Keri Russell Feels Right at Home as The Diplomat

In Netflix’s breakout political thriller, the beloved star of Felicity and The Americans returns to (fictional) politics.

Interview by Lynn Hirschberg
Photographs by Quil Lemons
Styled by Rebecca Ramsey

Russell wears a Prada dress; Fernando Jorge earrings.
Russell wears a Prada dress; Fernando Jorge earrings.

Longtime Keri Russell fans remember her as one of the stars of The All New Mickey Mouse Club before she became a household name playing the titular star of Felicity. It was a character she became synonymous with, and for which she won a Golden Globe Award. Where some iconic ’90s actors might have faded out with the decade, Russell has been consistently working, receiving several Emmy and Golden Globe nods for her role as the sophisticated spy Elizabeth Jennings in the cult favorite show The Americans,set mostly in a Washington, D.C., suburb during the height of the Cold War and inspired by the true story that broke in 2010 of a cell of Russian agents hiding in plain sight in the United States for years. Now Russell has returned to politics, but in a different capacity, with The Diplomat, the Netflix series for which she’s been nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for her role as Kate Wyler, a slightly disheveled, inexperienced new U.S. ambassador to the U.K.

This interview was conducted prior to the start of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.

How did The Diplomat come into your life?

I had a really great run with The Americans. I wasn't looking to do a new show, but Debora Cahn's writing was just the perfect combination of intellect and this diplomatic world that I knew very little about, with this added sprinkle of screwball comedy. The brightness of that was attractive to me.

So you’ve been a spy and you’ve been a diplomat. Which one are you better at?

There was something so delicious about the kind of pantherlike quality of the spy world and that Russian, crazy world that we got to play in [in The Americans]. My character was beautiful—the windswept hair, thick eyeliner, high-heeled boots, gold chains, and silk blouses. But I would have to say that this sweaty, hairy diplomat is a little bit more in my zone.

Chanel jacket, bustier, and skirt; Prounis earrings; The Row shoes.

Did you have a favorite TV show when you were growing up?

I watched the normal after-school stuff like The Brady Bunch and The Facts of Life, but I was so heavily involved in dance.

And you were a Mouseketeer, let's not forget.

Some of those people are still my best friends—Ilana [Miller] and Lindsey [Alley]. I was there at a time when there were a lot of famous kids there. And I say this completely truthfully: I was literally the least talented one there. I'm not kidding. When I look at those kids, I'm like, why in the world did they pick me? Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling and Britney Spears. It was wild.

Did you save anything from your time on the show?

My sanity, my dignity. Not everyone got out alive.

Do you remember your first red carpet moment?

The first thing I remember was Felicity. I was nominated, and I didn't even know what the Golden Globes were. They were like, “Well, you have to wear something fancy.” So someone dressed me, and I remember they did my hair and makeup, and I was like, “No, no, no. I don't want you to put makeup on. Then I won't look like me.” I look at that picture, and I had mascara on maybe, and cheeks, and my wild, crazy curly hair. It's so different now.

You were responsible for so many people moving to New York. I think Felicity was the No. 1 recruiter for NYU.

They should pay me. Can you look into this? I feel like NYU owes me some money. The show sold this amazing kind of whimsical idea of this city. And that's J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves. I love that these men in their 30s created this show about this overly romantic teenage girl pining for this boy. They got it.

And then when you cut your hair…

Then they cut my hair on the show. They were like, “Would you do that?” I was like, “Yeah.” Because the character wasn't known to be this beautiful person. She was this nerdy, kind of overly emotional college student. And I thought, Of course, every one of my friends cut their hair. They’d break up with a boy, and then they’d have this terrible haircut. So I thought it was perfect. But it was crazy. People were very upset by that haircut. Sorry.

What's your astrological sign?

I’m an Aries.

Do you think you're a typical Aries?

I keep waiting for the confidence to kick in, but I'm almost 50 now, and I feel like I'm not sure.

Hair by Edward Lampley at CLM for Mr. Smith; makeup by Susie Sobol at PM Artists for Sobol Inc; manicure by Honey at Exposure NY for NAVYA Nail Lacquer; Set Design by Spencer Vrooman.

Produced by AP Studio, Inc.; Executive Producer: Alexis Piqueras; Producer: Anneliese Kristedja; Production Managers: Anna Blundell, David Duque-Estrada; Production Coordinator: Ellen Kozarits; Photo Assistants: Matt Yoscary, Josua Jimenez; Retouching: Matty So; Fashion Assistants: Tori López, Tyler VanVranken, India Reed, Tori Leung; Production Assistants: Linette Estrella, Ariana Kristedja, Alan Bell, Nico Marti, Ryan Qiu; Hair Assistants: Marvin Tarver, Anna Soares; Makeup Assistants: Tanya Marques, Riccardo Delgado; Manicure Assistant: Shani Newsome; Tailor: Lindsay Wright; Set Design Assistants: Will Cragoe, Christina O'Neil, Joseph Ahern.