In other words, Keri Russell is having a moment, and it’s been a long time coming.
It’s tempting to compare her career to Laura Dern’s, whose casting in 2017’s major HBO hit Big Little Lies propelled her to renewed stardom, dubbed the “Dern-aissance.” Except unlike Laura Dern, who kind of faded from Hollywood for several years before reappearing in 2011’s highly underrated HBO series Enlightened, Russell never really went anywhere. It’s just that we never noticed her.
Russell has always been kind of an underdog. Though she started acting at 15, Russell appearing (alongside Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling and Britney Spears) for a couple of seasons of The Mickey Mouse Club, the actress rose to fame playing Felicity Porter on J.J. Abrams’ and Matt Reeves WB series Felicity, a role for which she won a Golden Globe in 1999. (But her real headlines moment came when she cut her long hair short in the show’s second season.)
Felicity ran from 1998 to 2002, after which Russell continued to work. She teamed up with Abrams once more as Lindsey Farris in Mission Impossible III, guest-starred on Scrubs, and appeared on her own reality series, The Keri Kronicles, on MySpace.
She stuck around (in feature films like August Rush, and Waitress), but mostly flew under the radar — until The Americans, which premiered in January 2013. As Elizabeth Jennings, a Soviet agent posing as a suburban mom in 1980s Washington DC, Russell finally got her opportunity to shine, alongside co-star turned husband Matthew Rhys. People started realizing that Felicity could really act. And I mean really. The Americans required a chameleon star, who, like her character, could shed her own skin at will, disappearing into the various nuances and complexities of the role. That could range from having to make a supremely ridiculous wig look credible, to carrying moments relying entirely on eye contact, with little to no dialogue. Russell’s screen presence is magnetic from the very first scene, which shows her seducing a government official in a bar to gain access to information he has about a Soviet defector. She could be sultry and seductive, coldly furious, anxious, or passionate — often all at once. Her throbbing angry forehead vein alone deserves an Emmy nomination.
Even her off-screen promotion of the show was noteworthy, giving off major star charisma. Russell gives a great interview, and is as willing to speculate about Putin’s potential involvement in Philip and Elizabeth’s mission as she is to dish about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
And yet still, it took a while for audiences to catch on. For years, The Americans was hailed as the best show on TV that nobody actually watched, snubbed for awards and healthy audience numbers.
But not anymore! Back in May, the nearly perfect series was capped off by a beautiful and moving finale, which means the show can live on undisturbed in the streaming heaven reserved for shows that didn’t crash and burn their landing (*cough* Dexter). Some have predicted it’ll be the next Sopranos, the kind of shows that generations discover and continue to watch long after it’s been off the air. (I’ll take this as an opportunity to reveal my secret identity as a recruiter for young Americans-fans in training. Take that, Paige Jennings!)
Revolutions usually take place when things have reached their lowest possible point, and I’m pretty sure the bleak prospect of a Russell-less future qualifies. Clearly, Hollywood is starting to catch on. Grab your scythes and hammers, comrades. Welcome to the Russell-ution!
P.S. Putting this out there into the universe: Big Little Lies season 3, with Keri as Nicole Kidman’s sister.