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Keri Russell talks 'Burn This,' working with Adam Driver, more

"This is a huge learning curve for me. I'm dying a thousand deaths right now," says the star of  TV's "The Americans" about her Broadway debut.

Keri Russell attends the 19th annual AFI

 Keri Russell attends the 19th annual AFI Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles on Jan. 4. Credit: Getty Images/Matt Winkelmeyer

Keri Russell knew she wanted to do something different — really different — after she and her co-star (and real-life partner) Matthew Rhys completed the sixth and final season of their acclaimed TV spy series, “The Americans,” last year. Rhys suggested she grab a chance to star on Broadway — or so she thought. There’s a story there.

Suffice it to say she’s about to make her Broadway debut starring opposite Oscar nominee Adam Driver in the revival of Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” which opens at the Hudson Theatre on Tuesday and runs through mid-July.

Directed by Michael Mayer and set in the 1980s, the play tells the tale of Anna, a former dancer (Russell), and Pale, a volatile restaurant manager, whose lives suddenly intersect in the wake of an unexpected death.

Russell, 43, who appeared in an Off-Broadway play in 2005, is mainly known for her work in TV (“Felicity”) and film (“Waitress”). She’ll be seen later this year in the horror film “Antlers” (produced by Guillermo del Toro) and alongside Driver in “Star Wars: Episode IX” (directed by J.J. Abrams). She has two children from a previous marriage and one with her partner, Rhys. She spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio on a rehearsal break.

I wouldn’t have known this was your Broadway debut. You hold your own up there.

I really appreciate that. This is a huge learning curve for me. I’m dying a thousand deaths right now. Maybe once we open I’ll think, “This is fun.” Right now, I’m like, AHHHH! (She pretends to scream.) But it’s an adventure.

Previews can be tough.

I’ve done a play before, but it was so many years ago, it was a smaller part, and it certainly wasn’t on Broadway. The stakes here feel higher. And previews are grueling — you perform after hours of rehearsing, hoping you don’t forget the blocking and lines that were just changed. I am not — I’m not a — I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert for sure. And I don’t LOVE doing things in front of people. (She laughs.) So this is hard. Every night, I really have to give myself a pep talk.

Errr, you might’ve wanted to rethink the career choice if you’re such an introvert.

I know! (She laughs again.) But a lot of actors are shy. It’s bizarre.

Your partner, (Welsh actor) Matthew Rhys, is a theater vet. What’s his advice?

He’s the best. He loves doing readings (when a cast is brought together to read through a play for producers). So when they called me and said, “Hey, you want to do this reading?” Matthew said, “Oh, do the reading, that’ll be fun.” So I said yes. Later they offered me the job, and I came to him and said, “Hey, I’m going to do that play.” And he was like … (She pauses, dramatically.) “Oh.” I said, “What do you mean, ‘OH??!?’ I thought you were saying go do it.”

So he meant do the reading, but not the full-on production?

He knows my fear of people. But … he’s been enormously helpful. He’s my best critic. He’s come three times — given me notes. There were moments in the beginning where I came home crying, “I can’t do it!” And he’s like, “OK, enough crying — this is what we’re going to do.” He’s amazing.

Film actors have told me how theater is like flexing different muscles.

In film and TV, you’re constantly edited and micromanaged. But theater is just yours. It’s your performance. It’s like that moment in a long sprint where you’re running and you finally forget about everything — your body is doing it without your having to turn the cogs. I understand that now. It’s liberating.

I bet. You go one-on-one with Adam Driver. He’s intense and … man, so darn TALL.

I know. His physicality is so much a part of who he is. You don’t quite grasp that on screen. But he also has this innate sensitivity underneath. Which is why he’s so good at being funny. Those are the qualities in Adam that attract me to his work.

And how goes it juggling Broadway and mom duties?

I’m certainly a more tired mom. There was a book that came out about parenting — the title was great …“All Joy and No Fun” (by Jennifer Senior). There’s something to that. The great thing about my partner is that he’s holding down the fort while I’m doing this. In the summer he’ll go to L.A. (for work) and then I’ll hold down the fort. We have this rare thing where we get to take turns and allow the other person to do something … that hopefully turns out great. It can be hard, but that’s our life — so far, so good.                  

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