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Keri Russell on Fandom and the Weird and Wonderful World of ‘Austenland’

The lovely Keri Russell talks about starring in her first romantic comedy, improvisation and collaborating with writer/director Jerusha Hess.

Keri Russell returns to the indie film scene with Austenland, the Sundance 2013 favorite about the lengths one woman will go to live out her dreams. Russell stars as Jane Hayes, a single Austen-enthusiast who obsessively dedicates her life to the characters and world of the author. Naturally, she books her ticket to Austenland, a theme park that offers guests the full Regency era experience, complete with dancing, sewing, parlor games and, of course, love.

We recently got the chance to speak with actress Keri Russell about the talented cast of Austenland, her ideal amusement park, and the upcoming Summer 2014 blockbuster, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Tribeca: Have you always been an Austen fan?

Keri Russell: Not to the extent that Jane in Austenland is. [Laughs] We didn’t keep true to the world of Jane Austen as much as we kept true to the idea of what’s funny when someone’s obsessed with this world and completely immersed in it. We sort of gave ourselves that lazy freedom.

Tribeca:  Do you remember your first experience of reading Jane Austen?

KR:  I think I had an awareness mostly of Pride and Prejudice and maybe Sense and Sensibility. Once the remakes started coming out, I definitely went and saw all of those movies. I vividly remember re-watching Colin Firth in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice in preparation. As he was walking out of the lake… I just remember thinking, ‘Gosh, this is long.’ [Laughs]

Tribeca:  Well, you have to wait a long time for him to emerge from the pond in that wet shirt.

KR: [laughs] Too long!

Tribeca: Your filmography is so extensive. From The Americans to Dark Skies to Waitress, we can see that you’re not afraid to switch up genres and/or media. Have you always wanted to do a romantic comedy in this vein?

KR: I haven’t been seeking it out, but it definitely was fun. My draw was Jerusha.  I was familiar with her work; I thought she had a really unique, fun voice. It was just special and weird, and I just thought that working with her on a story of this kind could be fun. And it was. The combination of the quirky production design (including sight gags) with her poppy fun music choices made the experience really hilarious. She really made the story hers.

Tribeca: Was it refreshing to work on a project spearheaded by a powerful group of women like Hess, Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer?

KR:  People have asked a lot about that…you know it’s certainly not something I sought out just for the “women” factor. As far as producers go, they were behind the scenes. I didn’t have much involvement with Stephenie, although she is wonderful and, to be honest, she single-handedly got the movie made. So in that way she’s incredibly powerful and I am very appreciative, but I didn’t have much collaboration with the production trio. My collaboration was truly with Jerusha.

Tribeca: This movie has an interesting commentary on fandom in general. Was it interesting to step inside that world? Were you already familiar with fanatical fans with Felicity?

KR: I don’t think anyone is paying money to pretend to be college students, but if they are, that’s amazing. [Laughs] The idea of an “Austenland” where ladies go to romance and attend a ball with a marriage proposal at the end of the week is so delicious and embarrassing to me.The idea that you’re so into this fantasy world- that you’re so deep in it—that you would go do that, is so heartbreaking and true and vulnerable and funny.  And I also love that this is women’s idea of real romance while men have strip clubs or whatever they do. [Laughs]

Tribeca:  You get to play off two fantastic leading men: Bret McKenzie, who had never really had a leading role like this-

KR:  Yeah, he was awesome, that guy.  He was great.

Tribeca: And also JJ Field. Can you talk about working with two exemplary Austen leading men?

KR:  It was really fun. I love the idea of the brooding actor that you think is unattainable, but all the ladies love him and try to figure out what’s on his mind. On the other hand, you have the hot worker guy with the wheelbarrow, you know? I think Jerusha struck a good balance casting those two roles. She did it really well.

"I did like the sequence where Jane gets all gussied up and gets to walk behind all the hot men and the butlers in slow motion."

Tribeca:  Working with Jennifer Coolidge must have been a lot of fun.

KR: Yeah, she’s the best.

Tribeca: Did you have the opportunity to do a lot of improvisation on set?

KR: That’s what she does so well. I love her in all those Christopher Guest movies too. She kind of comes on and just goes for it and you just have to hang on for dear life, hoping you don’t blow one of the takes by laughing. She goes in crazy, insane directions, and does it so well.

Tribeca:  Was there any time for rehearsal or were you all just kind of thrown in?

KR:  We talked about it for a couple days. There wasn’t a lot of time for rehearsal, but we did talk between shots to share ideas. Nothing too extensive. A lot of the actors in the film are comedians and really comfortable in that improv world. I think between Jane Seymour and Jennifer Coolidge, four line scenes would become thirty line scenes.  It was riff, riff, riff. That’s what makes the movie hilarious.

Tribeca: You get to live out a lot of women’s fantasies by entering the world of Jane Austen. You dance, flirt, play piano (terribly) and even get caught in a rainstorm. Which scene was the most fun to shoot?

KR: I really loved working with Jennifer. Every take, every scene, was just so fun because it was fresh every time. You just watch her and try to react and be in the moment. What’s cool about a movie like this is that every person brings something different. In comedies like this, you just try to be present. However, I did like the sequence where Jane gets all gussied up and gets to walk behind all the hot men and the butlers in slow motion.

Tribeca:  Everyone should stay for the credits. I really enjoyed the “Hot in Herre” montage.

KR:  Oh my god, oh my god. Kill me now. Oh my god.

Tribeca: It was really fun. You know, outside of the press screening I attended there was a giant cutout of Mr. Darcy, so everyone stopped to take pictures with him on the way out.

KR:  [Laughs] Oh, that’s hilarious.

Tribeca: If you could turn one of your obsessions into a theme park, what would it be and why?

KR: If I were going to pick a pseudo-romantic one, I would make a cowboy one. I could take midnight moonlight rides with some hot cowboy, who would be very Sam Elliot-ish.

Tribeca: That sounds pretty nice.

KR: Yeah.  [laughs] Someone needs to make that happen.

Tribeca: You were recently at one of the biggest celebrations of fandom at the San Diego Comic Con with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Can you talk about that experience?

KR: Well, I have to say I was a little disappointed. We were in the middle of shooting so they flew us all there that day. We were whisked in behind doors to do interview after interview and do our panel. I didn’t really get out into the world that much. I didn’t get to see all of the crazy, cool stuff.  I imagined it being so wild. However, I did see an Inspector Gadget and a kid with a mask trying to be someone from Minecraft. So I got a little taste.

"I also love that this is women’s idea of real romance while men have strip clubs or whatever they do."

Tribeca: With the exception of Mission Impossible III, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is really your first big action movie. Did you get to kick some ass like you do on The Americans?

KR: Yeah, It’s a giant film, totally epic in its own way, but there weren’t any massive fight scenes that I was involved in. For me, it was much more like running and natural survival skills you need to have in the words to survive. I didn’t have much combat to prepare for.

Tribeca: What was it like to reteam with Felicity co-creator Matt Reeves after all these years?

KR: So nice. I just respect him so much.  I have genuine affection for him. He’s a true artist; he has a real emotional intelligence and I think he really loves story. The idea of someone with that kind of artistic sensibility doing a big summer movie is a good thing. That’s for sure.

Austenland is now in playing in NY & LA. Check here for showtimes and expansion dates. 



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