Keri Russell Charms and Disarms in Waitress

Filled with heart and laughs, it is a fitting tribute to Adrienne Shelly

Keri Russell charms and disarms in Waitress, her first leading role in a film. Long know for her work on TV's "Felicity", Russell was last seen opposite Tom Cruise in last summer's "Mission Impossible III". She had been previously cast in Waitress, but decided to do the big budget film first to further her career. Adrienne Shelly, writer/director/co-star of Waitress, decided to wait six months for her to be available again. Russell shines as the beautiful and subjugated Jenna, a plucky waitress with a deadbeat husband and a gift for making the best pies in the south.

The film is a pleasant surprise, filled with heart and laughs. It is, however, an unfortunate end to an emerging career. Adrienne Shelly was murdered in her apartment in the city last year. She was strangled by an illegal immigrant who worked in her building. Her death sent shockwaves through the New York film community. She was beloved here and will be greatly missed. Keri, who was nine months pregnant during the interview, was visible saddened by the loss. Adrienne Shelly leaves behind a husband, daughter, and beautiful work of art.

So are you an expert pie-maker now?

Keri Russell: No, Cheryl [Hines] and I keep laughing because we get these questions. Reporters want to make everything pie-themed. No, I'm not an expert.

Alright, do you have a favorite pie?

Keri Russell: Key Lime.

Have you ever worked as a waitress?

Keri Russell: I've never waitressed.

Why does Jenna stay with her abusive husband?

Keri Russell: People are in those types of relationships all the time in varying degrees and shades. He's really funny in being bad. I know it's awful, calling her porky all the time. It's just at the end when you see how weak he is, and how child-like and needy. That's how most monsters are. 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.

Are you surprised by how positively people are reacting to her and your performance?

Keri Russell: I definitely had a sense of the character that I read on the page. I was surprised watching it at Sundance. It's always nice to watch it 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.

How far along are you with your pregnancy?

Keri Russell: I'm at the end. I'm being kind of vague because of those pesky photographers.

Having given birth in your last few films, do you think any of that acting experience will pay off here?

Keri Russell: No, I think we were just trying to be funny and silly.

Fair enough, have you been doing Lamaze classes?

Keri Russell: It's a secret. That's a personal question and I'm not sharing. I'm going to just go and get it over with. 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.

Are you writing letters to the baby like Jenna does?

Keri Russell: No (laughs), it's really kind of brave, the letters to the kid. We should be lucky to know our mothers' most inner thoughts during that time. How cool would that be? 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.

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

Keri Russell: A little bit, but at the same time I just bought a house; so I'm available for work.

There's a heartbreaking letter to the baby where she comments on how disappointed her mother would have been by her situation. Was that always planned as a voice over?

Keri Russell: That was always a voiceover. She's broke, which 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. 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 through life.

It's surprising such a pivotal scene was a voice over...

Keri Russell: Yeah, it was totally on the page. Adrienne [Shelly, the director] had very much control over this movie. Every frame was hers and she got her way on everything in this movie. 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?

Keri Russell: I don't know if we ever talked about the specific dialogue. I think the words just kind of come out your mouth. I just thought it was the beauty of the character. That's what I loved about the script, she was unhappy and wasn't afraid to hide it.

How did you find out about Adrienne's death? It was so shocking to the New York film community?

Keri Russell: 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 has been awhile, but it's just that she was so young. It's so unfair. I don't know what to say, I don't know if I've really processed it completely.