It was just the kind of summertime drama the tabloids live for: Felicity heroine Keri Russell and sexy Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis — enjoying a swim off the coast of San Diego last June — are pulled to rescue by lifeguards after getting caught in a riptide! Within hours, the rumor mill was spinning out of control with talk that the Golden Globe winner's near-death experience blew the cover on her hush-hush romance with the rock star. Sadly, Russell insists that her seaside scrape wasn't nearly as riveting as press reports indicated.

"There was no drowning. I'm actually a fabulous swimmer," the 25-year-old actress tells TV Guide Online, adding that, despite what people may have read, she and Kiedis were not alone at the time. "I was with [Felicity co-star] Amanda Foreman and a group of people. He was just a friend of someone who was there — he's not my friend. I know it makes things a lot more exciting [to make more out of it]. I think he has a girlfriend."

Now that we got that straightened out, what exactly did happen out there on that fateful June afternoon? Clarifies Russell: "We were swimming and a lifeguard came up and said that there was a riptide and it's going to be really hard to swim back in. We weren't that far out and in no way in any danger, but he was like, 'Hang on to my board,' and he paddled us back in. But I absolutely could have swam back in."

Fortunately, the rest of Russell's Felicity hiatus wasn't nearly as headline-grabbing. In addition to a trip to Prague, the former Mickey Mouse Club star traveled to Georgia to shoot a role in Mel Gibson's upcoming war pic We Were Soldiers (due next year). "I play the young wife of a Vietnam soldier," she says. "It was good to do something new, and I really enjoyed working with Madeleine Stowe, who most of my scenes were with." And what about Mel? "He was so cool," she grins, confessing, however, that she "seriously doubts" the Oscar winner knew who she was.

Well, Gibson certainly is in the minority there. Now into her senior year of Felicity, Russell — who graces the cover of Mademoiselle's final issue (on sale now) — has emerged as one of the small screen's most popular (not to mention lauded) young actors. But just as her TV alter ego nears graduation day, Russell herself is anxiously anticipating post-college life. "When you're doing something creative, you always want to be inspired and stimulated, and I think it's very difficult to maintain that in a series situation," she sighs. "I'm ready to do other things. I'm also really thankful for my job, but creatively, it's easy to get lazy."