In her breakout role, Keri Russell was the living, breathing, over-thinking embodiment of that generation’s ideal collegiate experience. NYU was their castle, and Felicity was the queen dream. But nightmares are the name of the game these days as Russell’s newest roles, on FX’s The Americans and in The Weinstein Company’s alien-invasion chiller Dark Skies, are tailor-made to keep America up at night.
Whether your safety concerns are for the planet or simply your country, the themes explored in both projects are universally haunting. ETonline recently sat down with Russell to talk about Dark Skies and The Americans, where I learned she was attracted to both larger-than-life roles because of their more intimate elements.
ETonline: You haven’t done many genre films; was it a lack of interest or a lack of good scripts?
Keri Russell: I just hadn’t read one that I though it would be good in. I read Dark Skies and instantly knew it was going to work because we spend so much time with the family before anything starts to happen. They’re humanized before they’re terrorized, so you’re invested in their survival — like Poltergeist. I believe the family, I believe that kind of scary.
ETonline: Are you a fan of scary movies?
Russell: I’m kind of a scaredy cat — I don’t watch a ton of them. I mean, I started reaching this script at night and had to wait until the next morning to finish it so it would be light out. It really scared me. The scary movies I like are The Others and Pan’s Labyrinth — they’re so scary but they’re about real things, and hopefully this is too.
ETonline: A lot of unexplainable things happen to your character — it starts with an open door and escalates rapidly from there. At what point would you, Keri Russell, leave a potentially haunted house?
Russell: Oh, when I discovered the door being open. Are you kidding me? Like, what the f*ck? Something really f*cked up is happening and I’m out.
ETonline: The film opens with this great quote that says we’re either alone in the universe or we’re not and either possibility is equally terrifying. Which side of the debate are you on?
Russell: I’m open to every possibility. To close yourself off is crazy. I have no idea if there’s alien life out there, so why would I close myself off to anything?
ETonline: You’re also starring on FX’s The Americans — a show I already love. What appealed to you about playing an undercover Soviet spy in 1984?
Russell: I just thought the world was so interesting. I like that it’s couched in this spy-world in 1984, but to me the strength and the heart of it is the complicated marriage. We’re on episode six and it’s still that crazy complicated, very deceitful, unexpectedly sweet marriage that I think is what keeps the show going.
ETonline: I love the inequality in their marriage as well — he loves her more, she loves the job more.
Russell: Totally. I love that too. I also love that he’s the one that’s more invested in the marriage — usually we see it the other way in pop culture. I like that she’s the hardliner. All of those inequalities just feed the friction and the distrust between them. It gives the story somewhere to go. Plus, you root for both of them because you see both sides. It’s a good hot mess.
ETonline: And the amazing Margo Martindale joins the cast tonight at The Jennings’ case handler, right?
Russell: Yes! Oh my God! She’s so good. Our characters tangle, big time.
ETonline: Because the show is steeped in real life events, there’s the chance for The Jennings to actually play a role in historical events. Does re-writing history to some degree excite you?
Russell: Yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest things our show has going for it. Obviously there are so many dynamic facets — the marriage is obviously my go-to, but there are so many different storms happening within the show, that I think so many things can keep it afloat for a long time.
ETonline: And working in cable, on a 13 episode series, frees you up to do films as well. Like, say, the new Star Wars. When you hear that J.J. Abrams lands that gig, do you drop him an email saying, “By the way, I look amazing holding a lightsaber?”
Russell: Oh, absolutely! Or, as Chewbacca. Whatever he’s willing to put me in, I’m down. I’ll work on my Chewbacca sounds.
Dark Skies opens February 22 and The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.