New Again: Christina Ricci

In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present. 

Over the weekend Christina Ricci publicly announced her engagement to James Heergeden, the dolly grip on her nipped-in-the-bud ABC series, Pan Am. Now 32, Ricci continues to act steadily—she’s currently in pre-production for film Mother’s Day with Sharon Stone and Susan Sarandon—but we prefer to think of her as the little, macabre, no-nonsense Wednesday Addams.

 A Hayley Mills for misfits, Ricci transitioned from early ’90s to child star in Mermaids and the Addams Family films, to mid-’90s brooding teen star in Casper (1995), The Ice Storm (1997), and Now and Then (1995), in which she played a young version of Rosie O’Donnell (congratulations to Ricci on not turning into Rosie O’Donnell). She had a brief period as a sultry sexpot in her late teens in indie films such as The Opposite of Sex, and Buffalo 66 with the notoriously horrid Vincent Gallo.

Here, we look back on a conversation we had with Ricci in 1994 when, only 13, she appeared on our February cover alongside Bijoux Phillips and someone named Rodrigo Freire. —Emma Brown

A Conversation with Christina Ricci

By Peter Galvin

Like a tender pup guilelessly and joyfully making its way through the world, Christina Ricci first romped into our consciousness at age nine, as the wide-eyed Kate Flax, Cher’s younger daughter in the comedy Mermaids (1990). Here was a kid actor so natural, she actually made us forget she was speaking lines written for her by adults. Her next role, the relatively small part of Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (1991), gave audiences such a delightful view of a child’s mischievous yet compassionate mind, the film’s creator ended up giving Ricci more screen time than any of her costars in the sequel, Addams Family Values (1993). In Values, she offers a portrait of a kid—a sort of child-woman, really—instinctively struggling to maintain her identity in a world that thwarts individuality at every turn, a battle not unlike the one that Ricci herself has had to wage as a so-called child actor in the movies. Ricci, on the cusp of 14, talked to me over the phone from her home in New Jersey about people’s changing perceptions of age, particularly the new respect for the rights of both children and the elder generations of our society.

PETER GALVIN: In Addams Family Values, your character, Wednesday, and her brother Pugsley are sent off to camp and become victims of a pair of elitist, racist counselors who make no secret of their disdain for kids of color, handicapped kids, or, in the case of Wednesday, kids with a dark side to their personality. The camp counselors are adults who repeatedly try to make the “outcast” kids into something they’re not. Have you ever known anybody like that in your life?

CHRISTINA RICCI: Oh, well, some teachers are like that; they’re really condescending and don’t realize that you can actually think. Sometimes you meet a person like that on a set when you’re working.

GALVIN:  When you’re making movies, do directors ever talk down to you because you’re a kid?

RICCI: Well, a couple of people have. Like, when I first started The Addams Family, Barry [Sonnenfeld] wanted me to raise an eyebrow, and he kept saying, “O.K., now just look at him funny.” [laughs] And I was like, Good Direction. And then he went through this whole big thing in small little words about what I should do. And I finally said to him. “Do you want me to raise my eyebrow?” And he’s like, “Yeah! That’d be good.” I used to enjoy proving to people that I could actually think for myself and understand what they were talking about.

GALVIN: You turn 14 this month. Lets talk about what it’s like being a teenager.

RICCI: O.K. People are so wrong about teenagers. I mean, sure we’re going through a lot of stuff, and it makes us weird. Sure we act strange, and we don’t exactly do what adults think we should do. But it’s not like we’re some kind of subhuman form, you know? People blame everything you do on the fact that you’re a teenager. Like in the press, people have said stuff about me like “Yeah, she’s got the normal teenage air about her.” [laughs]

GALVIN: Meaning you have an attitude?

RICCI: Just the way I talk.

GALVIN: You mean, the words you use?

RICCI: Yeah, like I say “you know” a lot. It just happens. And they say I do that because I’m a teenager. Or like, once I ended a statement in a question, and a magazine quoted me doing that.

GALVIN: Has there been any teen prejudice on the movie sets you’ve worked on?

RICCI: Yeah. For one movie, I wanted a phone in my trailer. And when my lawyer asked for one, the guy [producer] was like, “No, I’m not going to give a teenage girl a phone.” And it’s like, “Oh, yeah, that’s all I’m going to do all day—talk on the phone!” People just assume that because you’re a teenager you’re going to do certain things. But I think if people listen to us, we’ve got some pretty good things to say.

GALVIN: What do you think is typical about being a teenager?

RICCI: Realizing how messed up things are around you. When I was a kid, I thought everything was perfect. I trusted everybody. I thought everybody was just doing something good for me. But you can’t be ignorant like that, especially being in the movie business, because there are so many manipulative people. I think that manipulation is one of the things that make teenagers act out and be upset about stuff; they realize what’s up with their surroundings. They realize the bad things, whereas before, maybe everything seemed perfect.

GALVIN: What kinds of things do you like to do in your spare time?

RICCI: I just like to hang out with my friends and listen to music.

GALVIN: That’s what I used to do too. I would hang out in my friend’s basement and listen to Kiss records. [laughs] But I bet you’re not listening to Kiss records.

RICCI: [laughs] No, I don’t listen to Kiss.

GALVIN: What kind of music do you like?

RICCI: My favorite group is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I also like Fishbone, Parliament, Fugazi, Superchunk, King Missile, that kind of stuff. Jimi Hendrix.  

GALVIN: Do you find that being in movies and featured in magazines has changed you? Do you feel distanced from real like at all?

RICCI: No, I don’t. I mean, maybe I am, and I just don’t realize it. Lately, I’ve learned how to deal with publicity better, whereas on Mermaids, I couldn’t deal with it at all. I was just kind of obnoxious.

GALVIN: [laughs] You were obnoxious?

RICCI: Yeah, I think when I came off of Mermaids, I was like a very obnoxious child. I mean, I didn’t think I was better than people, but I just thought, Oh, well, everybody knows who I am now. I didn’t really deal with it very well, especially with my peers.

GALVIN: And why did you change?

RICCI: I just realized what I was doing. It wasn’t good for me. I didn’t have that many friends, and the friends I had were not worth it—they were just as obnoxious as I was. I just saw what was going on, and I was like, Man, I gotta change. And now I’ve got friends.

GALVIN: Well, that’s good. You wanted to change, and you did.

RICCI: Well, I’m like one of those adaptable people; I can be young and cute when I want to be, and I can be really mature when I want to be. It’s kind of weird, like I’m the incredible changing girl, which is good because I can relate to adults and to people my age. With adults, you can be cute and just dance around, but with kids you really have to—

GALVIN: Connect.

RICCI: Yeah. You really have to relate on their level.

GALVIN: So what you mean is that other kids would not be taken in by dancing around and laughing and being cute.

RICCI: No! Do that with other kids, and they’re like [quizzically], What’s up with you? It’s like, You have a problem? I meet a lot of kids in the business who are never really around kids their age, and the difference is incredible.

GALVIN: I read somewhere that you still keep in touch with Cher, that you two are friends. I think it’s rare for a kid to have adults as friends.

RICCI: I like to talk to adults, I also know how to talk to my friends’ parents, sometimes, and get my friends out of trouble if I have to. I know how to reason with adults.

GALVIN: You were in the movie The Cemetery Club [1992], which is about people over 50 coming to terms with getting older and with death while still wanting to pursue romantic and sexual fulfillment. Are you conscious of the different ways that people live at different ages?

RICCI: Yes, I am, but I don’t think that has to do with an age necessarily. I think if just has to do with how you are and how you feel.

GALVIN: That’s a healthy attitude. What do you think about when you imagine yourself getting older?

RICCI: It’s kind of scary. If you get really old—like they show those people on the Today show who are 104—the friends you had who were the same age as you are dead. I mean, all your friends die; people you love die.

GALVIN: It’s interesting that you’re thinking about it in an emotional way rather than a physical way.

RICCI: Oh, well, I think about that, too, but I’m more worried about being alone when I’m old.

GALVIN: I read that your parents are divorced.

RICCI: Well, not really. They’re separated.

GALVIN: Well, the reason why I brought that up is that I want to talk about this thing that is happening lately with kids divorcing their parents. Do you think kids should be able to divorce their parents if they want to?

RICCI: Well, yeah. Why should a kid be stuck in a home that’s abusive? Why should people have the right to abuse their kids? I think it’s great that kids can divorce their parents—I mean, not if they just ground you. But why not if they’re beating you, and it’s a really bad situation, even if it’s just mental abuse?

GALVIN: What’s your relationship like with your parents? Do you get along with them?

RICCI: I spend a lot of time with my mother. When I’m doing movies, she’s always with me. We spend days being bored in an apartment together waiting for someone to call and say I’m needed for a shot. Because we’re together so much, we have to get along. We have to find ways to get to know each other. We’ve gone through a lot of stuff, you know, and I think we’re pretty close.

GALVIN: You’re at an age when young people around you are starting to experiment with alcohol and drugs, not that those things belong specifically to youth. Not at all. But I remember that I started drinking when I was 13, which, looking back seems incredibly young. What are you thoughts on kids drinking and using drugs?

RICCI: Some kids really mess up their lives. They get too involved with alcohol and drugs. Other kids try it and then get out of it really quickly. Other kids just don’t even go near it, and I think they’re the ones that are better off. I also think that it’s part of being a kid, doing stupid stuff and then feeling bad about it later. A lot of other people think it’s cool. I have friends who say it’s fun. I tell them that they’re idiots, but I can’t make them quit.

GALVIN: Well, do you see any correlation between kids wanting to use drugs and the unhappy things that might be going on in their lives?

RICCI: Yeah, a lot of people who use drugs are messed up like that. As much as they say it’s just for fun and stuff, I think they’re doing it because they don’t know any other way to really get away from stuff. Sometimes, there’s no other way out. I mean there are other ways out, but they’re not made available to some kids.

GALVIN: Well, I think that’s it. I hope the questions weren’t too stupid or condescending.

RICCI: Oh, no! Not at all. [pauses] Oh, my God!

GALVIN: What’s wrong?

RICCI: I’m melting a pen over a candle, and it’s turning into blue liquid. It’s really cool.

GALVIN: [laughs] You’re playing with fire! I love to do that, too.


New Again runs every Wednesday. For more, click here.