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Waiting Tables with Keri Russell

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Keri Russell in "Waitress"

Keri Russell in “Waitress”

Waiting Tables with

Keri Russell

by Brad Balfour

Maybe it’s not the same kind of baking as what’s depicted in her new film Waitress, but actress Keri Russell has a bun in the oven now. So when Russell (the former Felicity star) arrived for a set of interviews to promote the movie, there was some concern that her first baby would come into the world during the interview.

Thankfully that didn’t happen but many things both magical and tragic happened with the making of Waitress, an emotionally wrenching yet funny fable about a love-starved waitress (Russell) who brilliantly expresses herself through her home-made pies. Though tortured by her abusive husband (Jeremy Sisto), she finds solace through a gynecologist (Nathan Fillion) who has an affair with her after diagnosing her “illness” as a pregnancy.

Sadly, her fellow waitress and the film’s director, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered shortly after completing this film. Though the movie went on to win accolades and got signed to Fox Searchlight – the same company that had such a success with Little Miss Sunshine, Shelly is not here to enjoy the enthusiastic response; but at least we get to appreciate a fine film with a unique cast and vision about love, womanhood and the future.

How far along is your pregnancy? 

You know, I’m at the end. I’m being kind of vague because those pesky photographers make it really fun at the very end.

Your screams were so convincing. 

My screams…?

When you were giving birth in the film. Did you watch many tapes? Go to any maternity hospitals? 

No. I think we were just trying to be funny and silly. 

Lew Temple, Keri Russell and Cheryl Hines in "Waitress."

Lew Temple, Keri Russell and Cheryl Hines in “Waitress.”

Now that you’re about to give birth in reality what method are you gonna go for? Are you doing Lamaze? 

I’m going to go for get it over with. That’s a personal question and I’m not sharing. Because it’s secret [laughter]. 

You have this uncanny ability to be funny but at the same time, poignant. Did you have that in mind with this character? 

I definitely had a sense of the character that I read on the page. But when you are doing it you have such an experience making it, and then you go see it in the movie [theater] a year later. When I was seeing it, I was surprised [by the reaction] watching it at Sundance. It’s always nice to watch it with an audience.

Usually the first time you see it as an actor you see it with like two people – agents or something. And it’s awful, you’re like “Oh God, what are you wearing… that’s too big.” And, “Oh, your face is so weird.” But this time because it was with an audience I was surprised how hopeful the movie was; it was kind of uplifting. I forgot about that, because the character’s experience in the movie is kind of depressing but everyone else is having real fun.

You get it when you see the movie, but I don’t know if you would get it when you’re reading it on the page. 

Yeah, it was totally on the page. Adrienne had very much control over this movie. Every frame was hers and she got her way on everything in this movie. Honestly it wasn’t like, do what you want with this scene – it was like, I don’t like that, stop doing that, and this is how I want you to do it. It was very much her thing.

Did Adrienne have any kind of suggestions for you as far as how to create that character and the dialogue? 

I don’t know if we ever talked about the specific dialogue. I think the words just kind of come out your mouth.

Jeremy Sisto and Keri Russell in "Waitress."

Jeremy Sisto and Keri Russell in “Waitress.”

But your words are very characteristic. 

You mean because it’s Southern?

Both Southern and very deadpan. 

We didn’t talk about that too much. I just thought it was the beauty of the character. It was so great. That’s what I loved about the script, that she was unhappy and wasn’t afraid to hide it. She was like, oh whatever [laughter].

If you had known Jenna, your character, would you have slapped her around the head and shoulders for staying with that husband? 

Of course. Anyone would. But you know people are in those types of relationships all the time in varying degrees and shades. But what I think Adrienne did with that bad guy; with that bad husband… first of all he’s really funny in [being bad]. I know it’s awful, but calling her porky all the time – I mean that’s so rude. And just at the end, you see how weak he is and how child-like and needy. That’s how most monsters are and you see how she could kind of be stuck there. Women have a problem about not leaving people and take care of them even if they are real shitty. And that’s how it is.

Nathan Fillion and Keri Russell in "Waitress."

Nathan Fillion and Keri Russell in “Waitress.”

You were lucky with this film. When you read a screenplay and say, this is great, but don’t know who they’re going to cast, and it’s with two men – it could have been very difficult. Has that happened to you with a film?

Sure. It’s like dogs. Some dogs just don’t get along. Like at the park, it’s a perfectly nice dog but [it barks]. But with humans, you like some more than you like other people, whether you have to kiss them or not.

Luckily, the people in this movie were nice. And if not, it was only twenty days of shooting. But both men were so lovely and Nathan was so funny and good in it. We called him “the doctor” through the whole thing, never once [did we call him] Nathan. I’m like 5’4”. And Adrienne is maybe five feet. Nathan would come around; he was like a giant, this 6’4” guy. He was so sweet. And I just thought Jeremy did such a good job, he was funny and cruel and hilarious.

How did you keep yourself from laughing? 

I didn’t. I ruined so many takes. I was working on something else at the time and we had to shoot a lot of scenes all at once at the house and it was very late at night. I was so loopy and tired. And Jeremy had to do all this stuff like snuggle up to me, which was so gross. I just kept laughing. I was like dead puppies. Dead puppies. I remember Adrienne saying “Do you want to go home for Christmas? Do you want to go?” And I remember saying, “I can’t help it!” I’d laugh a lot and I think in the movie I can see that I’m clearly laughing a lot. It’s like that thing where you’re at church… don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.

Cheryl Hines, Keri Russell and Adrienne Shelly in "Waitress."

Cheryl Hines, Keri Russell and Adrienne Shelly in “Waitress.”

There is a scene in the film that is pivotal where there’s a voiceover, when you’re writing to the baby. It’s such a beautifully developed and shot scene. Was it always going to be a voiceover? 

That was always a voiceover. The only part that she did say to the doctor, that I don’t think made the film and was kind of a voiceover, when they are having that cozy moment when they are making pies together. He’s like, why are you here? You’re so unhappy. And she’s like, have you ever been poor? And he’s like, well I’ve been broke in college. And she’s like, broke is different than poor. Poor is like no options. I think that’s a big difference. Broke is you’re going to have money again. Poor is something different. But that is some kind of strength. Those women are kind of tough.

What insights did you have that maybe came from the movie? This is a rare chance to influence people. 

For the last four movies I’ve been pregnant which has been sort of strange. I’ve been crying a lot, I don’t know if it’s my age or what. For this movie to be as funny as it is. Not wanting the kid, it’s going to ruin her life. It’s really kind of brave, the letters to this kid. We should be lucky to know our mothers’ most inner thoughts during that time. How cool would that be?

Keri Russell and Andy Griffith in "Waitress"

Keri Russell and Andy Griffith in “Waitress”

She’s like, I look around and I think life really sucks. I’m really nervous to bring another person into this world when I know I’m so unhappy and so unsatisfied with my life. I think what I think, that it’s okay to have these fleeting negative thoughts because then you see the baby and everything’s fine.

This film has feminist overtones but its point of view is primitive, like from the ‘70s. Does it upset you because modern feminism is so vital? 

It doesn’t upset me, it’s just a part. Look, people are who they are. There are things in life… I think it all has to do with income. It’s hard when you feel stuck. Granted, I think that there are many rich people with problems too. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. I think that’s why there are so many films about women as waitresses. It’s a job that anyone can do. You don’t need an education. A lot of times there are these colorful women that have these great stories trying to get thorough life. I know what you mean. Things are just the way they are; you can’t fight them like that.

Do you ever watch an older actress and think, that’s the career I would like to have, or there is something about that career I want? Do you think long-term? 

There are definitely people I admire. As far as actors – when they’re good, they’re real good. The people I love watching are people like Joan Allen or Kathy Bates – I just think everything she does is so funny, so sweet and still at the same time so heartfelt.

Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly and Cheryl Hines in "Waitress."

Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly and Cheryl Hines in “Waitress.”

How did you find out about Adrienne’s death? She was a part of the film community and it shocked us all. Such a sad, sad thing. 

It is a sad, sad thing. I found out like everyone else. Someone called and told me. It’s still shocking. I don’t believe it yet. I know it’s been awhile but it’s just that she was so young – and her family and her mom and her daughter. I don’t know. It’s so unfair. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know if I really processed it completely.

Well, are you going to be doing any writing or what since you will be sitting home for a while once the baby is born? 

I don’t know… eating [laughter]. 

How much time are you going to take off after you have the baby?

A little bit, but at the same token I just bought a house so I’m available for work.

Where do you live now? 

I live in New York. And I’ve never waitressed.

Are you an expert pie-maker now? 

Expert? No. God, no. Cheryl and I keep laughing because we get [these] questions; they want to make everything pie-themed. No, I’m not an expert.

Do you do a lot of cooking at home? 

Not really. As an actor you spend so much time in a hotel room. And then you move to New York where the kitchens aren’t exactly farmhouse kitchens. So not necessarily, but I can get by.

And your favorite pie?

Key Lime.

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved. Posted: May 4, 2007.

Photo Credit:#1 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#2 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#3 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#4 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#5 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#6 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#7 © 2007 Alan Markfield.  Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.

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