What is it like to do all those electrifying stunts in a big summer blockbuster like “Mission: Impossible III?”

Jessica Boullion
“You heard Katie and I broke up, right?” (Courtesy of Paramount)

Keri Russell – best known for her work on TV’s “Felicity” – recently got to find out alongside none other than Tom Cruise, and she makes no attempt to hide the fact that, above all else, it’s hard work.

“This is literally the way they explain it: ‘OK, we’re going to harness you into Tom. You’re going to jump out of this window, land on a van and, as soon as the van gets six inches away from the building, it’s going to explode. So listen, if your hair catches on fire, don’t let go of the van because you will fall off,'” she said. “And I think, OK, great, thank you so much. Should I call anyone and tell them I love them before that happens?”

Luckily for Russell, not only did she survive her jump, she also loved the entire experience of working on the film.

“When you think of a big Hollywood movie, it doesn’t get much bigger than this – as far as budget and stunts and craziness going on.”

Growing up in Mesa, Ariz. and then Boulder, Col., Russell said she didn’t always plan on being an actress – she thought she would be a dancer.

But after getting her start on TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club,” Russell went on to act and, after making a number of guest appearances on television, landed the celebrated role of Felicity Porter.

At the helm of “Felicity” was J.J. Abrams (TV’s “Alias”), who makes his directorial debut with “Mission: Impossible III” and is cited by Russell as most responsible for drawing her into the film.

“I’m so kind of like a kindred spirit with him,” she said. “I just get his voice . He’s just so good at writing people as real and funny and heartbreaking.”

In the film, Russell – whose screen credits also include “We Were Soldiers” alongside Mel Gibson and “The Upside of Anger” with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner – plays Agent Lindsey Ferris, a promising novice who trained under Ethan Hunt (Cruise). Of the experience of working with accomplished stars like Cruise, recent Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) and Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix”), Russell has only the fondest memories.

“They were so welcoming,” she said. “Phil is like the greatest guy ever, and Tom is so generous and included everyone. It was an amazing experience, once in a lifetime,” she said.

But was it challenging for an ex-WB girl to make the transition to an all-out action film?

“Oh, there are so many,” Russell said of her most difficult stunt. “I would say the training segments were the hardest. Having to assemble a machine gun blindfolded within 30 seconds – (for) which my best time was 13, by the way.”

But why do all the stunts? Russell says it was her co-star’s influence.

“Tom does all his own stunts and loves doing them – if the close-up is on him, then I have to be there too when he’s jumping off of buildings or whatever,” she said. “But that was part of the fun – that’s why you want to do a movie like this.”

And Russell’s verdict on the film? While avoiding comparisons to the first two, she said she believes it is spectacular.

“This is the first movie that I’ve been a part of that I actually saw for the first time and thought it was awesome,” she said. “I was like ‘This is the coolest thing ever, and I can’t believe I’m in it.’ So if that’s any indication.”

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