, she might be someone I’d ask for help. She seems to know her way around dark corners. And when someone is more elusive, you can project what you want or need onto them.”
She also shares a past connection with one of the latest “Star Wars” trilogy’s main heroes, Resistance pilot/leader Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Zorii is “a real window” into an “unresolved past that was left behind” and the fact that he wasn’t always a “squeaky-clean military flyboy,” Isaac says. The dynamic between them has “a little bit of a throwback ‘His Girl Friday’ kind of vibe.”
Isaac acknowledges there’s “a lot of mystery” acting opposite somebody in a helmet, and Russell reveals that she refused to remove it for the first two days of filming.
Between scenes, “J.J. kept just trying to hang out and talk to me and he’s like, ‘Seriously, are you not going to take that off?’ ” Russell recalls. “And I’m like, ‘No, I love it.’ He’s like, ‘But I can’t see your eyes and it’s freaking me out.’ And I was like, ‘Deal with it. It’s my power right now.’
“It’s such a power move that you get to see everyone and no one can see you. It’s kind of amazing.”
At the very least, people can’t give her a hard time about her hairdo, a la TV’s “Felicity” (1998 to 2002) – her first collaboration with Abrams. “Thank goodness!” Russell says. “There may be hair underneath. Who knows?”
Overall, the outfit was “empowering,” she says, though the helmet “wasn’t light. But I was so in it. When you step on a ‘Star Wars’ set, you’re not imagining something. The world is there. They created it. Some crazy snowy planet with hundreds of Stormtroopers and creatures, there’s so much art involved. That’s why I wanted to wear the helmet, because I wanted to show up and do my part.”
Russell considers an appearance in the finale of the 42-year-old Skywalker saga “this uncanny stroke of luck that I get to just swoop in and, like icing on the cake, indulge in the last little moments of it.” Rewatching some of the older films to prepare for “Rise of Skywalker” reminded her of how much she loved Han Solo’s sense of humor as well as “the whole Joseph Campbell true-hero journey of it and how we’re all struggling with the light and dark side of ourselves. I really buy into all of that. And I think people like a life metaphor to look at and to read into what they want.”
Abrams was the perfect filmmaker to end it all because “he’s a true fan of these movies. He only wants to respect and enjoy them, instead of twisting it and turning it to be something different that’s only his.”
Russell says she feels “the weight” of this finale through him and was emotional reading Abrams’ ending: “I don’t want to say too many things. I cried. It’s a theme that I really respond to and I thought he did a great job.”