Christina Ricci: Girl We Love

There are so many reasons to love 18-year-old Christina Ricci besides the fact that she's exceedingly gifted. For example, she's willing to admit that she was a "horrible, horrible beast" as a child, that she has an allergy to people crying, that she has a therapist on each coast, and - best of all - that she likes to talk about herself.

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By the time Christina Ricci was 15, she had already starred in two blockbusters ( The Addams Family and Casper ), had held her own with Cher and Winona Ryder in Mermaids, had worked with Demi Moore and Melanie Griffith playing the young Rosie O'Donnell in Now and Then, and had survived a rough few years doing forgettable fare such as The Cemetery Club and Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain. Then, right when adolescence and Hollywood were both conspiring against her, as they do every child star eventually, she delivered a raw, piercingly sad, on-the-nose performance as a guarded, sexually curious, over-it teenager in Ang Lee's brilliant, angst-ridden The Ice Storm. Her touching, desperate, droll presence hinted troubling undercurrents that left one wondering what emotional rock Ricci had overturned to pull out all that darkness--and what she would do next.

Now 18, Ricci has embraced a sensibility that seems, when you think about it, not all that surprising for someone who played The Addams's beloved Wednesday with such mordant perfection. Alternating small roles in edgy, offbeat, independent movies with showpiece roles in equally edgy, offbeat, independent movies, she's proving unafraid to come off as sulky, smartened-up, sexually provocative and nobody's baby doll in films like The Opposite of Sex, director Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, director John Waters's Pecker and Buffalo 66.

Dressed in jeans and a silky shirt over an army camouflage combat T-shirt, Ricci strides in to our meeting at a swank Manhattan restaurant 40 minutes late. Her tardiness isn't unusual for an actor, but her excuse is.

STEPHEN REBELLO: I was about to send out the cavalry. Are you OK?

CHRISTINA RICCI: Yes, and I am so sorry to be so late, but you've got to hear this. See, I woke up a little late, and I was rushing around getting ready and my credit card slipped right into the toilet bowl. So, I was standing there in panic trying to decide what I was going to do. Should I wake my boyfriend? Should I just go ahead and flush the toilet, figuring the card was the wrong shape to get flushed? Should I just stick my hand in and get it? Such a dilemma.

Q: Well?

A: I woke my boyfriend up. He got my card.

Q: That's all that counts, then. So, let's get right to it: why do you think you act?

A: I guess because that's what I can do. Acting is what I was given. I don't have any training and I don't believe in training. Of course, people who don't have training always say that. It's like it's become programmed in me. On my first movie, when I was, like, nine, somebody said, "How do you know not to blink on-camera?" I was, like, "Oh, should I blink?" Almost instinctually, right from the first movie I made, I knew how to hit my mark every time. I love acting. Besides, I like the attention. I like going to photo shoots and having people dress me up and put makeup on me. I like having my picture taken. And I like talking about myself.

Q: Do you also like the auditioning and meetings for roles?

A: I'm very shy. I can't even act that well when the camera's not on. I get really embarrassed.

Q: Didn't you take a year and a half off from acting after Gold Diggers?

A: I guess you'd have to call it my "teenage awkward phase." I got ugly. People were just not having me. Of course, your attitude is reflected in the way you act. People would call my agents and say, "What's going on with her?" I thought I was really normal.

Q: You must have collected an all-time favorite list of reasons you got rejected for jobs.

A: Throughout my childhood, my favorite was: "She looks too healthy." They wanted that really gaunt, runaway girl kind of look. I was like, "Mom, I thought you could never be too healthy." She said, "Ignore them." [Now] they tell me I lose jobs sometimes because I don't come across as vulnerable. Well, people don't walk around being vulnerable all the time, in life or in movies.

Q: Did the rejection help you build your sad, needy, ferocious character in The Ice Storm?

A: That's how I think I got that job. Because I was just like that at the time. I feel like I've been playing different versions of that character forever, with different little twists, because that character is so much of who I was. At the time, I was in a really bad place. That depressed, that angry, that lonely. It was just a matter of perfect timing.

Q: Making that film couldn't have been a day at the beach--the subject matter alone was depressing.

A: It was anything but easy, but I know it was good for me. I liked the idea of all that angst, but once I was really in it, I thought, "Get me out of this hell."

Q: Don't underestimate your performance, though.

A: Thanks, but for years I hated myself. I covered the mirrors in my house. I literally couldn't have a mirror in my room. I still can't sit in a restaurant or someplace where I can catch my reflection. I get so paranoid. So, I understand all that in the movie. Now, though, I'm getting more comfortable. I never thought I'd be so comfortable with myself, my body. I mean, you know that I was anorexic for a year, right?

Q: No, I didn't.

A: I had a total backlash from that, and once I was over it I got really fat. If I wasn't in this business, what would all that matter? But with me it was like, "No, I have to lose this weight immediately because I have to work."

Q: You don't strike me as someone who has to fake anger.

A: [Laughing] I never lose touch with my anger. I have no idea what the real source is, but I'm always mad about something. It gets ridiculous at times. I have life rage. What am I going to do with it? I can't kick the shit out of someone. I can't yell or constantly be rude to people, because that's unacceptable. I have a therapist on each coast. I've had a problem with that, too, because I've had a different personality when I go to different ones. I've overcome that, though, because I really don't think that helps my therapy at all.[Laughing] I'd say that, deep down, I'm very disillusioned. I've been that way for a very long time. As much as I'm cynical, though, there's a lot of optimism in me--which pretty much assures that, over and over, I'm going to get disillusioned. [Laughing] But I have the ability to laugh at all this stuff.

Q: I sometimes think that growing up in the public eye is like being at ground zero on the toughest, meanest schoolyard on the planet.

A: Tell me. During that year and a half when I wasn't getting work, people would come up to me on the street and say, "Aren't you that girl from The Addams Family?" and when I'd say yes, they'd say, "You got big." What helped me was being able to step back and say, "Hey, if I wasn't an actress, this extra weight wouldn't be such a big deal. I'll get over this and it'll be OK."

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