Filed in Articles & Interviews

The mouseketeer that soared

FORGET about Bond Girls, the new breed in town is the Adam Sandler Girl. They’re a slightly more wholesome collection than 007’s conquests, but no less sassy. The latest member of this exclusive group is Keri Russell, who was hand-chosen by Sandler himself to play the romantic lead in Bedtime Stories, Disney’s Christmas film.

“I think our requirements are very different from the Bond girls, but I’m in some good company,” laughs Russell . “There are some nice ladies in that group. Maybe we’ll make a movie where we all have fancy names like Pussy Galore.”

That the 31-year-old Russell now finds herself as the Disney Princess is down, not only to Sandler, but also to his wife Jackie, who had seen her in Waitress, the low-budget slice of life that caused such a stir at the Sundance Festival in 2007. Russell says, “Jackie had seen Waitress and said to Adam, ‘You should cast her. I like her.’ He said, ‘That’s good enough for me. I’m calling her up.’

“I didn’t know him, but he called me when I was really pregnant and he said, ‘I have a kid, I hear you’re having a kid. I want a movie my kids can watch. You should come and do this with me.’

“I just said, ‘OK.'”

By this stage, Russell is well used to fielding questions about her male co-stars. She’s appeared opposite Kevin Costner (in The Upside of Anger), Mel Gibson (in We Were Soldiers) and the daddy of them all, Tom Cruise (in Mission Impossible III), but feels that this experience is different thanks mainly to what she calls the “Sandler factor”.

“I’ve worked with other people and they keep a separate camp, but because of the way Sandler is, it was all-inclusive. It was never separate; that’s just the way he does it. He’s very down-to-earth and I think he works hard at maintaining that. It was really comfortable to be around. Even though he’s super-rich, he doesn’t wear that at all.”

For Russell, Bedtime Stories is a return to working for Disney after spending her teenage years in The Mickey Mouse Club, at the same time as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Though she says this is more of a Sandler project than a Disney film — “they’re just the ones writing your cheque” — it has brought back memories of her summer holidays spent shooting in Disneyworld in Florida, a time she recalls with fondness, but, having seen the difficulty some have adjusted to a lifetime in the spotlight, she concedes that it can be a mixed blessing.

“It’s a complicated thing. I don’t think it’s for everyone, and it’s a slippery slope. It’s very difficult for a lot of people because it’s at an age when you’re supposed to be making mistakes and you’re expected to be a professional, for lack of a better word, at that age, and I don’t think it serves very many people.”

Of course, Russell is coming back to Disney in a very different place. After finishing The Mickey Mouse Club she appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows, but none made too much of an impact. One of those movies was Mad About Mambo which was shot in Dublin. Russell stayed in Lad Lane, just off Baggot Street. She’s returned twice since to travel around Ireland — “I’ve been everywhere, but I really like Dingle and the Wicklow mountains” — and would jump at the chance to return and make another film here.

In 1998 she was cast in the title role in Felicity, the TV series about a young college student made by JJ Abrams, the man behind Lost.

Felicity was a huge success and ran for four years. Such was its popularity that there was a national outcry in America when Russell cut her trademark curly locks. It also opened doors for Russell to do movies such as Mission Impossible III, although it’s Waitress that has had the biggest impact.

She’s also now a mother of an 18-month-old boy called River with whom she lives in Brooklyn along with her husband Shane Deary. It’s rare for anyone in the film business to venture outside of it in marriage, and rarer still to find a partnership with someone who has a “real” job, but that’s exactly what Russell has done with her husband, who works as a carpenter.

“It just makes sense to me,” she explains. “I find it incredibly attractive what he does. I love that he’s not an actor. I think it’s such a weird business, it’s such a circus life and I love that he’s so much more stable than that. I love what he does — he just built our whole house all on his own. He didn’t have any crew. It’s so cool.

“He’s a very attractive man, and he can build things. It’s hot.”

Although she says that all her husband knows about the film business “is from watching Entourage”, she does occasionally indulge him by bringing him to showbiz parties and premieres. “Every once in while he’ll come and it’s really fun when he does. He’s so outside of it. We had to go to the Oscars last year. Normally, that would make me very nervous, but because he got to go it was all so exciting to him. It makes it so fun because he’s not trying to be cool and pretend it’s not exciting.”

The impression is that Russell is an actress who likes to live her life away from the trappings of celebrity. She lives in Brooklyn (not exactly the Hollywood Hills) and has been helping her husband with building work in their home. “I actually stained our floor,” she says with disbelief. “I hung a light. I did many things.” So he did have a crew? “Exactly, a very cute crew.” There’s not much argument about that. Though her reputation has been built on playing girl-next-door types, now Russell looks more like a catwalk model than a friendly neighbour. Just hours before I met her, my attention was drawn to a photoshoot with her in Details magazine for which raunchy would be an understated description.

“It’s embarrassing. Who knows how I got talked into that? I keep joking that Adam Sandler made me do it. It was part of the requirements of doing press for his movie. That’s definitely not normal for me and probably won’t happen again any time soon, but it’s fine. It’s strange that actresses are put in different situations than actors are. It’s good to try new things but I’ll probably stick to what I do best next time.”

After finishing her press requirement, she’ll be going home to Brooklyn where by now she will have served Christmas dinner for her son, her husband and his family. It will have been a Christmas unlike any other, not least because she can now describe herself as a Disney Princess. Not to mention one of the Sandler Girls.

Bedtime Stories is in cinemas now.