HOLLYWOOD -- Keri Russell knows from typecasting. She's played a pregnant character in her last four films, including the romantic comedy Waitress, which opens this month. "I don't know what about me screams young pregnant mother," said Russell, 31, with amusement.
Whatever it is, life has followed suit. The actress -- almost as famous for cutting her hair as for winning a Golden Globe for her breakthrough role on TV's Felicity -- is about to have her first child with husband Shane Deary, a carpenter she married three months ago. "I always knew I would have kids," said Russell from her apartment in New York. "We didn't plan this schedule exactly, but I am so excited. It's been very fun and pretty easy."
Waitress was written and directed by the late actress Adrienne Shelly, best known for her quirky roles in Hal Hartley's films The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. Shelly never got to see the premiere of her film (in which she also acts) at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The 40-year-old was murdered in New York last November as she was finishing the film.
Russell said she still can't believe that Shelly is dead. "It's such a shocking thing," she said softly. "There have been so many times, especially at Sundance, I thought, 'I wish she was here. She would be living this up.'"
Set in a small Southern town, Waitress finds Russell playing Jenna, an unhappily married woman kept on a short leash by her needy husband (Jeremy Sisto). About the only things that makes Jenna happy are the dazzling pies she creates at Joe's Diner -- creations she christens with quirky names like "Kick in the Pants" pie or "I Don't Want Earl's Baby" pie. Jenna secretly stashes away the profits in the hopes of leaving her husband -- a dream that's shattered when she discovers she's pregnant.
Russell found Shelly's take on pregnancy and motherhood to be fresh. "People really expect pregnant women to have the same attitude -- to be very precious and completely loving," she said. "Anyone who has been around pregnant women knows that's not always how it goes. Even if you are really precious about it, you go crazy some days and you're mad and you're cussing."
Beneath the film's deft comedic moments is a real truth, Russell said. "You get her," she said of Jenna. "Her life is a mess and she doesn't have any hope and this happens. It is just one more person taking something away from her. I think it's a fairly common story, especially in a lower-income situation."
Russell began her career in 1991 as a teenager on the Disney Channel's The New Mickey Mouse Club. Taking a somewhat classier career path than co-stars Christina, Britney and Justin, Russell went on to star in Aaron Spelling's Malibu Shores (we said somewhat classier), then J.J. Abrams' first hit, Felicity. After that show ended in 2002, she moved to New York, where, aside from her 2004 off-Broadway debut in Neil LaBute's Fat Pig (which effectively decimated any good-girl stereotyping), she concentrated on being normal.
"I think a lot had to do with being exhausted," Russell said. "I really needed to be a kid. I had some close girlfriends that were going to school in New York. I moved here with just clothes, my cats and boxes of books. I needed to be interested in things again."
In 2005, Russell returned to the screen in the Mike Binder film The Upside of Anger, followed by the miniseries Into the West and Mission: Impossible III.
Speaking of potentially impossible missions: Though Russell is reading scripts for fall projects, acting is again on hold as she and Deary prepare for baby.
"We bought a house that he's completely redoing," Russell said. Though it won't be finished in time for the birth later this month, "we will be in there when the baby is still a baby!" she insisted.
Susan King writes for the Los Angeles Times.