There are times for Keri Russell when that famous line from “Planet of the Apes” runs through her mind: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape.”
Especially while fighting large furry creatures in the forests of Vancouver, where “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was shot. “All of the action scenes were fun because I grew up as a dancer, so I’m very physical,” Russell says. “There’s still something about fighting apes where you want to say, ‘OK, paws off!’ It’s a primal reaction.”
In “Dawn” (opening Friday), the star of FX’s “The Americans” plays Ellie, the wife of Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and a survivor of the ALZ-113 virus. It’s a decade past the events in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) and the apes of Earth believe the humans have been wiped out and the few humans who remain believe the apes no longer exist. When they encounter each other again, it’s species vs. species.
“It doesn’t exactly bode well for the humans,” hints Russell with a laugh.
Q. What was the biggest hardship filming “Dawn” in the woods?
a. It was great, except there was no cell service. You’d be walking around the woods during breaks and then someone would yell out, “Oh my God, I got cell service! I found a bar!” Between takes, if anyone on this set found any cell service in those trees, the entire cast started scrambling and yelling, “Where, where, where?”
Q. What was the draw of doing this movie?
a. Director Matt Reeves was key. We worked together on “Felicity.” I knew that he had sensitive taste and that he would create intimacy between the characters. I knew wanted to make this an intricate, character-driven piece and show the sensibility of both humans and apes. I also thought that this could be a fun, summer action film and an epic, 3-D summer movie.
Q. Were you surprised when you got the call?
a. I said, “Really? Me? In ‘Planet of the Apes?’ ” I never even saw the original movies as a kid. I had a sense of them. I saw photos of them. So, I had a bit of catching up to do.
Q. How do you describe the new “Apes” film?
a. It’s a survival story. You think that this virus has perhaps wiped out all humans and all that is left is apes. She was helping fight the virus for the humans. She’s incredibly resourceful, but damaged and living in a makeshift family. She’s just trying to rebuild and live. Most of all, she doesn’t want to lose the few people left that she loves. She doesn’t want to let them out of her sight.
Q. How did you prepare for the role?
a. I read about female war journalists who lost so many people they loved due to the war. The woman I play in this new film has also lost a lot of loved ones. Now, she’s just trying to keep alive, but she’s deeply wounded.
Q. “The Americans” is such a huge hit. What do you think is the appeal of playing this KGB spy?
a. It’s been such a great experience. Roles like this aren’t available on film, so I’m so thankful for this exciting job. I love the challenge of playing this woman who becomes so many characters within one show. Thank God, we have the best hair and makeup people because they do a lot of the work.
Q. Don’t you live in Brooklyn right by the set?
a. Yes, I can bike home for lunch, put my baby down for a nap, and go back to spy work. It’s perfect.