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The Stunning Transformation Of Keri Russell

young Keri Russell smiling

Her name is Keri Russell, but for many people, the curly-haired actress will always be known as Felicity, thanks to her starring role on the beloved teen coming-of-age show. After all, that look was named one of television’s most memorable hairstyles by Glamour. In reality, Russell — not to mention her hair – has undergone a stunning transformation since then, morphing from teen ingenue to femme fatale on “The Americans,” and branching out from television to star in blockbusters like the “Mission: Impossible” and “Planet of the Apes” franchises (via IMDb).

The actress remains more private than many of her peers, but she’s had her fill of personal drama made public. Fans have even been able to get an inside look at Keri Russell’s relationship with Matthew Rhys, her co-star who became her romantic partner.

Despite a remarkable 30-year career under her belt, she remains incredibly modest. “I haven’t had some great plan. . I’ve been incredibly lucky and had some really good opportunities and experiences. There’s no rhyme or reason,” she told Variety. Read on to learn more about the stunning transformation of Keri Russell.

Keri Russell originally wanted to be a dancer

young Keri Russell speaking

It’s hard to believe the woman behind one of television’s most iconic characters never wanted to be an actress, but that’s how it was with Keri Russell. While growing up in Arizona and later Colorado — the family moved around a lot because of her father’s job as a Nissan executive (via Celebrity Net Worth) — young Russell had dreams of performing, but her heart was set on being a dancer (via The Hollywood Reporter). At age 13, she earned a scholarship to a dance school, and her career was put into motion.

“I didn’t grow up desperate to be an actress. . I was a dancer. That’s kind of, like, the only thing I’m trained in,” she humbly said during an “Off Camera with Sam Jones” interview.

Dancing would end up being Russell’s ticket to stardom — just not in the way she expected. All those lessons and hard work would pay off in the form of an audition for “The Mickey Mouse Club” television show.

Keri Russell began her career with The Mickey Mouse Club

Keri Russell on The Mickey Mouse Club

When Keri Russell auditioned for “The Mickey Mouse Club,” the casting agent asked her to dance and sing, she told W. The first part was fine, but, not being much of a singer, she didn’t want to belt out a tune — and said as much. In the end, it wasn’t a problem. She joined the cast of the popular kids’ program that would go on to launch the careers of several future superstars. Russell was a Mouseketeer from 1991 to 1994, alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and Justin Timberlake (via The Hollywood Reporter). Videos from back in the day show Russell and the other junior celebs performing choreographed routines to their own versions of hit songs.

Russell was a fair bit older than most of the kids. “I like to remind everyone that they were 12 when I was 17, so . I could drive,” she said on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” And, yes, she still chats to her former co-stars when she runs into them.

Felicity made Keri Russell a teen icon

Keri Russell smiling

On “Felicity,” Keri Russell played the title character, a young woman who goes to college in New York City so she can be close to her crush, Ben — who hasn’t shown any interest in her (via The New York Times). The show was a major hit for the WB network, and teenage girls found themselves heavily invested in the life of Felicity, who must ultimately choose between Ben or Noel, a resident assistant she meets as she starts her new life.

The show, which ran from 1998 to 2002, was popular right out of the gate, and even earned two Golden Globe nominations for its first season, Vulture reported: best drama series and best actress. A shocked Russell — just 22 at the time — won, beating big names Gillian Anderson for “The X-Files” and Julianna Margulies for “ER.” “This is so . encouraging is the word that comes to mind, more than thanks,” the actress said in her humble acceptance speech. She was proud of the work, she added, and thanked creator J.J. Abrams for casting her.

Keri Russell cut her hair — and made headlines

Keri Russell with short hair

To understand just how big “Felicity” was — and how important Keri Russell was to its success — one need look no further than the Great Haircut Drama of 1999. Heading into the second season of the show, Russell and J.J. Abrams decided the actress should cut her hair, W reported, in keeping with the character’s heartbreak storyline. No big deal, right? Wrong.

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When Russell’s long, bouncing locks were chopped to nothing but a pixie style, people flipped out. And not just teen fans but grown adults. Negative complaints flowed in, The Baltimore Sun reported. Ratings for the show plummeted. Susanne Daniels, then head of programming at The WB, announced a ban on the network’s actors cutting their hair.

Russell took the blame, and had to endure people approaching her on the street to complain or tell her she was pretty before she chopped her locks, she told W. But she never had any regrets, always maintaining that it was the right move for the character and herself. “That long hair is how I was identified. So, it was nice to be out of that,” she shared.

She questioned whether she wanted to keep acting

Keri Russell at awards show

After “Felicity” wrapped, Keri Russell took a page out of her character’s playbook and headed to New York. But it wasn’t because of a man. She was, to put it simply, burned out. She took a couple of years off to get away from the pressures of fame and the expectations of Hollywood, not to mention the hectic workload. “I wasn’t surviving,” is how she starkly put it to New York magazine. She also wasn’t even sure whether she wanted to act, especially since she had never planned for that career path.

The downside of playing such a famous character at such a young age was that Russell hadn’t yet had a real chance to define who she herself was, she told “Off Camera with Sam Jones.” During filming, she was upset she had missed out on regular teenage girl stuff. Taking personal time meant she could “kind of be a kid and, you know, read books and wander the city,” she said. Unburdened by worrying about her career — she didn’t want to get any more famous — she made the important decision to put her mental health first.

After moving to New York, Keri Russell hit the stage

Keri Russell wearing red

When Keri Russell did feel ready to resume working, she didn’t jump back into television. Instead, she decided to try her luck at stage acting — and she went all in.

In 2004, she appeared in an off-Broadway performance of the drama “Fat Pig” by the famous playwright American Neil LaBute, alongside lead actor Jeremy Piven. The reviews of her performance as Jeannie, a supporting character, were mainly positive. New York magazine praised her acting as “perfection,” but amid generally kind words Variety said her “lack of stage experience” showed in her movements.

Russell’s character was cruel — the complete opposite of the innocent, good-girl persona she had been stuck with since “Felicity.” In its review of the show, Gothamist expressed surprise at how well she played the “acid-tongued” role. The actress was happy to shake off the type-casting. “Who knew it was so fun to be mean?” she asked New York mag. “I’d been missing out all this time!”

The actress became a CoverGirl

Keri Russell with curly hair

In 2006, Keri Russell became a spokeswoman for CoverGirl cosmetics, her first big modeling gig. “When I first started, I did do a commercial for a deodorant or something,” she told CBS. “I don’t even think it aired. This is the first thing I’ve done like this.” She joined a famous list of faces that includes Tyra Banks, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna (via E!).

Russell was hired to promote a new Outlast Double LipShine — and the creative team definitely came up with a creative way for her to do so. Perhaps trying to play off her role in 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III” (via IMDb), the actress goes up against a group of attackers in the campaign’s TV commercial, which she called more of an action short. (Needless to say, her lipstick remains flawless throughout the fight sequence.)

But Russell’s new job went beyond the usual TV and magazine ads. As part of her promotional work she filmed “The Keri Kronicles,” a reality show for MySpace that claimed to offer a look into her life, New York Post reported. Sadly, it appears to have been wiped from the Internet.

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For a while, Keri Russell kept getting typecast as a pregnant woman

Keri Russell smiling

After her performances in “Fat Pig” and “Mission: Impossible III,” it seemed Keri Russell had finally proven her acting range. But still she ended up being typecast — not as an innocent teen, but as a mom-to-be. She played a pregnant woman in four films in a row, The Baltimore Sun reported. “I think there’s something about my face that screams, ‘Nice pregnant girl,'” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

In two of the four films — “The Magic of Ordinary Days” and “August Rush” — she played unwed mothers-to-be whose circumstance lead to much drama. In “The Girl in the Park,” she again played an unmarried pregnant woman — although this time her character is engaged. In “Waitress,” her expecting character is married — but planning to leave her controlling, deadbeat husband. Russell’s character, Jenna, vents her frustrations into delicious, colorfully named pies — for example, “I Hate My Husband Pie” — that she bakes for the diner in her small town.

Of all those movies, “Waitress” was the biggest success. The ultimately joyful story touched viewers and was made into a hit Broadway musical. But despite her stage background, Russell did not resume the role. She doesn’t sing, remember?

Keri Russell’s first marriage ended in divorce

Keri Russell, Shane Deary laughing

As fate would have it, as she was promoting her role as the pregnant Jenna in “Waitress,” Keri Russell herself was pregnant (via The Boston Herald); she gave birth to son River in June 2007. Earlier that year on Valentine’s Day, she had wed his father, Shane Deary — but the happy family would not last (via Us Weekly): The couple, who later welcomed daughter Willa, separated in the summer of 2012.

Russell met Shane, a carpenter, through friends in Massachusetts’ Martha’s Vineyard, according to The Independent. Their small wedding took place during a snowstorm in New York, People reported, when Russell was in her second trimester.

Upon news of their separation, the actress’ rep issued a statement to E! News saying the breakup was “amicable.” And since then, Keri Russell has remained pretty quiet about the emotional episode in her life.

On The Americans, Keri Russell got dark

Keri Russell red lipstick

If Keri Russell had any final remnants of Felicity’s persona attached to her, she obliterated them once and for all with her role as Elizabeth Jennings on “The Americans.” The FX drama series, which made its debut in 2013 (via The Hollywood Reporter), followed the lives of a seemingly all-American couple with two children who are actually Russian KGB spies living deep undercover in the United States during the Cold War. The idea was based on a real-life case (via Quartz), but the story was completely fictional.

The show, which ran for six seasons, was dark, sad, sexy, violent, and — most importantly — excellent, Variety reported. And at the center of all the action was Russell’s character: Elizabeth, not her husband, was the lead instigator, emotionally detached from the killing and other underhanded dealings their jobs as spies required.

The role garnered Russell three Emmy nominations, Vanity Fair reported, but she always went home empty-handed. Still, for the actress it was the role of a lifetime. “I rebelled in her, kind of, panther-like sub-fearlessness. . She’s not afraid to look everyone in the eye and live in the uncomfortable, weird silences,” she said.

The TV star found a new love on set

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys started dating after they began starring in “The Americans” together, but the cutest part of their love story is that they actually met years earlier. As the couple explained on an episode of “Watch Happens Live with Andy Cohen,” Rhys approached Russell after a kickball party for her number and later left her a drunken message. She never called back — well, not for 10 years or so. After months of rumors, they confirmed their relationship in 2014 (via People).

Watch any video clips of the two together and their chemistry is palpable: They’re constantly making each other smile and laugh. Remember Rhys’ Emmy acceptance speech when he said that if he proposed to Russell, she would punch him? Her hilarious reaction went viral.

It seems the spark between the two was apparent on set. “The Americans” had no shortage of sex scenes, but when Russell and Rhys went to film one particularly steamy one the director was concerned about how it would go. But “we kind of did it and just did it right away,” Russell told Sam Jones (via Cheat Sheet). And at that moment their colleague knew the two had been intimate off-camera as well. The actress continued, “He’s like, ‘They’re way too comfortable together.'”

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Keri Russell tries to balance career with motherhood

Keri Russell with straight hair

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys welcomed their first child together — son Sam — in May 2020, People reported, making the actress a mother of three. And when it comes to balancing raising her kids and maintaining her career, the star is clear on which gets priority, telling Town & Country that she carefully selects jobs that allow her to be present with her family. “I see a lot of other people who have great ambition, but I feel as if my life is so full, with little kids,” she shared. “I’m not hungry for a certain kind of success.”

She is frank about the difficulties of parenting, and the way it as affected her. Having kids has made her more emotional and “vulnerable,” she told People. And her children have made her “less selfish” and more grounded, she said to Parade.

And it’s also, understandably, changed her relationship with Rhys. As she explained on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” the two used to spend breaks on press tours making out in bathrooms. Now they ask their driver to pull over so they can nap before the next interview. Stars, they’re just like us.

She worries her career has an expiration date

Keri Russell smokey eyes

Like many Hollywood actresses who have reached middle age, Keri Russell wonders whether there’s a limit on her time in Hollywood. She told Town & Country that she has concerns over her career “lifespan.” And she has legitimate reason to worry. As The Washington Post reports, research has shown that past the age of 40, 80% of available roles go to men, leaving a paltry 20% for women. That study was analyzed data up to 2011, but it’s safe to say things haven’t evened out by now.

One of the ways actresses have sought to level the playing field is by creating their own production companies and spearheading female-driven projects. As Vanity Fair reports, Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media company is one example. But Russell is not interested in taking on such a workload. “I can’t imagine running a big company as well as what I’m doing, or producing 8,000 things,” she told Town & Country.

It seems she doesn’t need to worry too much just yet. According to the actress’ IMDb page, she continued her action streak by playing the helmeted Zorii Bliss in “Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker” in 2019, and she’s secured roles in the 2021 horror film “Antlers” and “Cocaine Bear,” directed by Elizabeth Banks.

When it comes to aging, Keri Russell takes it stride

Keri Russell brown hair

When it comes to aging itself, Keri Russell appears to be taking it in stride.

She told Shape, “When I see those people who look so great for their age, I’m like, ‘Oh, I do want that. I do want to look like that at 60.’ I’m just not ready to stick to a strict regimen.” Still, her years on “The Americans” — plus all her other action roles — dictated that she stay, literally, in fighting form, and she shared that she’s “definitely a physical person.” Her favorite workouts include cycling, strength training with a resistance band, and, no surprise, dancing. In terms of skincare, Russell said she keeps things more simple, using a good moisturizer, indulging in the occasional facial, and using the NuFace facial toning device.

And as she’s gotten older, she’s developed a deeper interest in fashion, she told Yahoo! Style, explaining she prefers tailored “masculine” looks that show off her shoulders. Although, as Daily Mail pointed out, the daring blush Zuhair Murad Couture gown — complete with an extravagant lacy train and feather boa — she wore to the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards proves she’s still willing to take fashion risks. So who knows what the next step will be in Keri Russell’s stunning transformation!