By Ian Spelling
Keri Russell didn’t need to be in a conference room the other day at the Regency Hotel chatting up her new film, “Waitress.” After all, she’s nearly ready to pop with her first child and…
“Can you tell them that!” Russell shouted playfully, referring to the publicity folks at Fox Searchlight, which just released “Waitress.” “He said I don’t have to be here!”
Russell grinned and laughed, but the laughter subsided after an instant. The truth is that she’s doing her part to promote “Waitress” because Adrienne Shelly, its writer, director and co-star, can’t do it for herself. Shelly was murdered in November 2006, in her Greenwich Village office. And so, though she might prefer to relax in her Manhattan apartment, Russell considers it her bittersweet duty to speak on behalf of “Waitress.”
“It’s definitely a unique situation we’re in,” Russell said. “And, yeah, it is difficult not having our ringleader, our main person here. I get questions all the time, ‘What would Adrienne say about…’ It’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t know what she’d say. So it’s hard.”
“Waitress” casts Russell – the 31-year-old star of “Felicity” and “Mission: Impossible III” – as Jenna, a small-town southern waitress who’s pregnant, unhappily married and can bake. Jenna throws all caution to the wind when she romances her OBGYN (Nathan Fillion) and enters a pie-making contest with a $25,000 first prize. Co-stars include Jeremy Sisto as Jenna’s husband, Cheryl Hines and Shelly as her friends and fellow waitresses, and Andy Griffith as the owner of the diner where she works.
Russell provides a voiceover narration for “Waitress” that serves up Jenna’s real thoughts. Yet, given what’s occurring on screen, one wonders why Jenna stays with her spouse. Russell, who’s happily married and lives in Manhattan with her husband, explained that it isn’t always so easy to just walk out.
“Yeah, it looks really horrible up on screen, but I don’t think it’s that uncommon,” she said. “There are a lot of people in relationships who, you wake up and you’re like, ‘Wow, how did I end up here? Why am I still here and not satisfied?’ And I think she doesn’t have much self esteem. Being poor is an issue. It’s an issue for women. She’s a waitress. It’s not like she has a ton of money and a lot of options. She doesn’t really have anywhere to go and she has no family. I think when you don’t have self-esteem it’s hard to see your way out of something bad like that.”
As for her real-life pregnancy, so far so good. “I’m having a great, really easy one compared to my girlfriends,” Russell noted. “This is my first.”
How her imminent arrival will affect her career remains to be seen. Might she work less? Will she choose roles differently, knowing that one day her child will watch mom’s films and TV shows?
“Who knows?” Russell said, shrugging. “I don’t know. I find it fascinating how people can do it, do both. It seems impossible to me right now, but I watch my girlfriends do it. We’ll see how it all goes.”