Christina Ricci: The Most Original Young Actress in Hollywood
After earning praise and escaping child-star status in several edgy indies, the inimitable Christina Ricci is starring with Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Though she claims to be "much more into trying to enjoy life now," her success has not, thank goodness, dulled her acerbic wit or undermined her willingness to admit such things as the fact that she likes the smell of her own feet.
Christina Ricci has a knack for raking her career in a new direction just when it needs to go there. At age nine, she avoided all annoying child-actor mannerisms while playing Cher's adorable youngest daughter in Mermaids. Then she turned around and delivered a hilariously deadpan Wednesday Addams in the blockbuster The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values. In Casper, she played an everyday, appealing teen and won a sizable fan base. Though there was little opportunity to show off much of her talent in Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, Now and Then or That Darn Cat, she made up for it when, at the risky career juncture at which most kid stars topple into oblivion, she created a scarily revelatory portrait of adolescence in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm. Then she immersed herself in a long indie phase that included John Waters's Pecker, Don Roos's The Opposite of Sex, Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66 and Morgan J. Freeman's Desert Blue, all of which earned her strong reviews and a growing throng of older fans. Now, at 19, Ricci is playing the heroine who wins the heart of Johnny Depp's quirky, stalwart Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton's lushly filmed, bodice-ripping horror epic Sleepy Hollow.
When I arrive at the Chateau Marmont to have lunch with Ricci, I wonder if she'll be the same outspoken, all-original wild card I met the last time we spoke, almost two years ago. I find her sitting at a table on the hotel terrace looking unfussily hip in a rhinestone-studded, vintage Joan Jett concert T-shirt and worn-in jeans. She's wearing next to no makeup and her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. After I say hello and seat myself, a gushing waiter approaches and asks whether Ricci herself applied the rhinestones to her T-shirt. In an eye-flashing, smoke-blowing gesture worthy of early Bette Davis, Ricci declares, "I wish I'd applied the jewels myself, but I actually bought it this way, cheesy as it is to admit it." Yeah, she's still the girl we love.
STEPHEN REBELLO: The last time we talked, you'd spent part of the morning fishing one of your credit cards out of a toilet. No calamities today, I hope.
CHRISTINA RICCI: Actually, this morning someone hit my car as I was driving on Rodeo Drive. I went there to buy linens because I'm going to Paris in a few days and I want the loft I'm staying in to seem more like mine. Have you ever tried buying linens in L.A.? I went to Neiman Marcus, but apparently they're too high-class to have linens. Saks? Too high-class, too. The woman at the counter said, "Oh, try Rodeo Drive." So I'm driving around Beverly Hills, where people drive like idiots, and this moronic girl turns into my lane and hits me. Then, when I'm in the middle of giving the police report, this teenage girl comes up and asks for my autograph. I'm like, "Not now!"
Q: Well, at least casting agents are as eager as teen fans to get to you.
A: All of a sudden, I'm a serious actress instead of the girl from Casper, which I still am at airports around the globe. The plan is working. People are giving me more respect. Plus, they understand I want to do both independent and commercial movies.
Q: Sleepy Hollow is your first commercial outing in years. What about this film made you want to take a break from indies?
A: I've always wanted to make a fairy tale, and when I read the script to Sleepy Hollow I thought it was pretty close to one. Also, I'd always wanted to work with Tim Burton and, of course, I love Johnny.
Q: Do you think you two have chemistry?
A: It's weird to think of anything sexual with Johnny because I've known him since I was nine years old, when I filmed Mermaids. He'd come to the set because he was dating my costar, Winona Ryder. Johnny's really sweet, really generous. I guess we must have some sort of chemistry. But I haven't seen the movie, so who knows?
Q: Tim Burton has said that he wanted to make the film in the style of those old Hammer movies, like The Brides of Dracula and the Frankenstein series. Does Sleepy Hollow come off that way?
A: I haven't even seen the trailer, nothing, so I don't know. The studio certainly seems to think it's good. They're starting the hype. A friend told me there's some big, ridiculous billboard of the film that's basically me and my cleavage--my costumes were all, like, push-up bras. I just thought, "God, they must be aiming for teenage boys."
Q: Tim Burton is often pegged as being more interested in spectacle than in actors. How was he with you?
A: Very visual and technical, which is fine with me. His direction was more about the way I'd turn my head than about character discussion. I don't really need a lot of help from a director. They don't cast you because they think they can bring something out of you--they cast you because you're there already.
Q: Tim Burton has said he thinks you look like the daughter of Bette Davis and Peter Lorre.
A: That's pretty nice, but I don't know who Peter Lorre is. Pathetic, right? It shows you how completely gross and uncultured my generation is.
Q: You have a reputation for being very outspoken. Have you felt pressure to tone that down now that you're looking to get mainstream leading-lady roles?
A: Actually, I've changed a lot since the last time we talked. My personality has changed, my tastes have changed. I didn't use to think anything was worth keeping private. Now I do.
Q: Oh no, does that mean you don't want to discuss your "life rage" anymore?
A: I don't have life rage anymore. I'm less into being angry. I'm much more into trying to enjoy life. Maybe I'm just growing up.
Q: What else has changed?
A: I didn't like the way I looked and I used to be more insecure about other actresses. I thought, "She's prettier than I am. Of course I'm not going to get the part."
Q: But aren't you pretty satisfied with where you are?
A: Pretty satisfied, yeah, but you always want everything. And you can't have that, especially in this business.
Q: What would "everything" be?
A: I don't have any problems with the way I look, I really don't. But you know how sometimes you see those cheesy magazines with lists of people who are considered really beautiful? Sometimes, I'd like to be on those lists. I know how that sounds, but a lot of times you just want to be like everyone else.
Q: You mean you know you should know better, but you think it'd be fun to be on a list with someone from "Dawson's Creek," "Friends" or "Buffy"?
A: Fuck yeah, man. I say that. But then my boyfriend [actor Matthew Frauman] says, "Why would you want to be any of those people or even on a list with them?"
Q: Do you watch any of those shows?
A: I used to watch "Buffy" all the time. "Sabrina" I also enjoy. I love that crap. I love those teenage shows. They're ridiculous. I don't like "Dawsons Creek" with all those new characters. It was much more interesting the first season when it was just really good bad TV.
Q: The press seems to pick on you a bit.
A: Yeah. Recently I've been targeted as the plus-size spokesperson, which is ridiculous. For the past two months, every magazine I've opened has had something about my body type. One magazine did a story on three different body types and mine was described as soft, round, no muscle. They also said I had no neck. W called me "the young Delta Burke." Then, Good Housekeeping did a story on Hollywood heavyweights and named me as one. It's so silly. I weigh 105 pounds and wear a size two, but, for some reason I'm a heavyweight.
Q: Maybe you should write a book titled "Wake Up, I'm Thin."
A: [Laughs] Maybe. I was so happy to read an US interview where Janeane [Garofalo] said it was ridiculous that I always get slammed for my weight because, in real life, I'm not fat. At all. Maybe short, but not fat. And I do have a neck.
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