July 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Keri Russell goes ape over her role in 'Dawn'

Actress Keri Russell, left, and actor Andy Serkis star in 'Dawn of The Planet of the Apes.' (Andy Kropa / AP)

Keri Russell has been working most of her life, but she can’t remember a time when acting was more fun, thanks to her work on the FX series “The Americans” and in the big summer blockbuster “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

“I am enjoying acting more now. I feel more comfortable now with acting than I ever have,” Russell says. “It’s really interesting. I love ‘The Americans,’ it’s so bizarre and weird. And, it was so special to get to work with (‘Apes’ director Matt Reeves) again. I just feel like things are getting better. I hope things keep getting better with age.”

Russell, who is 38, seems like she should be older because she started working when she 15 on “The All New Mickey Mouse Club.” She made a huge splash at age 21 as star of the college drama “Felicity,” which was co-created by Reeves and J.J. Abrams.

It wasn’t the special effects and big battles that attracted Russell to “Dawn.” She was more interested in the human drama that she knew Reeves would bring to the story, such as her character being a member of the medical community that couldn’t stop the epidemic that wiped out most of the world’s human population. Russell’s character also deals the death of her daughter and trying to connect with the son of the man she loves.

“That’s what I think is special about this movie. It’s the combination of Matt’s sensibility with an action movie like this,” Russell says. “Matt told me he wanted to make a movie about these people and intimate moments. There are heavy-duty action scenes, but the film also has a lot to say about our own tendencies and capacities for empathy for communities that are not our own.”

Russell is always happy to find stories that deal with family relationships.

“The loudest and most profound relationship you are in is usually with your family — either your parents or your kids. Both the cable show and the film have these strong relationships,” Russell says.

She loves that a central theme in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the compassion that must be maintained even in the darkest and most difficult battles for survival.

“When we meet these characters, they have lost everything. So there’s this tremendous sense of loss in all of the individuals. But, to have been able to stay alive means they have a strength, a pretty tough person to get through all of this,” she says. “When it comes to the roles I like to do, it all comes down to the material. I don’t care if it’s a TV show, movie of the week, whatever. I just wanted to be moved by it. I want to feel something.”

Evolution of 'Planet of the Apes'

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the latest big-screen version of the tale of man vs. apes based on the 1963 French novel “La Planete des singes” by Pierre Boulle. Since the first film in 1968, there have been several film and TV offerings based on the “Apes” tale.

Here’s a look at the history of the “Apes”:

“Planet of the Apes” (1968): Charlton Heston stars in this first look at a world ruled by “dirty” apes.

“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970): Crew of second spaceship finds mutants living underground. James Franciscus stars.

“Escape from the Planet of the Apes” (1971): Three apes — Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) — travel back to 1973. The ape evolution begins.

“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972): Apes being used as slaves in the early ’90s stage a revolt. McDowall stars.

“Battle for the Planet of the Apes” (1973): The tale of Caesar’s (McDowall) efforts to cultivate peace between the apes and surviving humans is told in flashback from the year 2670.

“Planet of the Apes” (1974): Only 14 episodes of this CBS series based on the first film air. Ron Harper and McDowall star.

“Return to the Planet of the Apes” (1975): The 13 animated episodes show the apes living in a modern society.

“Planet of the Apes” (2001): Tim Burton directs this remake that pits Mark Wahlberg against the apes.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011): First offering in the series reboot shows how the apes begin to evolve into what will become the ruling species. James Franco stars.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014): Showdown between apes and humans is the beginning of the war that will change the planet. Keri Russell stars.

Kirk Acevedo, left, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and ... (David James / Twentieth Century Fox)