Born and raised in Fountain Valley, CA, Russell's father was an automotive executive, which led to several family relocations including a move to Mesa, AZ when she was young. While in Mesa, Russell began studying ballet and jazz dance, eventually touring the country with a dance and drill team. The family moved after Russell earned a scholarship to a studio in Denver, CO, where she was required to attend 40 hours of dance per week in addition to her academic studies. A chance discovery by a talent scout who saw photos of her performing led to various television appearances and culminated in a three-year gig as a regular performer on The Disney Channel's "Mickey Mouse Club" from 1991 through 1994. Russell's co-stars during her tenure included fellow future stars Justin Timberlake, J.C. Chasez, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. While on "Mickey Mouse," Russell landed her first feature role in "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid" (1992), then appeared on the serialized soap "Emerald Cove" (1993), which ran on The Disney Channel and featured most of her fellow "Mickey Mouse" cast. Eventually, Russell left the Disney fold to try her hand at different television series and movies, including the short-lived Dudley Moore sitcom "Daddy's Girls" (1993-94). She moved on to play an innocent babysitter trapped in a web of deceit when she is framed for her employer's murder in "The Babysitter's Seduction" (1996), and snared a starring role in the indie "The Lottery" (1996), a small town thriller loosely based on the Shirley Jackson short story. A regular role on Aaron Spelling's high school soap "Malibu Shores" (NBC, 1996) seemed like the break she had been waiting for, but the series only lasted for nine episodes.Russell starred in the lighthearted teen sex comedy, "Eight Days a Week" (1997), playing a prototypical sexy girl next door who struggles to ignore the socially inept young man (Josh Schaefer) trying to win her love by camping out beneath her bedroom window. Back on television, she played a high school senior and single mom determined to build a better life for her and her child by going to college in "When Innocence Was Lost" (Lifetime, 1997). After a guest spot on "7th Heaven" (The WB, 1996-2007), Russell made another attempt at landing steady series work with the offbeat "Roar" (Fox, 1997), a medieval action-drama for teens that featured an up-and-coming Heath Ledger. Russell starred in one more little-seen feature, the teen thriller "Dead Man's Curve" (1998), before the WB Network and executive producer J.J. Abrams tapped Russell for a career-making role on "Felicity." The drama was immediately embraced by young adult audiences, thanks to Russell's Golden Globe-winning performance as the wide-eyed small town girl in the big city and an unbeatable love triangle between Felicity, her high school crush (Scott Speedman) and her resident advisor (Scott Foley). The show ran into ratings trouble in its sophomore season (1999-2000), with network executives curiously attributing it to an "unauthorized" haircut Russell had between seasons, which trimmed away her famously long, curly locks. The overwrought hoopla concerning the haircut caused a WB executive to be quoted saying that no series talent would cut their hair again without permission. A more likely reason for the ratings decline was the move to Sunday nights, but the hair controversy made for better press.During the show's summer hiatus in 2000, Russell traveled to Ireland to make the lighthearted comedy-romance "Mad About Mambo," which allowed her to show off both her dancing skills and test out her Irish accent. Meanwhile, "Felicity" lasted just one more season, with Russell following its cancellation by taking a role in Mel Gibson's Vietnam War drama, "We Were Soldiers" (2002). She followed up by taking a much-needed break, citing a desire to decompress and re-evaluate the direction of her career. When she returned to acting, Russell chose to focus on film work, taking on several appealing projects, including a supporting role as one of four headstrong daughters dealing with their alcoholic mother (Joan Allen) in "The Upside of Anger" (2005). Following the made-for-television movie "The Magic of Ordinary Days" (2005) and Steven Spielberg's award-winning miniseries "Into the West" (TNT, 2005), she was tapped for "Mission: Impossible III" (2006). In her highest-profile gig since "Felicity" she played the protégé of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) who gets captured, prompting Hunt to leave his comfortable suburban Virginia life to rescue her. Despite the large exposure from a hugely successful action franchise, Russell found herself more at home doing low-budget independents. She starred in Adrienne Shelly's sweet comedy, "Waitress" (2007), playing a pregnant pie maker who struggles to deal with a jealous lout of a husband (Jeremy Sisto) while searching for the perfect recipe for love. The film earned a great deal of buzz, though sadly some of it was over the unfortunate murder of the first-time director before the film even hit the festival circuit. Russell's next move was a starring role in a web-only reality show sponsored by Cover Girl Cosmetics, who adopted Russell as a spokesmodel in 2006. She had a two-episode guest stint on "Scrubs" (NBC, 2001-08) and returned to the big screen in the moderately successful melodramatic musical "August Rush" (2007), where she played a woman erroneously told that the product of her one night stand has died at birth, and she proceeds through life not knowing that her young boy is searching for his mother.Russell's next two releases were independents that only screened for film festival audiences but boosted the actress's reputation: "Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story" (2007), in which she played a criminal psychology student investigating a cannibalistic murder, and "The Girl in Park" (2007), a less horror-skewing psychological drama. The actress was back in the mainstream spotlight with "Bedtime Stories" (2008), a family-oriented fantasy spectacle starring Adam Sandler as a father whose bedtime stories morph into reality. The following year, Russell voiced the iconic superhero "Wonder Woman" (2009) in Disney's direct-to-DVD release and returned to edgy drama with "Leaves of Grass" (2009), a tale of opposite twins whose lives violently clash, starring Edward Norton. In "Extraordinary Measures" (2010), she played the wife of a biotech executive (Brandon Fraser) who helps her husband develop a drug to save their children from a life-threatening disease. After a supporting turn in the forgettable coming-of-age comedy "Goats" (2012), Russell made a triumphant return to the small screen with "The Americans" (FX, 2013-), where she and Matthew Rhys played married KGB agents struggling with loyalties to country and obligations to family while they pose as a seemingly normal couple in early 1980s America.