Waitress - Keri Russell interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
KERI Russell talks about playing the lead role in Waitress and whether or not she became a great pie maker.
She also discusses the tragedy surrounding the film’s writer, director and co-star, Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered last year – and how the film brings her happiness tinged with regret.
Q: What appealed to you about Waitress and working with the director, Adrienne Shelly?
A: The thing I loved about this movie when I read the script was that it was exactly the kind of film that I love to watch. It’s not just funny, it’s serious, just when you need it to be and true to life in a way. I just thought that Adrienne wrote a great character. It really was all on the page. Adrienne had 100 per cent control over this movie as a director. She didn’t just write it, direct it and act in it, she was the creative force behind everything, from the jokes down to the expressions. She would say: “How are you going to do that face? Nnnn-nnah, I don’t want you to do it like that.” And she’d explain exactly what she was looking for. This was her movie.
She also wrote the songs that I sing in it. She wrote everything. She chose the colour of our outfits; she designed the set of the diner. She was very, very involved at every level.
Q: How realistic do you think Jenna [your character]‘s story actually is?
A: I think it’s quite common and realistic. There are many stories like this. Her marriage looks really horrible up on the screen but I think there are a lot of people in bad relationships who wake up and think to themselves: “Wow, how did I end up here? Why am I still here and so unhappy and not satisfied with my life?” I also think she doesn’t have much self-esteem. She has no money and being poor is a big issue for many women. She’s a waitress. It’s not as though she has any financial power or freedom or a lot of options, if she were to leave him. 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 the marriage she’s in.
Q: Did you learn how to bake great pies?
A: We shot the movie in 20 days so there wasn’t a lot of time to learn. There wasn’t a lot of pie baking going on, at least not by me. But we always had pies while we were filming – we ate two different pies every day for lunch!
Q: Did you gain a lot of weight with all that fantastic pastry?
A: Not really because we were working too hard, we were active all the time and there was not a lot of time to sit around eating.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a good cook yourself?
A: A little bit… I can make cookies and do easy stuff. Pies are very specific and hard to do well though. With a pie, the crust is a real delicacy. It’s very hard to get it just right because it’s got to be cold and just the right consistency. There’s a whole art to it and I haven’t learned how to do it because I spend so much time on the road, being on location, in different cities and hotel rooms. There’s not a lot of time for cooking, especially when you’re shooting nights or working until 11pm. I tend to come home and eat a bowl of cereal. I’m not thinking about baking a pie when I’m off work. But now I will be home a little bit more with my baby, so maybe I will do some more baking and cooking.
Q: Can you talk about the rapport you shared with co-stars Cheryl [Hines] and Adrienne [Shelly]?
A: I love Cheryl so much and had so much fun with her. Off set we got on so well and would tell stories. We would be chatting and then they’d say: “Well, we’ve got to shoot!” And we’d say: “But Cheryl’s not done with her story!” And we’d whisper to Cheryl: “Just keep talking. Just keep talking.” She’s so funny and entertaining and all three of us got along so well. We’d sit around discussing motherhood and babies and relationships. I love them both.
Q: What do you think Waitress says about women? It’s uplifting and funny amidst everything else…
A: That’s interesting to hear you say that because watching it for the first time at Sundance was fascinating – it was so different from the experience of making it. I wouldn’t say that my experience making it was necessarily uplifting, but watching it with an audience, I was surprised at how hopeful it was at the end. Really, it was a story about believing in yourself ultimately, and caring enough about yourself to change your life. So, yeah, I do think it speaks in a positive way for women and it was surprising for me to see it for the first time as a movie all put together with music. I really
liked it a lot.
Q: What was it like working with Andy Griffith who is quite legendary in America?
A: He’s so great. He’s just a dream. He’s a beautiful man and so professional. I think he had more to say, script-wise, than anyone else, and when you’re older it’s not easy to memorize lines. He talked about that. He said: “It’s really hard to memorize everything now. I have to really work on it.” And yet he knew his lines better than anyone else!
Q: This is a unique situation with the release of this film, because it is a lovely movie that has also become a tribute to Adrienne Shelly? How difficult is that for you?
A: It’s definitely a unique situation that we’re in. And, yeah, it is difficult not having our ringleader here with us to talk about the film, not having our main person here. People are also asking in relation to the film: what would Adrienne say about this or that? But I don’t know. I don’t know what she would say. So it’s hard. Cheryl and I sat through two screenings at the Sundance Film Festival and during the second one, we said to each other: “You know, we don’t have to get sad about this. Let’s try to enjoy this. Let’s just watch it. It’s a happy movie.”
But as soon as the little girl, her own daughter who is in the film, comes on the screen at the end, it’s very hard to fight back the tears. It’s very emotional and so sad. We miss her.
Q: Can you say something about August Rush, your new film with Freddie Highmore?
A: Freddie is great in the movie. It comes out this Fall and I play a young cellist, a prodigy, who is touring and doing concerts. She’s very young and has a one-night fling with an Irish rocker, played Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who is also a really talented musician. They never see each other again, and she gets pregnant. It’s kind of like a fairy tale Oliver with music. Her son goes in search of his parents. It’s really beautiful and sweet and Terrence Howard plays a great part in it. It’s shot in New York and it uses New York very well. It’s like a big, sweeping, beautiful movie.
Q: Having started your career at such a young age, are you still as passionate and wholehearted about performing? And would you let your own children act?
A: I think I’m probably more passionate about acting now than when I was a kid. When I was young, I didn’t know what I was doing. I think the first time I realized I was actually acting was during Felicity. Before that, I was just going along for the ride. I don’t think, as a 15-year-old, you’re that conscious about a lifetime career. I didn’t think: “I’m a serious actor.” I never studied acting or anything when I was that age. So I think I’m more serious about it now, or more conscious of it, I’d say. And no I would not let my children act when they are young!