Keri Russell has had quite a varied career already, performing in things from the teen angsty Felicity to the short-lived sitcom Running Wilde to now getting to do the action thing with FX’s The Americans. She even voiced Wonder Woman in a direct-to-DVD animated adventure a few years ago; lots of genres, but never once sci-fi/horror, until now. Russell stars in the new film Dark Skies, about a suburban family targeted by malevolent forces from another world. She spoke to us about what drew her to the film, what it was like to work with the film’s younger cast members, and the freedom inherent with doing low-budget films.
NERDIST: What initially drew you to Dark Skies?
KERI RUSSELL: This is one of those scripts that I read and I instantly thought, “That’s gonna work!” It scared me; I absolutely bought the family, and it’s the kind of scary that I believe. It’s the kind of stuff that would scare me. When I’m home alone, I do think of people outside my house all the time. “Is someone in here?” You know? So, I believed it, I liked it, and at its core what Scott [Stewart, the writer-director] wrote was a family drama. You’re already believing all these troubles they’re having. They’re worried they’re going to lose their house, their relationship is very strained, the kids are worried their parents are going to get divorced. It’s a really fractured family [at the beginning of the film] and it’s a story about a family trying to keep all the outside forces out and keep their family unit together. To me, every day, I didn’t think, “How am I going to do a scary movie?” I thought, “How can I be a mom protecting my kids?”
N: Scott Stewart has said that you were his first choice for the role; was it a character you felt like you could really sink your teeth into?
KR: I just really liked the story. It thrilled me, in the way scary movies – good ones – can. They screened the movie for me a few days ago before I did all this press, so I could see what I was talking about, and I brought a whole gaggle of my girlfriends with me to see it because I thought, “It’s a scary movie; you’ve got to see it with friends.” It so reminded me of why people like scary movies. I guess I hadn’t seen one in a while. It’s so thrilling! You so don’t want to be scared, but you so do. It’s that funny push-pull of it. I think Scott did a really great job with that.
N: You haven’t really done much, or any, science fiction or horror. Are you a fan of those genres in your personal viewing?
KR: The films I really like in the genre are like Poltergeist, which I think this film is sort of in the vein of. I really loved The Others or Pan’s Labyrinth, so I guess I like them to be a little bit more on the artsy side, which I think Scott facilitates, for sure. But, no, this was definitely my first, and it was really fun and I liked doing it.
N: You and Josh Hamilton, who plays your husband, have a really believable relationship onscreen; did you know each other beforehand?
KR: We had met through friends. We both live in New York, we have kids the exact same age, so I think we were similar in everyday life kind of ways. And it was just a very easy relationship. Instantly easy and comfortable.
N: Dakota Goya, who plays your older son, has worked quite a bit before, but Kaden Rockett, who plays your younger son, has really not done very much at all; how were they to work with given their different levels of experience?
KR: Dakota is a really special Canadian actor and I just loved him from the first time I met him. It’s hard to be a kid actor; there’s something, you know, obviously creepy about the whole thing. And, believe me, I can say that ‘cause I was one. But he is everything a preteen kid should be. He was embarrassed to talk to me. You know, I’m a stranger; he would say, “Uh, hi.” He was nervous and great and shy and just like a normal boy. I thought he was really good in the movie. He had his 13th birthday on our set, and I got him Catcher in the Rye. He’s just lovely. And Kaden; working with little kids always comes with benefits and challenges, and the great thing about little kids is they keep you completely present. Most of the time, they don’t really care what the scene is, they just want to be, I don’t know, playing with a car or something. Chasing someone around. So, whatever they’re experiencing, you have to react to and it keeps you in the moment.
N: Since this was a lower-budgeted film, and there weren’t a lot of special effects, but there are definitely some notable ones. How was it for you on set when you had to react to nothing that will eventually be something, especially since you don’t have a lot of experience with that?
KR: You just kind of have to do it all in the imagination and, again, for me it was all just a mom trying to protect her kids. Anything I could think about my own kids, my own kids being in danger, or keeping anything that would scare me about my own kids being hurt or taken… I just kept thinking about mom stuff.
N: Scott Stewart said he didn’t work from storyboards for this film; how collaborative was the process of blocking and shooting scenes?
KR: He was so great. I have to say, and you know we shot this in under a month, he knew exactly what he wanted. He did it beautifully. The performances, I thought he got such natural, truthful performances out of everybody. I’m just so impressed with what he did.
N: This is sort of a weird one, but do you believe in aliens or alien abductions like in the movie?
KR: You know, what do I think? I guess I’m not opposed to any possibility. How could I be? I don’t know enough. Do we really know enough? I don’t know. I’m not ruling anything out.
N: What can we see you in next? You’ve got The Americans on FX; do you have any other films coming out in the near future?
KR: I was just at Sundance with a small film called Austenland that Jerusha Hess, of Napoleon Dynamite, directed, which is just a bright, fun, poppy lark of a movie and it’s making fun of these girls who are obsessed with Jane Austen and it’s hilarious. I think that’ll be out this summer sometime. It got bought at Sundance and I think they’re saying summer.
Dark Skies hits theaters on February 22nd.