20th Century Fox

Long before Britney Spears' public display of head shaving, there was another headline-making haircut.

It was 1999, and Keri Russell was at the top of the TV game as the star of Felicity. For some reason or another, producers convinced Russell to chop off her trademark curly locks. While it certainly wasn't a late-night Britney-like spectacle, Russell's newly cropped ‘do came under attack, even being blamed for the show’s drop in ratings.

But these days, Russell, 31, isn’t thinking about her hair too much. She has more important things on her mind, like her and carpenter hubby Shane Deary’s almost-six-month-old son, River.

“There is something weird that I feel happens that no one told me about, which is that the day you have the baby you take a crazy pill,” Russell tells me while sipping tea at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “You get crazy about anything having to do with children—and it doesn’t have to be your own child.”

But it’s a good crazy. “I was watching Finding Nemo on video, and I sobbed,” she says with a laugh. “I could not pull myself together, and that was at the beginning of the movie! My husband was like, ‘Should we turn this off?’ ”

Russell is on the West Coast from their home in Brooklyn, New York, on a publicity blitz for her new flick August Rush and the now-on-DVD Waitress. In the critically acclaimed indie, she stars as a pie-making waitress whose plans to leave her abusive husband (Jeremy Sisto) are thrown into turmoil when she discovers she’s pregnant.

Waitress is a bittersweet success. Writer-director Adrienne Shelly was murdered in her New York City office before the movie’s release—by a construction worker who reportedly confessed to killing her after she complained about the noise he was making in an apartment below her.

Yet, Russell can’t help but smile when she recalls first meeting Shelly. “I met her in a diner in New York,” she says. “I think I had waffles, and we just talked about the script…I told her how funny and touching I thought it was.”

Then there was the audition. “She made me audition at her apartment,” Russell says. “It was really awkward—just me and her and a video camera.”

Before she knew it, Russell was lying in a bed with Sisto for a scene in which her character reluctantly gives in to her husband’s pathetic begging for some carnal attention. Despite the moment’s dark and desperate tone, filming was anything but. “There’s a shot that, when I look, I can fully see myself laughing because Jeremy was being so disgusting and gross,” Russell says.

But she declines to give details, except to insist, “Not gross in the way you think.”

Also costarring in Waitress is Cheryl Hines, whom Russell describes as “the best thing going. She’s hilarious. I was just with her last night. She’s so funny. I have a girl crush on her.”

Russell had just wrapped working opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III when she went to work on Waitress. “God,” she says, “what a difference. In Mission: Impossible we’d shoot one or two scenes a day. All of Waitress was just 20 days!”

And that meant there was no time to get schooled in her character’s almost obsessive pie making: “There wasn’t a lot of, ‘Let’s spend some time baking together.’ It was like, ‘You have two chances to do this. If you don’t do it well, we’re f--ked.’ ”

For now, Russell says she has fantasies of leaving Hollywood behind, but then reality sets in. “I do think about moving and having some land and having like five kids,” she says. “And we would just be like, ‘Okay, this year, we’ll make and sell cheese.'

“But I’ve been in this world too long to know that you need money,” she adds. “I just bought a house. I ain’t gonna be taking off anytime soon. I’ve got a mortgage to pay!”

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