Keri Russell’s Best Performances, from ‘Felicity’ to ‘The Diplomat’

Netflix's new political thriller and Elizabeth Banks' "Cocaine Bear" are a great excuse to revisit Russell's roles on screens big and small.
(Clockwise from bottom left): "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," "Cocaine Bear," Keri Russell, "The Diplomat," and "Waitress"
(Clockwise from bottom left): "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," "Cocaine Bear," Keri Russell, "The Diplomat," and "Waitress"
Credit: Courtesy Everett Collection/Disney/Netflix

After five years, the TV gods have heard fans’ prayers, and Keri Russell is finally back on our screens. The once and always Felicity Porter stars in “The Diplomat,” a political thriller hitting Netflix this week — and her first leading role in a show since the much-beloved “The Americans.”

The show is the culmination of a great first few months of 2023 for Russell. This February saw her lead the starry ensemble of “Cocaine Bear”: the bloody comedic thriller from Elizabeth Banks that launched many a meme. Set in 1984, the film gave Russell a chance to rock the kind of throwback, shoulder pad looks she wore during “The Americans”: a Cold War-set series where she played a ruthless Russian spy. It also gave her the chance to reunite with her co-stars from the show, including Margo Martindale and her real-life partner Matthew Rhys, just in time for the 10 year anniversary of the acclaimed series’ premiere.

That role kick-started a whole new era for Russell’s career, earning the actor her first ever Emmy nominations and gaining her the adoration of critics and audiences. But Russell has been in the business since she was 15, when she appeared on Disney Channel’s “Mickey Mouse Club.” She rose to prominence and gained credibility in 1998, when she played the title role of the WB’s college dramedy series “Felicity.” At only 22, Russell already had many of the acting skills that made her so acclaimed on “The Americans,” and she got to showcase them in the show. But after the series ended, it took until “The Americans” for her to regain sustained attention in Hollywood.

As an actor, Russell has an undeniable charisma and gravitas that makes for a natural screen presence; when she’s in a scene, it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. But her skills go deeper: she has a talent for finding the layers in her characters and teasing them out, communicating a lot to the audience with very little action. And even though she has the presence of a movie star, she’s skilled at bending her performances to match her parts, making sure that none of the characters she plays ever feel exactly the same.

To tee up “The Diplomat” and Russell’s return to TV, here’s the best performances of the actor’s career, ranked.

With editorial contributions by Kate Erbland, Alison Foreman, and Erin Strecker.

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