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Keri Russell's life takes a funny turn

The former 'Felicity' star returns to television as the comedic foil for Will Arnett in the new Fox series 'Running Wilde.'

September 19, 2010|Yvonne Villarreal

It's mere hours before the Emmy Awards and Keri Russell is in a bathrobe in her hotel room, holding two phones to her ears. Her hairstylist is arriving and she's feeling overwhelmed by all the primping that's about to take place.

"If I had it my way, I'd be going in jeans and a T-shirt," she explained over the phone. "I can't decide what to wear! Purple dress or pink?"

She went with the pink — a late-1970s hot-pink pleated chiffon Jean-Louis Scherrer gown from her own closet.

The intense glamour regime required by the awards circuit and the self-promotion that comes with a network TV series is a huge leap from the ungussied lifestyle she leads in Brooklyn, where the former "Felicity" actress rides her bicycle to the market and returns home with bags of food strapped to the back. And where she does something unthinkable for most Hollywood stars: her own laundry.

"Keri is so low maintenance, she makes Jason Bateman look like Gloria Swanson," said Will Arnett, her costar in the new Fox comedy "Running Wilde," in his deadpan but not-really-joking way.

It's a folksy way of life, somewhat similar to that of the 34-year-old's latest character. In "Running Wilde," Russell plays Emmy, who has spent her adult life as an earnest environmental activist until her childhood sweetheart, the filthy-rich and foolishly extravagant Steve Wilde (Arnett), tries to win back her affection. But Emmy's philanthropic tendencies serve her ego more than they do humanity — and that, contrasted with her ability to be "so damn likeable," according to Arnett, makes for some amusing moments.

"I think people will be surprised to see just how funny she is," Arnett said. "Her character is so uptight and so rigid compared to mine; it allows for humor to reveal itself in unconventional ways."

"Emmy is anti everything that is over-the-top," Russell said. "She was living in a freakin' jungle."

Like Emmy, Russell is familiar with self-imposed exile. Following four seasons on the WB's "Felicity," Russell took a Hollywood sabbatical.

"I felt like I was sinking," Russell said. "I was 21 when that show started. I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to show up for birthday parties. I wanted to do laundry! I wanted to get back to that for a little bit before I went back to work."

The days of 6 a.m. call times and tabloid scrutiny — the world gasped when she cut her curly locks in Season 2 — gave way to days of sleeping in and styling her hair without worrying about public reaction.

But after a year and a half, Russell looked to films and theater, appearing in Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig," and movies such as "August Rush" and "Waitress."

"It was always the nice-mom kind of roles," Russell said. "['Running Wilde'] was so wildly different … it was just weird enough and crazy enough and I thought, 'Why not?'"

A reaction welcomed by creators Arnett, Jim Vallely and Mitch Hurwitz, who had previously worked together on Fox's critical darling " Arrested Development."

"She was kind of on this wish list of people who we thought would never do it, but 'what if?'," Arnett said. "Her reps were like, 'Well, she read it, she liked it, and she's considering meeting you guys.' We were like, 'Wow. Considered meeting us?' She's so legit … and we're not. We're just fools."

"Running Wilde" is her first full-time gig as a comedic foil. At the start of her career in the early '90s, Russell appeared on Disney's "The All New Mickey Mouse Club" and on the short-lived NBC teen drama "Malibu Shores."

"She hasn't really done a lot of comedy, but she's such a good student of whatever she's doing," Arnett said. "It's really surprising how she can offset the seething anger and bitterness that you can only acquire through years of 'The Mickey Mouse Club.'"

The mouse ears may be a thing of the past, but Russell did bring old promotional images showcasing a "humongous head of hair" to the "Running Wilde" set.

"The outfits alone from those days were comedy gold," Russell said. "Maybe that's enough to prep me for this gig. And, hey, I probably washed all those bad outfits myself."

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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