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ast fall, more than seven million people tuned in to the premiere of the WB drama "Felicity," attracted by the media hype surrounding the new series, and its 22-year-old star Keri Russell. Russell plays the show's central character Felicity Porter – an unassuming college freshman who passed up a pre-med program at Stanford U. so she could follow her high school crush to New York City.

It's a role that lends itself well to this soft-spoken belle. "Felicity, for as crazy as she is, hits pretty close to home for me," Russell says. "She is sort of an exaggerated version of myself."

While the show doesn't boast as many earth-shattering crises as "Party of Five" or as much gratuitous sex as, say, "Melrose Place," fans tune in because they can relate to Felicity's coming-of-age dilemmas. "I think that's what makes the show so unique," Russell says. "Part of its success has to do with its universal themes. Just because she's 18 doesn't mean 35-year-olds can't relate to what she's going through."

Russell's character faces an eternal crisis: does she go for Ben (Scott Speedman) the ultra-stud she followed all the way across the country, or does she settle for Noel (Scott Foley), the "nice-guy" R.A. who's always been there for her when she needed it? Russell won't say who she's rooting for. "I just hope she doesn't get into any crazy long-term relationship," she says. "I think girls in college tend to focus their attention on to a significant other. Sometimes that can be a mistake; not keeping yourself open to everything."

A fitting statement from a young woman who's always been open to new opportunities. Growing up, Russell wanted to be a dancer. That was before a talent scout discovered her when she was a teenager attending high school outside of Denver. Soon after, Russell landed a part on the Disney Channel's "All New Mickey Mouse Club" and in the feature film Honey, I Blew up the Kids. She also appeared in the the short-lived TV series "Malibu Shores" as well as a few made-for-TV movies. To this day, Russell maintains a "take it as it comes" attitude. "I think that's why I'm where I am right now, because I didn't have anything decided," she says. "This just sort of came along and I jumped on the boat – and I haven't jumped off yet."

So with Russell still onboard, what can we expect next from TV's hottest freshman, Felicity Porter? The actress shares this little scoop: Felicity's virgin days are numbered. And when the big day arrives, it won't be the emotion-drenched melodrama you might expect. In fact, Russell tells us the "Felicity" writers took a different approach to the character's sexual liberation. "They totally make fun of it, it's great! That's what I love so much about this character, she is constantly making fun of herself."

While she acknowledges she "can't deny the fact that (Felicity) is some sort of role model," Russell thinks people tend to exaggerate the power of the tube. "Like when Ally McBeal was on the cover of Time and it said ‘is feminism dead?' I mean, it's a television character!"

TV aside, what else is in store for Russell? While she recently finished films Mad About Mambo, The Curve and Eight Days A Week, she says she's not sure how long she plans to stay in showbiz. "Right at this moment, this is what I'd like to be doing," she says. "Next year, maybe two years from now, maybe college." Then, she could follow in the footsteps of her character and her younger sister, a college student and avid "Felicity" viewer.

Until then, Russell continues to work long hours so that Tuesday nights can be a bit more endearing for young America. "A 12- or 14-hour day would be a short day for us," she says. "Nine to five never looked so good."

Neither has Keri Russell, for that matter.

By Jamie Pietras, Assistant Editor


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