Keri Russell loved her experience shooting “Austenland,” a comedy about a group of modern-day Jane Austen fans who travel to what is essentially a theme park filled with characters from the novelist’s books. She loved the script, her cast mates, working with a new director – loved it all. Except for one thing: the dresses.
“I definitely am one of those actors who likes the least amount of time in hair and makeup as possible,” said Russell, who entered the cultural zeitgeist with the WB show “Felicity” in the late 1990s and scored an indie hit as the lead in 2007’s “Waitress.”
“If I can do it in 20 minutes, I will. The idea of then adding an extra 20 minutes just to put on the clothes – I’m like, ‘No! That’s crazy.’ I dare you to put on a corset that you have to lace up every single day, and the bloomers and the lace-up boots and the tights, and then the underdress and the petticoat, and then the dress, which has to be laced and buttoned and … it’s, like, un-be-lieve-able.”
And try it when you’re six months’ pregnant, as Russell was at the beginning of the shoot.
“Certainly the chest region grew over the shooting,” Russell says, her laughter booming through the phone. “Certain angles, I’d look and say, ‘Oh. I have boobs now.’ Luckily, the dresses have that empire waist, which is just along the bust line. Even if you’re not pregnant, you sort of look pregnant in those dresses.”
“Austenland” stars Russell as Jane Hayes, a mopey single woman in her 30s who can’t find a man – or when she does find one, she drives him away with her obsession with Austen.
She decides to spend her life savings on a Jane Austen experience, traveling to an English manor that has been decked out in 18th-century accoutrements and stocked with actors who dress and speak as Austen characters. Jane Seymour has a delicious role as the micromanaging woman who runs the whole show, and Jennifer Coolidge adds camp as a fellow Austen fanatic.
The film is the first directing effort by Jerusha Hess, the Salt Lake City writer and filmmaker who, with her husband, Jared Hess, has created a string of oddball comedies, including “Napoleon Dynamite.” and “Nacho Libre.”
“I did it because of her,” Russell said. “Jerusha is young and smart and definitely has her own voice, which I appreciate. She has a real sense of style, and she is great to work with. I’m really curious to see what she does next.”
Reached by phone, Hess said she never flinched when she found out Russell was pregnant.
“Early on, I, like a lot of writers, put their dream cast on a board, and I had Keri stationed there, and I had given her a rough draft about a year before and she said yes,” Hess said. “When we were finally ready to cast, we called her up and she said she was pregnant. She said, ’Can we work around this?’
“To her credit, she’s like a tiny human pregnant fembot, so we shot really important scenes from the beginning. She was really confident that she could do it, so I bought into her confidence.”
Russell now has two children with her husband, Brooklyn carpenter Shane Deary – 7-year-old son River and daughter Willa, 19 months.
Since “Austenland,” which is rated PG-13, she has completed work on the San Francisco-set “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a sequel to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” due out in 2014.