Keri Russell knows celebrity cuts both ways. A decade ago when she was a Hollywood It girl and star of TV’s Felicity, she hacked off her then-iconic tresses and suffered a backlash that would have made Kate Gosling’s extensions stand on end.
By those standards, the 33-year-old Russell reports she is now comparatively anonymous — a development about which she couldn’t be more pleased. At last, no one has an opinion on how long — or short — her curls are.
“They don’t care about me, which is awesome,” she says. “That’s actually really nice, and that’s where I want to be. It’s so much more interesting to live life and experience things so you can use them in your work. (Being a celebrity) is such a fickle, strange experience.”
These days Russell’s life is as much about being a homebody and mother as a movie star. In 2007, she married Shane Deary, a Brooklyn carpenter who restores brownstones; they have a two-year-old son, River.
Given these developments, it’s no surprise her personal life has been reflected in her recent choice of projects. In August Rush, she was the birth mother of a musical prodigy. In the family-themed Disney comedy Bedtime Stories, she played Adam Sandler’s love interest.
And in “the total tearjerker” Extraordinary Measures, which opens Friday, she portrays the wife of a desperate father (Brendan Fraser) who teams with an unorthodox scientist (Harrison Ford) to cure their children of a fatal disease.
“Certainly I’m sensitive to those kinds of stories, now that I’m a mother,” she says. “Now that I do have a family, it’s on my radar. Before when you hear about a story like this, you go, ‘How sad.’ But now you hear it and you think, ‘That’s so awful! I’m not going to recover!’ Every kid becomes your kid — it’s so funny.”
Was there anything else about having children that surprised her? “I always knew I would have a family … I’ve been travelling since I was so young, and I love being the gypsy and sitting in my hotel room alone and wandering cities alone. And I’ve done that since I was 17.
“But after years of that, it’s so nice to have a home and a family. And that’s really what I feel like I have now. That’s the most surprising thing about having a family — just the stability of literally having a house, not an apartment with mattresses on the floor.
“And because acting is such a nomadic lifestyle — to have a home, there’s nothing like children to ground you.”
Or make you not want to work at all, especially if the material isn’t compelling enough to uproot your life.
“My house is so great, why would I leave? But the variety of everything is what keeps things balanced. It is a luxury to stay at home and be a mom and cook dinner and do laundry and all that stuff. And it’s certainly wonderful to come to a hotel room, sans child, and go to parties. So I feel like I have a nice version of both.”
And in both she is a social media neophyte. The closest Russell comes to Twitter or Facebook, she says, is when she’s Googling the names of prospective babysitters.
“I don’t know how to do that stuff, man. I don’t Facebook. I don’t know what that stuff is. Who wants to see pictures of you out drunk with your friends? That’s all I hear about … Does anyone like their privacy anymore? Maybe I’m a privacy freak.”
If we live in a media-saturated age in which everyone is desperate to be a celebrity, she adds, “It’s fine by me because it means they will be and I won’t be … When we were looking for babysitters, we were Googling and we’re like, ‘People can see these! You’re not getting the job.’ It’s crazy.”
Professionally, Russell’s resume would suggest she is just as averse to the brand of big-budget franchise-building that now dominates the film industry. That’s not necessarily true — she did, after all, co-star in Mission Impossible III, which reunited her with Felicity creator J.J. Abrams.
Abrams, of course, has become the patron saint of fanboys in recent years, having most recently resurrected Star Trek. Russell says she’d love to work with him again, “but he’s doing alien things.
“I want J.J., even though he’s doing ba-zillion dollar movies. I keep petitioning him to do something smaller. His plate is so full, but there’s all this other smaller, funnier, quirkier stuff he does so well, and that’s what I want him to do.
“The Felicity pilot he wrote is just so wonderful. My dream is he and Matt (Reeves, who co-created Felicity and directed the Abrams-produced Cloverfield) would do some version of the next Broadcast News — something funny but sensitive.”