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Keri Russell Talks ‘Austenland,’ Women in Hollywood, Costume Dramas and Boobs

Keri Russell won the admiration of many an adolescent girl during her four-season run as the star of “Felicity,” a teen drama focused on an awkward young girl’s adjustment to college life. Now those teen girls have grown up, are in their 30s, and get to see Russell embrace an adult fantasy reminiscent of the wistful ones many of us had years ago. Russell stars as Jane, a Jane Austen obsessive who blows an exorbitant amount of money to immerse herself in a Jane Austen reenactment resort in England.

The hilarious cast of supporting players includes Jennifer Coolidge, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, Georgia King and Jane Seymour. Adapted from the novel by Shannon Hale and directed by Jerusha Hess, who previously brought us “Napolean Dynamite,” the film premiered at Sundance and opens tomorrow, August 16 in New York and Los Angeles with plans to expand. Russell sat down with Indiewire this week to talk about costume dramas, the state of women in Hollywood, and the multitudinous boobs. Spoiler alert: No one dies.

So this film is kind of adorable.

It’s adorable, right? It’s cute. It’s a fun, summer poppy, feel good, no one dies or gets tortured.

So were you an Austen fan before this?

Not as much as this character obviously. But I saw all of those movies. I definitely saw the BBC one years ago, of “Pride and Prejudice,” and was aware of all of her books. But something Jerusha and I kept talking about was that it was a movie less about being exactly true to Jane Austen and more about what’s so funny about someone being so obsessed with something like this. How would that manifest and play out?

Is there anything that you’re such a huge fan of that you would go to an interactive place like this?

No, but I sort of love the idea of this place. It’s so embarrassing and good. And I absolutely think ladies would pay for this.

What was it like to get into period costume everyday and still be shooting a modern film?

We would get fully, fully dressed, where you have to have a dresser to come do up your corset, petticoats, tights and lace up all these vintage period boots. Two layers of dresses, braids, buns — it was insane, and yes, all for this jokey, crazy movie. But that’s part of the fun. I don’t think I’ve ever done a full-fledged costume drama. So in a way we all secretly thought we were making a costume drama. At those dinner tables, I was there, I was in it! I knew it was a joke but I wasn’t in on the joke. I was living that big fancy dress and handsome stiff-backed boys. And it was fun, and I was with a bunch of comedians — they were hilarious to be around.

I saw a few interviews where Jennifer Coolidge was said to have not memorized her lines at all and was just improvising.

That’s what she does. She’s done all these Christopher Guest movies and she’s amazing at that. So she was just riffing. Pretty much everything you see in the movie, that’s her just going for it, on a tangent. And you just watch her and you’re like, “Where is she going with this? Just hang on, do not mess this up. Don’t fuck up her moment.” And it’s impossible because she’s doing crazy shit. But she’s amazing, she’s so good. To mem she is the movie. When she comes on you think oh good, this is going to be funny, I feel safe, I know I’m going to laugh.

How did you develop your character’s transition over the course of the film from a total romantic to becoming a little more skeptical?

She goes there fully invested in the fantasy of it all, but obviously she has some awareness that it’s crazy. I think it was helpful that the people surrounding her are so over the top that as fun as it all is, she knows she’s not that. She knows she doesn’t want to live in that reality. I think she does come to the place where she wants something real and it’s probably helpful that all of the characters are so big around her.

Do you think that she goes there invested in realizing that fantasy of finding a husband or finding the one to be with and then thought, “what the heck am I doing here?”

I guess it is that thing — be careful what you wish for. She’s there and had everything laid out in front of her and she gets it and she’s like, maybe this isn’t exactly what I want. I do think that she has the seed of awareness though before she goes. She’s understanding that it’s not manageable, this fantasy life she’s created. She’s stuck in her life and she knows she’s not going to grow if she stays where she is. So I think this is one last hurrah to live it up and maybe she knows deep inside that the person that she meets, which we won’t say who, that there’s something there and there’s something real.

Yeah there were definitely times when I couldn’t tell who was faking it and who was the real deal.

Good! Weren’t you led astray a little bit?

You’re led astray and then you’re led another way and another way.

“Which one?! Who do you want?!”

But I had a hunch who she would end up with.

Cause it’s a movie. And then at the end, he’s so gross.

That was such a flip too. I was like where did this smarmy guy come from?

I know! They put a tramp stamp tattoo on his back. We were like, do something really gross. Do that, do that! We did this whole shot where he lifted up his shirt so you could see it.

Tell me about working with the two love interests, JJ Feild and Bret McKenzie.

Hilarious. And they each have their own personality and feeling. JJ is a really great actor and I thought that he came off really well. He’s so good and he sort of is that world, he’s so dignified and knows a lot about everything.

He’s done period films before.

A million! A million costume dramas, so he is that world. And Bret is not really an actor-actor, he’s a musician and comedian and so that’s not really what he does. We would have to do these kissing scenes, and Jerusha kept making so much fun of him because he would go in to kiss and he wouldn’t use his hands. He’s just be like (holds her arms straight down). And Jerusha would be like, “It’s weird! You have to touch her! Are you allergic to touching people?” And we would tease him like (holds her arms straight down again). So they each had their own good things, and so fun and for the most part a really easy shoot. Fun people, beautiful scenery.

How long was the shoot?

My memory was that it was pretty short. Maybe I would say like two months? But I really can’t remember, it was two years ago and I was pregnant.

Right, how did that work out?

It was ok because of those dresses!

Yeah those dresses are so floofy anyway.

Yeah and they’re right here [at the top of the waist] and it’s perfect. So that baby was growing in that expandable corset underneath. And that’s how we went.

Well I guess if you’re going to do a costume drama while you’re pregnant it’s best with the Empire waist.

Right! And boobs! It was a win-win for all parties involved.

What was it like to work with Jane Seymour?

She’s amazing. She’s larger than life, so beautiful and such a hard worker still and always has been. And hilarious! She goes for it in this and it really works.

Yeah that first opening bit…

Holding dead lambs. Hilarious.

So the whole marketing plan behind this film is very female-centric. Sony Pictures Classics has basically said that they’re specifically courting women to come see the film.

The only thing I can say is, it does have Jennifer Coolidge and her boobs in it. I mean, that’s not just for the ladies. And Jennifer Coolidge’s humor to me is so guy-centric, you know what I mean? It’s not tame. And it’s hilarious. And Bret feels like such a dude to me too — “Flight of the Concords”. It is fluffy dresses and talking about a romance novelist and that world, but I think it’s pretty wacky and fun too. I say girls can bring dates and what the dates get out of it is a make out at the end.

It is also a big deal in that it’s written by women, produced by women, and directed by women. I tend to embrace projects where women are on the creative end. How do you feel about how women are developing in the industry?

Certainly there’s still are more guys in those positions. But that being said I’ve worked with a lot of female directors these days, a lot. So it’s definitely getting better. Maybe I should think about it more but I don’t tend to choose a project because of that, because there’s a woman director or producer. But Jerusha was the reason I took this. Not because she’s a woman but because I thought she was cool and was familiar with her work before and thought it would be fun. I wanted to support her in her first [solo] directorial venture.

So what was it like shooting this very girly, dress up movie and then going into kicking ass and taking names on “The Americans”?

[laughs] They’re so similar, these characters. Not! That’s the fun thing about this job. You get to wear these fancy clothes and be this innocent vulnerable hopeful girl running in the English countryside. Cut to “The Americans” and it’s all cat eyeliner and blown out hair and leather tough Russian spy. And that’s what’s so cool about this job to me right now is just the variety of it and getting to step into different worlds.

What’s up next for you?

Rest! I don’t start “The Americans” again until October. So other than a six-year-old starting a new school, just that.