Pregnancy becomes Keri Russell.
Four roles in a row, she played pregnant women. Now it's the real deal. Radiating that special glow that expectant mothers have, the 31-year-old actress recently dropped by Manhattan's Regency Hotel to promote Adrienne Shelly's final film, Waitress.
The film, which opened last week on the East End to rave reviews, is a particularly poignant one for New Yorkers.
Since Shelly's tragic death at the hands of a construction worker last November in her Manhattan studio, Russell has been designated spokeswoman for the chick flick that earned a standing ovation at last winter's Sundance Film Festival and glowing opening week critical acclaim.
Ironically, Shelly scripted Waitress when she herself was eight months pregnant, roughly at the same point Russell is now. "It is a happy movie," she concedes, "but as soon as that little kid [Shelly's four-year-old daughter Sophie] comes on at the end, it's just like, jeez, it's a weird situation."
Set in a small southern town, Russell plays Jenna, a waitress working at Joe's Pie Shop. Squirreling away tips in hopes of escaping her angry, control-freak husband, Earl, (Jeremy Sisto from "Six Feet Under"), Jenna greets the news that's she's expecting with predictable gloom. The only person sharing Jenna's secret, at least temporarily, is the town's dashing new OB/GYN, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Their attraction is mutual, the temptation overwhelming, and soon they're having a torrid affair.
Jenna's affair soon sparks both jealousy and concern among her fellow waitresses like the sharp-tongued Becky (Cheryl Hines), and the mousy Dawn (Shelly herself), while legendary Andy Griffith plays the cantankerous, ailing owner of Joe's.
Adding a comedic dash to the character's resentment, Jenna whips up delectable desserts with names like "I Hate My Husband," made with bittersweet chocolate, and "Earl Murders Me Because I'm Having an Affair," with smashed raspberries.
With its uplifting message of self-actualization, Shelly's astutely crafted storyline is like one of Jenna's creations – sweet, tart and satisfying.
Dressed in a peach color chiffon maternity dress, her hair loosely tied in a ponytail, Russell had to mentally shift into her movie publicity "ringleader" mode. "Sorry, I just came back from lunch. I have pregnancy brain," she laughed. This will be her first baby with hubby Shane Deary, a carpenter she met at Martha's Vineyard through friends.
"Oh, what grabbed me about this character? It's the kind of movie that I love to go see. It feels like a movie I loved, You Can Count on Me, where it's not just funny, but serious when you need it to be, and true.
"This movie, more than any movie I have ever done, Adrienne had 100 percent control over. She wrote it, directed it and acted in it. The jokes were exactly the level she wanted. She wrote the songs that I sing in it. She chose the color of our outfits, the diner set, all of it," said Russell, who was plucked from "Star Search" by Disney talent scouts for the revamped Mickey Mouse Club 16 years ago.
Although some moviegoers might question Jenna's decision to remain in her dysfunctional marriage, Russell doesn't buy into that argument. "I don't think it's that uncommon a story. There are a lot of people in relationships who, you wake up and you're like, 'Wow, how did I end up here?'"
The Golden Globe winner for The WB's "Felicity" continued, "It's not like Jenna has a ton of money and a lot of options. I think when you don't have self-esteem, it's hard to see your way out of something bad like that. The thing that Adrienne also did really well within this movie is the bad guy, Earl. He is awful, but he's not this monster. Towards the end of the movie you see how weak he is, how pathetic he is. Clearly there's something in that pathetic quality that Jenna danced with. She was part of that, as a lot of women are."
Except for supporting roles in 2005's The Upside of Anger and last year's Mission Impossible: III, Russell has kept a relatively low profile since her TV stint as the lovelorn college coed, which ended in 2002.
She recently resurfaced on the small screen in a two-episode guest spot on NBC's "Scrubs," with a pair of movies set for release this fall. In the Sigourney Weaver vehicle The Girl in the Park, she's featured as Alessandro Nivola's pregnant wife.
The other, August Rush, casts her as a young cellist who has a one-night fling with an Irish rocker (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). They never see each other again, but she ends up pregnant.
With mock exasperation, Russell exclaims, "Believe me. I'm typecast as the young, pregnant mother! I don't know what it is in my face that screams that. My last four jobs, I think, I've been pregnant.
"Into the West I was pregnant too, but then there was some other TV thing with Skeet Ulrich. God, why can't I remember?"
Just blame it on "pregnancy brain," a temporary condition that should clear up in a month or two.