Let’s face it: calling a celebrity “real” is a huge cliché—but we just couldn’t help ourselves with Keri Russell. She arrives—early—at a bakery near her Brooklyn, New York, home, her hair in a loose bun, toting packages bound for the post office. When I offer to pay for her scone, she scoffs.
The 33-year-old star of TV’s Felicity grew up in Texas, Arizona, and Colorado, and moved to this quiet corner of Brooklyn in 2007 with her husband, Shane Deary, a carpenter, and their son, River, now 2.
She’s passionate about children’s-health issues and recently teamed with Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser in Extraordinary Measures, based on the true story of a couple whose two youngest children are diagnosed with a rare, fatal disease; as the clock runs out, they and Ford’s character start a biotech company to find a cure. Over breakfast, the self-deprecating star talks about the importance of downtime, her favorite new way to exercise, and fighting for better health care for kids. Then, she’s off to the post office.
Q: Was your role in Extraordinary Measures more difficult than usual to play because you have a small son?
A: I didn’t want to do it at first. I read the script, it’s such a compelling story, but, yeah—having a 2-year-old at the time … the story goes that they have their second kid, who’s perfectly healthy, and then they’re told that she’s not going to live beyond 8.
Q: Have you met the real-life family this story is based on?
A: I went to New Jersey and spent some time with them. They’re young, incredibly funny, and dynamic. I said, “I want you to understand—this is a movie. This is your life story, and it is not going to be that, it’s going to be some other version of that, so please tell yourselves that every single day.” Because I’d absolutely hate it! To have some cheesy actor doing that! [Laughs.]
Q: You’ve gone to Washington, D.C., with Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman to meet with senators and administration officials to advocate for children’s health care.
A: She took a group of women, four of whom were mothers with stories of how they had basically been robbed by health care. They had jobs, but through a matter of, say, their husband making $1.50 over the poverty line, they couldn’t get their child who has a rare disease something that would prevent her from dying. It doesn’t matter who you are, who you are born to, or what state you live in, it should be a mandate across the board that every kid gets to see a doctor when she needs to. But these stoic senators were looking at us with blank eyes. It’s crazy.
Q: How do you keep your energy up?
A: When I have time, working out really helps. Anything—walking, going for a run, Pilates—whatever there’s time for. I feel endlessly better when I do that.
Q: What’s your fitness regimen?
A: My favorite thing, especially living in Brooklyn, is that I got a bike recently, and I ride it everywhere—to get groceries, the farmers’ market, to the park. Shane and I even biked into [Manhattan] a few times to meet friends for dinner. Also, we do dance parties at the house with River.
Q: Would you consider having another baby?
A: Yes! We’re not there yet, but it’s totally a possibility. Although, I just ran into a friend of mine, and I said, “How’s the second baby?” And she said, “You have two, you might as well have 300.” [Laughs.]
Q: Even before you had River, you took breaks from your career to just hang out. Why is downtime important? And does your agent understand?
A: They’re so used to me disappearing! I’m just interested in a lot of things, and I like my alone time. If it were up to me, I’d love to work once or twice a year. But I’m not a gazillionaire, and I do have a house payment.
Q: We also never see you barfing out of a limo.
A: There’s still time! Don’t count me out just yet.
Q: But, honestly, are you just someone who craves alone time?
A: It’s true. If I’m at a dinner party and it’s getting too crazy, I always have a moment where I just lock myself in the bathroom and breathe for a while.
Q: You’ve said it’s embarrassing seeing photos of yourself in full makeup. Why?
A: I think sometimes when people do full makeup on me, I look like a little kid trying to dress up. I don’t think I look my best like that. [Laughs.] I think I look sort of silly.
Q: So running around town, you wear …
A: I like my concealer, my lip balm, and mascara.
Q: I read somewhere that you said it’s sad when young girls think they have nothing to offer other than being pretty. Can you explain?
A: I have no idea when I said that, but I have a feeling it was during Felicity. Because one of the most fun parts of doing that character was that I never had to be the pretty girl. I’m never the girl at the dinner party wearing the tight dress and the high heels. It’s stressful to be someone’s version of beautiful. I feel much more comfortable being silly. As a girl you grow up and you want to be so attractive, and, truthfully, if you take that out of the equation and you just do what you’re interested in, you’re usually more attractive, anyway.
Q: Your skin always looks so fresh. What do you use?
A: For sunblock I use Mario Badescu because it has SPF 15, and I use it during the day.
Q: In your line of work there’s plenty of pressure to be thin. Do you diet?
A: God, no.
Q: You never went through a dieting phase?
A: No. I’m totally lucky, and it’s just body type. My dad’s whole side of the family is very thin. Thank God I have that gene, because I eat doughnuts like there’s no tomorrow. But I do like to be physical, and I think if I just sat on my ass all day, I’d start seeing the effects. And certainly after a baby, it’s not exactly like it used to be. But that’s not my issue. There are plenty of other issues, but food is not one of them.
Q: What’s your favorite way to spend the weekends?
A: Lately, on Sundays we make a big brunch, where we have a fire in the fireplace and lots of food. It
usually starts at 10 and ends at 4, and you just sit and chat.
Q: What vice do you wish you could change?
A: Hmm … so many. [Laughs.] Late-night zit-picking. And not answering my phone. I don’t even know why I have a phone. My girlfriend Mandy, who was on Felicity with me, always imitates the way I say hello. It’s like, [timidly] “Hello?” Like I’m scared. She says, “You saw that it was my number, why do you sound afraid?”
Q: Do you think the fact that your husband isn’t in the celebrity world helps your marriage?
A: I feel that it’s a huge part of the success of the relationship. I love that he doesn’t really know anything about this business—and he’s always excited about it. And I love what he does. I think it’s incredibly sexy. I mean, he’s a hot carpenter … what can I say?
Q: What’s the absolute best advice you ever heard about how to balance career and family?
A: My dear friend Julie has three kids. When I had River and did not get a babysitter for a long time, she said, “Don’t be a martyr. It is not serving anyone.” And she’s absolutely right. You can’t do everything. And you don’t know it until you know it.
“My favorite things”
Ultimate drink: A latte in the morning. With whole milk.
Must-have jeans: Earnest Sewn.
Current favorite book: Another Bullshit Night In Suck City by Nick Flynn. It really affected me.
Life-changing baby product: When River was a baby, it was the New Native cotton sling. And now, this little orange ukulele that River has. We have jam sessions at home.
Top guilty pleasure: I would say massages.
Fave Web site: Ooh! SmittenKitchen.com.
Movie I’ve watched the most times: Pre-child, A Walk On The Moon. Now, I would have to say Finding Nemo.
Favorite place in the whole world: Big Sur.
Can’t-resist fast food: Taco Bell. It does have a gross factor, but when it’s good, it’s really good. And Chick-Fil-A. When I was shooting a movie in Shreveport, Louisiana, we would go sometimes three times a day. The kids that worked there would be like, “Do you want your regular?” [Laughs.]