Jane Austen fans, do not be afraid of “Austenland.” With the 200th anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice” approaching, screenwriter-turned-director Jerusha Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”) worked with novelist Shannon Hale to bring her book “Austenland” to the screen. This movie about a mousy Austen escapist who plunks her hard-earned money on a getaway to the English countryside where actors pretend to be part of a real-life Regency romance is hilarious. (No mobiles allowed.) And it functions as a sharply observed comedy of manners.
Central to “Austenland”‘s success is actress Keri Russell, who at 37 is having a fabulous year. She is in her prime, as Miss Jean Brodie would say.
For one thing, the actress, who broke out in J.J. Abrams’ “Felicity” in 1998, is fussy about the parts she does. This is why you’re more likely to see her in a tiny indie than a big bad studio rom-com. She is at her best in the late Adrienne Shelly’s “Waitress” and FX’s “The Americans,” which was unaccountably overlooked at the Emmys. Russell almost turned it down–much like costar Noah Emmerich–but her management team talked her into it. Thankfully.
Her role as a ruthless and utterly committed Russian spy undercover in 80s Washington, D.C. is a gift. What movie would ever let her play a kick-ass spy who’s thrown into new action and drama every week at the same time that the real story is whether or not she loves her arranged spouse, another spy (Brit Matthew Rhys), with whom she has two unsuspecting kids? She had a blast working on both films. Still to come: she stars opposite Jason Clarke in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
While she once voiced Wonder Woman on a toon, I suggested that she’d make great casting for the stuck-in-limbo DC project. She explains why she couldn’t rock the costume in our flipcam interview below.