Going to Work: Keri Russell on Dark Skies and Austenland

Making her first horror movie ever and what's going on with FX's 'The Americans.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

We’re not trying to be stalkers or anything but we’ve kind of been following Keri Russell all year. When “The Americans” presented a panel to the Television Critics Association, we were there. We were supposed to talk to her at Sundance for Austenland but that fell through in the snowbound fury of Sundance. Luckily she has another movie opening this week, and we finally connected with Russell, albeit via cell phone while she was in between gigs in New York. Russell plays a mother in a family plagued by mysterious forces in Dark Skies. Basically, the aliens mess with her by stacking all her kitchen products or making her bang her head against a glass door.

Read CraveOnline's interview with Dark Skies producer Jason Blum.

Dark Skies opens in theaters on February 22 (USA), March 14 (Aus) and April 5 (UK).

CraveOnline: Was horror a genre you always wanted to try?

Keri Russell: You know, it’s not something I was seeking out. I guess I do read horror scripts a lot actually, but this one, the first read, I just thought, “That’s going to work. I get that. I buy the family. I buy it.” It was fun and scary and did everything right to me. I just kept following it. As it was coming together as a film, I just kept asking business people, “What’s up with that scary movie? What’s going on with that?” It came together and we shot it in a quick month and I think [writer/director] Scott Stewart did a really good job.

It’s the first horror movie you’ve done so I wondered if it was a genre on your radar.

It hasn’t been, really. I do enjoy The Others or Pan’s Labyrinth, films like that, but I think this, its strength is that it really sold the family dynamic. It’s a family drama kind of the way Poltergeist was. I think you believe and you trust the family first. You care about them when bad things start happening, and I hope it works.

When there is a big jump scare, do you have to really be surprised?

Yeah, it’s a weird thing I guess. God, how do you explain it? Yeah, you have to sort of get yourself surprised a little bit.

When you’re banging your head against the glass, you can’t fake that, can you?

Well, we did sort of. I don’t have multiple concussions, but we did. We found a way to make it work. We tried different types of plexiglass and things. I thought it really works in the film.

Did the stacked kitchen ever fall over and ruin a take?

[Laughs] Believe it or not, no. You’d think it would though.

Did the kids need any special care for the scary scenes?

You know, we kind of just talked about it. We were like, “Oh, let’s get really scared in this scene. Let’s pretend something’s really scary, trying to get inside.” We just played games like that.

I got a chance to see Austenland Sundance also.

Oh, you’re kidding me.

No, I’m not kidding at all. We were there! Did it remind you of Waitress in that it was another light story about finding happiness?

Yeah, kind of in a way, and even the way it looked. It’s bright and poppy and not dark and reflexive. It’s sort of fun for Sundance I think. It was so fun to see it with an audience too. I never imagined it would play so well. I was so pleased with it.

Did you get your Jane Austen fix, even though it’s a modern version?

Totally. Although, I still love watching all those Keira Knightley movies. I love them. They’re beautiful.

Is it sort of a satire of romantic comedies as well as Jane Austen stories?

Yes, 100%. I mean, I love that the lonely ladies are going somewhere and actually paying for it, paying to be romanced and hopefully kissed a little bit. I love it. I think it’s hilarious.

But like modern rom-coms, the servants are actually hunkier.

[Laughs] Hey, come on, working men sometimes are pretty hot. I don’t know about you, but me and my babysitter, every time our UPS guy comes to the door, we’re like, “He smells so good.”

I love that they sold low-tier packages to be the peasant too. Who would pay for that?

Oh, I know. Totally. She didn’t have as much money. I love that there are different levels. Hilarious.

Could you imagine a “Felicity” fan park?

I can’t but that would be hilarious. So there would be a ton of Noels walking around and a ton of Bens and you’d get to study with them and stuff.

How far into “The Americans” are you?

I think we’re on episode six or seven, so still pretty new but still really interesting. I’m really enjoying myself on that. It’s a combination of the actors are all so good on it and it’s so engaging, I just love the complicated marriage on that show. I think it’s so interesting in what you’re willing to compromise and how much you know somebody and the fact that it was an arranged marriage and they’re just now finding out who each other really are, and at least my character really trying to allow herself to be seen. All of those things are really interesting to me.

And Phillip is already sort of being won over to America and she’s still loyal to Mother Russia, so how is that going to play out between them?

Yeah, exactly. It’s going to play a huge part in their relationship obviously, especially if they are going to get closer. They’re going to have needs or problems. It’s a really multi-faceted dynamic that the show started with and I think there’s a lot of different ways to go with it.

Is there any more action, like that great scene in the pilot where you kick a guy through the wall?

Yeah, there’s definitely some more action headed your way. There’s a few beat downs coming up.

Is that fun for you?

Sort of, yeah. [Laughs] It’s kind of hilarious/fun.

Of course we know your whole history in television and film, but one thing I’ve never seen was the “Clerks” TV pilot you were in.

Oh my gosh, whoa.

Do you remember that?

I barely even remember that. No, I have the most vague memory of that. I don’t even know when that was.

1995, before “Felicity.”

Oh, definitely. I vaguely remember that. I don’t even know what I played in that.

Maybe we should leave it to the ages then.


When did you shoot Dark Skies and Austenland in relation to “The Americans?”

I shot the pilot of “The Americans” in I think it was May, May/June. Then Dark Skies was in August. We shot it all in one month in August. Then we started back up on “The Americans” right around Thanksgiving.

So Austenland was before both of them?

Austenland was well before that. I was pregnant with my second child so that was a couple summers ago. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.