Keri Russell has packed a lot into the last nine months. In the midst of working on the upcoming films August Rush and A Girl in the Park, with Kate Bosworth; inking a contract with beauty giant Cover Girl, and promoting Waitress, the 31-year-old actress married her beau, Shane Deary, on Valentine’s Day, and in June the couple welcomed River Russell Deary, their first child.
It’s been a year marked by flashbulbs and media attention—all the trappings of Hollywood that the remarkably grounded Russell tends to artfully avoid. The actress, best known as Felicity from the coming-of-age television series of the same name, has spent the last six years happily cloaked in the anonymity New York City offers.
All the while, the California native, who got her start on The Mickey Mouse Club, steadily has toiled away at her craft, appearing in Mission: Impossible III alongside Tom Cruise last year and, most recently, in Waitress. Her latest film, August Rush, in which she plays opposite Robin Williams and Jonathan Rhys Myers, is slated for release in November. A Girl in the Park will be released later this year.
On this day, Russell and her family had just returned from a three-week stay in Martha’s Vineyard, where her husband—a carpenter who is busy building them a new home—was raised. The respite was part of a two-month break following the spring release of Waitress.
“It’s just so nice to be out of the city. Shane’s family is there so there were all these extra hands to hold the baby,” says Russell, nestled in a cafe booth in New York’s NoLIta neighborhood with two-month-old River, who quietly nurses and then settles in for a nap.
The lithe actress, whose signature corkscrew curls have been blown out in large, soft waves, seems almost unaware of her fame and that earlier in the day she turned the heads of passersby as she strolled down Elizabeth Street.
When asked if her fame has inhibited her freedom, she says plainly, “I’m not going out to clubs and parties giving the paparazzi that great drunk photo to put in the magazines. You can still be a working actor and sidestep the negative aspects of the profession.” She gently dismisses the premise that her kitschy but endearing role as Jenna in Waitress has served as a catalyst for a splashy comeback.
“I just loved the story,” offers Russell, who seems to exude a post-vacation, relaxed vibe, aside from when she laments that she has yet to find a nanny for River. Her mother has flown in from Texas to offer a hand in the meantime.
Unlike Jenna, the pregnant character she played in Waitress, who lovingly creates pies with peculiar names such as I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby, Russell doesn’t find herself baking or cooking much these days, save for the endless batches of chocolate chip cookies she made during the nesting phase of her own pregnancy. She’s hasn’t got the time.
“Luckily, things have been progressing, and there are jobs available. But I always take breaks,” says Russell, noting she took a year off after Felicity ended in 2002 to “be a kid” and explore New York. With River snuggled close, she surmises she’ll take another four- to six-month hiatus before her next project. As for what roles she gravitates to, she explains: “I just want it to be a good story. I want to feel something, like I do when I read a favorite book.”
Russell, whose skin glows and eyes sparkle even without makeup, says that her contract with Cover Girl, signed in February, enables her to have a more flexible schedule. It also suits her down-to-earth, girl-next-door disposition.
“Keri Russell is the perfect embodiment of an easy, breezy Cover Girl,” says Esi Eggleston Bracey, vice president and general manager of Global Cosmetics, Procter & Gamble Beauty. “Her natural beauty, spirited personality and fresh, natural style shine through in everything she does.”
Russell says she likes what Cover Girl stands for. “Queen Latifah is its main spokeswoman, and she’s as cool as they get,” she says. “I like that it is stuff everyone can buy. We’re not selling $800 mascara. I’d feel bad telling 15-year-old girls that they have to buy a $2,000 bag. I don’t think it’s responsible.”
Despite her enviable features and easy smile, Russell—who’s featured as a black-clad ninja with a perfect pink pout in her first Cover Girl commercial—shrugs off any association with sexiness or glamour.
“I offer something different than glamour. I’m more of a waterproof mascara–and–lip gloss person,” she says, admitting that when she sees herself with a full face of makeup, she feels embarrassed. “I feel like someone who got into her mother’s makeup,” she jokes.
She eschews fragrance, but liberally applies moisturizer, favoring the Rose Dream Cream by Brooklyn-based soap maker Kathleen Lewis.
It’s not that Russell isn’t aware of her beauty—she just seems almost ambivalent about it. And now it’s been relegated to the bottom of her to-do list. Reflecting on motherhood, she remarks: “You just don’t have time to be as self-involved. Getting a pedicure? Not going to happen. Or having my hair highlighted? Give me a break. There’s no time.”
The actress, who in the late Nineties got flak for cutting her long, curly locks short, says she feels removed from the confines of Hollywood’s beauty standards. “Having a baby and having married my husband, who is a carpenter, helps cushion me. I don’t feel as affected by Hollywood as I did when I lived in L.A., where work is much more at the forefront of everyday and every personal interaction.”
Russell, who describes her style as simple and comfortable, freely admits she likes to shop. “I like beautiful things,” she declares. On this day, she excitedly browsed the racks at the Erica Tanov boutique in NoLIta, inquiring about a pair of Rag & Bone denim trousers. “Will these fit me?” she asked the store’s proprietor. Truth be told, on the hanger, the size 26 pants seemed to dwarf her slim frame.
When asked if her string of upcoming films might curtail her freedom to walk down the street uninterrupted by fans or photographers, she says with a smile: “It would be one thing if I was a fashion maven, wearing something new every day. Instead they’re like, ‘Oh my God, there’s Keri wearing the same thing she’s been wearing for a solid month. Now we can’t sell the pictures. Crap.'”