Has Keri Russell Finally Found Her Place in Hollywood?
When Felicity premiered in the fall of 1998, the media instantly latched onto Keri Russell, the show’s curly-haired, oversized-sweater-wearing protagonist. Critics praised her performance as adorable and sweet, and by January 1999, the Hollywood Foreign Press had rewarded her with a Golden Globe. Overnight, a TV star had been born.
But then, just as Russell was reaching the center of the media zeitgeist, she did something drastic: She chopped off all of her hair.
Nowadays, that might not sound like such a crazy thing to do; celebrities do it all the time.
But back in the ’90s, when haircuts like “The Rachel” were defining pop culture, looks were everything.
So when Russell said goodbye to her signature long locks at the top of season 2, loyal Felicity viewers reacted with shock and horror, as if she had pulled off the ultimate betrayal. Ratings subsequently plummeted, and Felicity very quickly became an afterthought — the poor man’s Dawson’s Creek — before it went off the air in 2003.
During the peak of the controversy, Russell ultimately defended the decision to cut her hair, comparing it to experiences that most girls go through when they reach a certain age.
“It was a brave, crazy, sudden, extreme thing to do,” she said during a Television Critics Association press conference in January 2000. “Those are all things a girl in college are, and I think it was quite appropriate. It was a good thing for me as a person as well. That long hair is how I was identified.”
Was it a whim decision? Or was it really a classic “fuck you” to Hollywood? If Russell’s post-Felicity roles are any indication, maybe a little of both.
She took a solid two years off before landing a supporting, innocuous role as one of Joan Allen’s daughters in The Upside of Anger. She followed with movies that often felt small or light (Waitress and August Rush, to name a few). The rare time she did appear in a blockbuster, it felt like more a favor to a former colleague instead of something that might get her back in the spotlight. (2006’s Mission: Impossible III was directed by Felicity creator J.J. Abrams.)
Outside the gates of Hollywood, at least, Russell’s life flourished. She married a carpenter named Shane Deary in 2007, and welcomed a son, River, a few months later. (The couple’s second child, daughter Willa, was born in 2011.) By then, Russell had gone from one of TV’s biggest star to that actress who some New Yorkers claimed owned a really nice brownstone in Boreum Hill. And she seemed totally okay with that.
In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that Russell decided to have another legitimate go at acting. Her first attempt, the ill-fated FOX comedy Running Wilde co-starring Will Arnett, bombed; her second, FX’s retro spy thriller The Americans, was an unexpected hit. (She also stars in the big-screen comedy Austenland, out Friday, and has a supporting role in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, out next year.)
With The Americans now approaching its second season, both Hollywood and television appear to be content with what Keri Russell probably always was to begin with: an actress interested in deciding her own fate, rather than letting a teen drama dictate the future for her.
The same appears to be true for Russell’s relationship with showbiz, as well. She may cut her hair again at some point during The Americans. You probably just won’t hear much about it if she does.