SENSITIVE: Keri Russel plays the female lead in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.
SENSITIVE: Keri Russel plays the female lead in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

The ROLE with which people would most readily associate Keri Russell is probably still Felicity: the quirky college girl she played on the WB network from 1998 to 2002. And it’s a role without which she may never have landed the female lead in 20th Century Fox’s blockbuster Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes 15 years later. After all, one of Felicity’s creators was Matt Reeves, and he was keen to reunite with her for his own step up to creating big, event-movie entertainment.

But Russell’s presence in the movie reminds us that the film is as much about heart and compassion and intimate “human” drama as it is battle and spectacle. After all, Russell has brought her bright and perky appeal to such well-loved movies as Waitress and August Rush, while revealing a darker and more dramatic edge in the FX thriller-series The Americans.

Tell us about your character, Ellie

I’m one of the surviving people left after this Simian Flu, and kind of girlfriend to Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who is the main character. I’m just, you know, sort of the lone girl with these guys, trying ultimately to save civilisation, trying to restore power and going on the adventure that ensues.

Are you the medic of the group? What’s your broad role?

I’m sort of the medic. Any of the humans that are in this story are all kind of broken, vulnerable; they’ve all lost everyone. So you start from that place and they have to be resourceful people to live this long in this crisis, so Ellie was a nurse involved with the CDC (Centre For Disease Control) during the fight against the virus and has a relationship with Malcolm and this kind of patched-together family with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Ellie’s experience in the medical world and her knowledge of the disease and what happened also gives her greater empathy with Caesar (Andy Serkis).

Were you impressed with the last film, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes?

It was an incredible thing to watch Andy and to really go, “ooh,” like you’re watching this CGI animal and you’re feeling for him, which is strange. That’s what was most interesting to me, feeling his vulnerability and being picked on in that ape enclosure, I think that was the treat of the movie or the surprise of the movie.

In your scenes with him in this, did you really feel that Andy, despite the fact he’s dressed in that grey unitard, is a chimpanzee?

I guess I’m just relating to him as a person… I mean, because the scenes are sort of more about survival and safety, and just big, immediate themes: love, protecting your young… I feel like those are just human, universal ideas. So that’s how I’m relating to him.

And how was it working with the guys who play your family in this film, Jason Clarke and Kodi Smit-McPhee?

Oh they’re great. It’s interesting; we never leave each other throughout the whole movie. I like that Matt (Reeves), our director, did that, because just to me, it’s like there’s been so much violence and fear and all of these terrible things happening, and I think no matter what goes down we want to be together. So we kind of move as a group.

You’re the only girl of the gang…

Yeah, I’m the only (non-ape) girl on this entire movie. I’m with all the boys, so there’s a lot of race-car talk, a lot of talk about what car Kodi’s getting because Kodi just turned 17, all the boys think he should have a car, what colour, what’s cool, what engine. I’m just like reading my 12th book, so it’s definitely boys, boys, boys. But they’re a good group: Jason’s great, Kodi’s great.

You and Matt Reeves go back a long way, don’t you?

A long way, definitely. It’s almost 20 years now. That’s a long time. That’s crazy! Matt and JJ (Abrams) and I did this television series called Felicity years ago and Matt directed the pilot. J.J. and Matt wrote it together and they kind of both directed it together, but Matt was the main director. It was just one of those experiences where we all just had a kind of shorthand with each other that to this day we just constantly look for projects to work on together. We just like each other. I just respect and appreciate his work.

How did Matt sell this film to you? And this part?

You know, I didn’t grow up watching Planet Of The Apes. He talked to me a lot about being a kid and what those films meant to him, and sending away for the make-up kits and all of that stuff and he really did it all. And then his take on this giant franchise that people have such a feeling and memory of in their lives. I just thought Matt was such an interesting choice for this big, summer movie. And I really liked the way he described it and the idea of these two civilizations who only want their families to survive and what happens when they don’t trust each other and one threatens the other. I think that’s a story that we hear all the time in our news and I thought his take was very interesting and was very human. And he’s such a sensitive person to do one of these movies, I’m intrigued.

How would you describe Matt’s style as a director?

He’s very visual. Which I appreciate immensely. I think things can still be beautiful. I love escaping, seeing art, and I feel Matt really does a lot of that long lens work which I really appreciate and also Matt has a real interest in that space that people occupy when they’re incredibly vulnerable but not being sentimental and really just being tough about it. And that sort of breaks your heart. I think that is the space he occupies and is interested in in all of his films. These kind of really sensitive people just trying to make it and do the best that they can try to do the right thing and be brave.

There is another apes movie coming after this one. Is this being presented to you as a one-off, or have you been told this could be a series that you could be part of? Because in the first film, there’s no continuity for the humans. That may not be the case now…

Who knows? No one really knows anything as of yet. But I will say the franchise is called Planet Of The Apes and not Planet Of The Humans. I feel like this story is really about Caesar, and his world. And again, him taking charge of his community, and I mean really that’s what it is. Him protecting his, you know, group.

And you totally are there, in the story side by side, you’re with Caesar 100 percent, you want his people to be safe. And you feel both sides, which I think Matt has done really well. – Supplied