Keri Russell 'couldn't say no' to 'Cocaine Bear'

Keri Russell stars in "Cocaine Bear." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
1 of 5 | Keri Russell stars in "Cocaine Bear." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Keri Russell said the premise of Cocaine Bear, in theaters Friday, was too good to pass up.

"It was just wacky enough that I couldn't say no," Russell told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


Based on actual events from 1985, Cocaine Bear imagines what happened when a black bear found a stash of drugs from Andrew Thornton's botched air drop. Russell plays Sari, a mother who must find her runaway daughter (Brooklyn Prince) before the coked up bear does.

Russell said she was discussing a different project with director Elizabeth Banks. Then Banks pitched Russell on Cocaine Bear.

"She called me and said, 'Do you want to read this crazy thing I'm going to direct?'" Russell said. "It felt like such a fun departure. It just felt not heavy, stupid, fun, ridiculous and wild."


The film is set in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, where Thornton's plane actually went down in 1985. The production filmed in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland due to the country's low COVID-19 numbers during the pandemic.

On set, human actor Allan Henry played the bear. Using Weta Digital's performance-capture technology, Henry performed the actions of the bear and visual effects artists replaced him with the bear in post-production.

Russell experienced a similar process when she starred in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in which Weta performers also played the apes. Russell said she admired Henry's study of bear behavior, but she responded just as intensely when Banks gave her cues.

"I did also appreciate Liz screaming in a microphone from behind going, 'Now his leg's getting ripped off and blood's squirting all over his face! And now he's falling from the tree, but only half of his torso is and it's bloody. Blood is everywhere,'" Russell said.

No stranger to action roles, Russell played one of Tom Cruise's trainees in Mission: Impossible III, played a masked smuggler in Star Wars: Episode IX and starred as a Russian spy on The Americans.

Russell said the natural elements of Cocaine Bear were as daunting as any other movie she's made.


"We had to jump into this icy river at night, which was really cold," Russell said. "It's fine the first time you do it. Then they're like, 'Okay, now dry off, now do it again.'"

Although The Americans was also set during the '80s, Elizabeth Jennings never sported a pink track suit like Sari in Cocaine Bear. Russell said her biggest fear was that she would laugh too hard in scenes with Margo Martindale, who was also in The Americans, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

"I was laughing so hard I was afraid I was going to pee my pants," Russell said. "It would be very visible in that pink jumpsuit."

After Cocaine Bear, Russell returned to television. Russell has a role in one episode of the Apple TV+ series Extrapolations and stars in the Netflix series The Diplomat.

Russell said The Diplomat may appeal to fans of The Americans. However, her character is an American abroad instead of a foreign invader in the United States.

"I'm the diplomat," Russell said.

Russell plays Kate Wyler, who was transferred from the Middle East to London to address a crisis. Rufus Sewell plays Kate's husband, who may be more of a problem for her than her Americans husband, Philip Jennings, was.


"She's a fish out of water there and has this bombastic husband, who is sometimes a liability," Russell said. "It's, again, marriage-based in the diplomatic world."

The Diplomat and Extrapolations are both expected to stream later this year.

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