As Felicity, the sensitive college girl forever caught between two men in The WB series of the same name, Keri Russell became known for dramatic, breathless hellos, rather than breathless laughter. But Will Arnett, her co-star in Fox's new comedy Running Wilde, says Russell is not only funny, she was at the top of their wish list to play his opposites-attract love interest.
"That's a bald-faced lie," Russell says, joking that in order to make sure she was funny enough to star in a comedy, the show's creators — Arrested Development's Arnett and Mitch Hurwitz, along with Jim Valley — have been sending the actress to do stand-up in New York two nights a week. "It's been, um, awkward," the actress says."God, wouldn't that be hysterical if it were true?"
In Running Wilde, Russell plays humanitarian and uber-activist Emmy, who, through crazy, Hurwitzian circumstances, is reunited with her would-have-been childhood sweetheart Steve Wilde (Arnett). Steve has grown up to be a rich, buffoonish playboy, but somehow, the attraction is there.
"It's not a romantic comedy. It's Mitch Hurwitz's version of a romantic comedy," Russell explains. "Totally different."
It's been eight years since Russell left television. After four seasons on Felicity, her name-making role, she wanted a break from the prime-time grind. She went on to do a Neil LaBute play and a handful of movies, including Mission: Impossible III and the independent sleeper hit Waitress. Now married and a mom, Russell says she hadn't planned on returning to TV until Hurwitz's name turned up on a script. "I loved Arrested Development," she says. "I thought this was different enough, and that it would be fun if nothing else."
So far, she's been right. "It's like a men's club. But you know how when you think of men's clubs, you think of power?" Yes. And cigars. "Yes, cigars! That's what I was thinking. Well, working on Running Wilde is like a men's club, but for nerds. I enter Will's trailer and it's him and Jim and Mitch and they're riffing on jokes all day. There's not a single joke that doesn't get rewritten a thousand times because they're just in there cracking themselves up. Seriously, there are like six printers set up in that trailer for rewrites."
"It looks like the Democratic National Party headquarters during an election or something — papers flying everywhere," she says. "I just want to hang out with them all the time."
Changes made to the show's original pilot episode have been well-documented in the media — production moved from Canada to New York, several characters were rewritten, roles were recast — causing some to speculate that the new series is, perhaps, not as solid as Hurwitz's gold standard, Arrested Development. "But those kinds of early changes happen in TV all the time," Russell says, unfazed. "The pilot sets up the world, but you'll see, the next episodes, I think, are really good."
Certainly, she's braced herself for a return to the spotlight — sort of. "I mean, it's Will's show. I'm just kind of tagging along, doing my part," she says. That includes promoting the show. Esquire recently posted a racy photo shoot with Russell in various states of undress, accompanied by the headline "The Woman Next Door" — and the more Web-friendly browser title "Keri Russell Nude — Photos of Keri Russell."
"Oh my gosh, I'm not even naked!" she says. "I'm wearing panties. Big panties! Ah, you know, welcome to my world."