Rough & tumble Keri Russell

Seth Roy

Actress performs own stunts in third installment of series

Jump off a tall building onto a van. Steady yourself as the van drives away and the building explodes. And, oh yeah, you’ll be harnessed to Tom Cruise.

This may not have been a part of Keri Russell’s job description when she signed up to play Lindsey Ferris, an agent for the Impossible Mission Force in the new film Mission: Impossible III, but it definitely made the job more fun.

“One day you’re growing up in Colorado,” Russell said in a phone conference. “And the next moment you’re jumping off 60-foot tall buildings with Tom Cruise.”

Between Colorado and Cruise, she’s been in a variety of TV shows and movies including “The Mickey Mouse Club,” Honey I Blew Up the Kid, “Felicity” and We Were Soldiers.

But she wasn’t always an actress – Russell started young as a dancer.

“I didn’t ever grow up thinking I was going to be an actress,” Russell said. “What happened was, I went with a group of my dance friends (to a Disney tryout.)” She was offered a spot on “The Mickey Mouse Club” and her career took off.

After “Felicity” ended in 2002, she took some time off. She said she was offered the lead role on “Alias,” which was directed by “Felicity” and Mission: Impossible III director, J.J. Abrams.

“When I finished ‘Felicity,’ I didn’t want to do anything,” Russell said. “I just needed a little break to be a kid again.”

She took three years off from the spotlight before appearing in the mini-series, “Into the West” and The Upside of Anger, which stars Kevin Costner and Joan Allen.

“It (the break) was absolutely rejuvenating and, I think, necessary for me to do that,” she said. “It might have been the most amazing script ever, and it still wasn’t as interesting as having dinner with my friends.”

Russell said a television schedule is more grueling than a film schedule.

“TV is a bitch of a schedule,” she said. “You can ask anyone who does it. It’s just very difficult. I think film is that schedule, but you’re just done after four months.”

The role, which is vastly different from her role as Felicity Porter, allowed her to take her career in a new direction.

“I’m just trying to constantly do things that interest me,” Russell said. “I don’t think anyone wants to do the same job day-in and day-out.”

M:i:III also reunited her with Abrams.

“What’s amazing is he’s exactly the same,” she said. “If you come to him with an idea, he says yes. He’s incredibly productive. He makes things constantly fun and includes people. I think that’s part of his genius.”

M:i:III is her first big summer blockbuster movie. The cast is filled with big-name stars, including Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Ving Raymes (Mission: Impossible, Bringing Out the Dead) and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Mystic River).

“When you think of a big Hollywood movie, it doesn’t get any bigger than this,” Russell said. “Phil is the greatest guy ever. Tom is so generous and included everyone.”

Another part of the role that appealed to her was getting to do her own stunts, even though it was sometimes tough.

“I had to do all of my own stunts. That’s why you want to do a movie like this,” she said. “I would say the training segments were the hardest. Having to assemble a machine gun in 30 seconds (while) blindfolded – my best time was 13 seconds, by the way.”

Mission: Impossible III will be released nationwide tomorrow. Though she is usually nervous when her films open, she said she is happy with they way M:i:III turned out.

“Whenever I do a project and I see it for the first time, I always have a cringe factor,” Russell said. “This is the first movie I’ve been in that I saw and thought it was awesome.”

Contact ALL editor Seth Roy at [email protected].