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felicity's graduation day (Michael Ausiello, tvguide.com)

04.10.02

After four years of dorm-room drama, Felicity Porter is graduating from college. Not surprisingly, the angst quotient is at an all-time high — and that's just behind the scenes. On location filming what may well be the show's most pivotal hour ever, the cast and crew of Felicity are, as resident heartthrob Scott Speedman (Ben) puts it, "so f---ing stressed."

What's got everybody on edge? Well, for starters, thanks to the WB's bottom line, Felicity's big day is seriously lacking in pomp and circumstance. "This is supposed to be the graduation of the University of New York, and there are, like, 20 extras," marvels Amanda Foreman, who plays spitfire Meghan. "You think the budget is putting a little bit of a strain on us?" Adds Speedman: "It's rough. Nobody's parents are here except Felicity's."

Co-star Greg Grunberg (Sean) points out a bigger challenge facing first-time director and co-star Scott Foley (Noel) — who was forced to shoot the commencement ceremony on the not-very-Gothamesque backlot of Disney's Burbank studios. "I don't know how he's going to fake this with all seven dwarves on the building behind us." Concedes Foley: "It's tough to make an important episode like this look the way you want it to with what they've given me. Hopefully, we can cheat a little bit."

Luckily, Felicity has always been more about story than spectacle — and word has it that that's as true an assessment of this installment as any. "This has been by far one of my favorite episodes to do since the first season," admits leading lady Keri Russell (Felicity), who after reading the initial script, called upon creator-executive producer J.J. Abrams to work his magic. "He was shooting Alias in Las Vegas, and I said, 'Will you please do a rewrite?'" she explains. "It was nice to have him back with us for a half second."

Still, as Felicity's chain-smoking, straight-shooting guidance counselor would say, money matters and last-minute script revisions — not to mention the presence of a pesky TV Guide Online reporter-cum-extra — are not the real source of tension on this sunny February afternoon. No, all this talk of diplomas and degrees has the close-knit group coming to grips with a harsher reality: The end is near for the soon-to-be-expelled Felicity. "We're all kind of sad," laments Russell. "Saying goodbye to all the characters... it's so hard."

And although the April 24 graduation episode is not the show's last — a two-hour series finale airs May 22 — Russell confesses that "this is really the end for me." Well, not everyone is in agreement with our curly-haired heroine. "That last episode will be really sad," argues Foreman. "Maybe I'll be drunk the whole time."


All "graduates" were handed an official University of New York commencement program. Although some of the extras discussed swiping copies to put on eBay, a search of the Internet auction site revealed that none of the wannabe thesps had followed through.


After spending 10 hours shooting the ceremony, some of the cast and crew had to stick around to complete a sequence aboard a faux airplane. Who was taking flight? Tune in April 24!


Ever the trooper, Keri Russell (Felicity) soldiered on despite battling a flu-like bug. Leading man and onetime boyfriend Scott Speedman (Ben) fetched her some meds in between takes.


"Obviously, it would be so much more visually creative and stimulating to do exteriors in New York," Russell admitted of the on-location shoot at the Disney lot. "But we have a low budget."


The hot topic among the extras? Guessing Russell's age. "I heard she's, like, 35," one struggling actor said. He wasn't even close: The Golden Globe winner just turned 26.


Russell gets a last-minute touch-up under the watchful eye of TV Guide Online reporter/featured extra Michael Ausiello, who wondered when someone would get around to powdering his nose.


During a break, Russell assured Ausiello that he was a shoo-in to take home the 2002 Emmy for best guest actor in a drama series for his scene-stealing Felicity appearance.


Not all of Scott Foley's co-stars immediately warmed to the idea of him directing the graduation episode. Greg Grunberg admitted he was thrown the first time Foley gave him a note. "We were doing a scene and suddenly he turned to me and went, 'You know what might be a good idea... ' And I was like, 'Whoa, dude! No, no, no. You don't tell me what to do. You're an actor.'"


Foley took a moment to go over with Amanda Foreman what her motivation was in the upcoming scene, in which her Meghan character stands up and cheers as Felicity is handed her diploma. "It's very difficult," she cracked. "I went to school for many, many years and trained long and hard to dredge those emotions up."


Foley knew directing this particular episode would be a daunting task. "When I originally got the script, it was 20 pages longer than it should be and there were two party scenes and a graduation scene," he sighed. "I was also told we would have to shoot the whole thing on the Disney lot."


Foreman and Grunberg were still recovering from shooting an earlier scene in which Sean and Meghan bid farewell to Felicity. "I couldn't stop crying," Foreman said. "I was just looking at Keri and I remembered first being on the show."


Jennifer Garner popped over from the nearby Alias set to flirt with her husband. Would Foley ever consider directing his wife on her ABC spy series? "I'm sure it would be fun, but I think we'd like to keep our professional lives as separate as possible right now."


"The only time I really graduated was when I was working on the Mickey Mouse Club and they had a special [high school] graduation for five kids my age," Russell said. "It was cool."


Grunberg and Foley supported the graduates from the audience. "If Sean were graduating, his cap would be some sort of invention," Grunberg said. "It would be solar-powered with a fan attached."


Russell broke down in tears while shooting this emotional post-graduation scene with Speedman. "When you know an actor well enough, it becomes a really safe place to try things," she later said. "I get excited doing these scenes, but at the same time, it's so sad."


What will Speedman miss most about Felicity? "Working with Keri," he confided. "She's been my partner throughout all of this."


Tangi Miller (Elena) appeared positively aghast at Foreman's rough handling of Robert Patrick Benedict (Richard). Like a real graduation, Miller said she felt "melancholy and sad, but you're also excited about the future."


"What's great about the graduation is it's really sweet and smart, and ultimately Felicity does what she should probably do," Russell said. "It's the perfect bookend to the pilot."


"The show is ending, which none of us are happy about, but if it has to end, the fact that it's ending on this note is great," Foley admitted. "We get to say goodbye to everyone."

 

 


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