Filed in Articles & Interviews

Keri Russell Talks Austenland, Those Empire-Waist Dresses, and Fave Felicity Moments With Us

Idon’t think I’ve ever filled you ladies in on just how much I love Jane Austen—though I did share 5 little-known facts about her—but suffice it to say that if I had the funds to take an Austen-themed vacation to England I would already have gone, come home, and be planning my second, third, fourth trip back. So, yes, Keri Russell’s latest film, Austenland—a movie about a Darcy-obsessed woman who takes a vacation to England and experiences her own Elizabeth Bennet moment—definitely appealed to me. Even better, I got to chat with Keri about being a Janeite, her Felicity roots, and more. Listen in!

I thought the movie was so cute! What attracted you to the role?
Keri Russell: Oh, good! It’s cute, right? I thought it was fun, and I thought it was different from things I’ve done before. Really, [Director] Jerusha Hess is what intrigued me. I was definitely familiar with her work, and I thought her version—her specific, quirky, weird version of the story—would be fun. And I wanted to support her in her first directorial debut.

How much Jane Austen research did you do to prepare?
KR: Not as much as you’d think. I mean, a little bit, but I wasn’t crazy about it because, to me, the point was what’s funny about someone who’s so obsessed about these things. Also, more the idea of fantasy and reality—and how you can get stuck in your life emotionally and have to rely on a fantasy to get you through, and then realize that you’re relying too heavily on this fantasy.

What do you think it is about Jane Austen that still resonates so much with women today?
KR: It’s insane! It’s really crazy. Someone just showed me something—have you ever heard of Jane Austen Fight Club?

No! What’s that?
KR: I was like, what are you talking about?! She showed me this clip, and it’s literally these girls have cut together this spoof trailer—they’re fully in the garb, and they’re talking in that language—and then she’s like, “Hit me!” They start fighting and sparring each other!

So, the first rule about Jane Austen Fight Club is not to talk about it?
KR: They say that! It’s hilarious. They’re in their bonnets, and it’s hilarious. Then they’re showing up to like, needlepoint with bruises.

Did you have any Jane Austen fans show up to the set?
KR: No. I think in England, there’s a costume drama being shot on every corner, so they’re like, “Oh, they’re making another costume drama, nothing fancy…”

How were the costumes? What was it like?
KR: Beautiful. Fun. Although we were making this silly, funny, poppy movie, secretly you get in to those clothes, and you think you’re sort of in Atonement. You’re corset-ed up, and you’re wearing those little lace-up boots and petticoats, and your hair is crazy.

How long does it take to get dressed in the full costume?
KR: So. F–king. Long. No wonder people had maids and servants. You can’t do it alone. You can’t. You can’t lace everything up, and you have to tighten up corsets, and then tighten it again…it’s a long process. A lot longer than this lady likes to take.

What was your favorite part of filming a period-style piece?
KR: I think just being in those clothes, in that setting. Walking up these big grassy hills in the English countryside. You feel like you’re in one of those movies with the big, draping dresses behind you, following you in the grass. It’s beautiful. I’m not saying for every day, but there’s something about the respect of it—like showing up to dinner, and it’s so beautifully prepared and laid out. There’s something to the formality of it that we just don’t have anymore. I think in Europe there’s a little bit more of that culture, if you dress for dinner, but certainly not in the states. I mean, you can wear flip flops pretty much anywhere. There is something to the preparation of presenting yourself, and there’s a romance to it. I like that.

Did you have anyone on set to talk about rules and etiquette?
KR: We did. We took an eight-hours-too-long etiquette course, and I never have to hear about silverware to save my life again. I was pregnant at the time of shooting, so I definitely remember about, you know, only a third of it. I thought, “I’m going to go to the bathroom and eat candy bars because I’m going to die of boredom.”

Because you were pregnant, did they change the costume? What about the corsets?
KR: They made these special ones for me. I assume they would have something similar back in the day, but for me they made these ones with spandex on the sides. I would just get bigger every day, and they’d lace me up looser.

And those empire-waist dresses hide the belly!
KR: Yeah, it was fine! I had boobs for the first time in my life, and the empire waist starts high up, so it’s all sort-of hidden.

Was there a favorite outfit that you had in the movie?
KR: Well, I had the kind of sh-tty ones. The drab…

Yeah, but then you had the makeover scene!
KR: The “stolen” dresses! Those were the best ones. The ones when I wasn’t wearing brown.

The men in the movie are so cute too. Would you say you’re more of a Darcy or a Wickham fan?
KR: In our movie, the Wickham-type is kind of like this stableman guy, so I tend to go for the worker guy too.

It was kind of jarring at the end of the movie to see the guys in their modern clothes.
KR: I know. It is. I saw the movie just recently—we only saw it the one time at Sundance, which was in January—you are like, “Woah, real hair and real clothes? Well, that’s what people look like. OK.”

So, I have to ask: Do you have a favorite Felicity episode or moment?
KR: That was so long ago! 15 years ago. I’ve been working all summer with Matt Reeves, who is one of the creators of the show, and we were trying to count back. We were like, “Holy sh-t! 15 years! That’s crazy. I’m not that old!” There were a million favorite moments—so many fun moments between Noel and Felicity, the banter back and forth. I loved their relationship. One of my favorite scenes was, especially in the first season, the thanksgiving one—because all of us had to be around the table, and we all liked each other so much. It was just ridiculous and funny.

My co-worker, Lindy, just started watching for the first time on Netflix.
KR: I wonder what that would be like! Although they probably don’t have any of the good music because the rights get lost.

She went to NYU, so she said it’s made her fall in love with NYU all over again and kind of relive that experience.
KR: That’s so sweet! Aww, that’s so nice. It was a sweet show.

Austenland opens in select cities tomorrow, August 16!