WHEN listening to Christina Ricci’s child-like voice, it’s easy to forget the 27-year-old is a Hollywood veteran with a career that spans 39 films over almost two decades.

She started out as a 10-year-old playing Cher’s daughter in Mermaids, but she’s far outgrown her child-actor beginnings, with critically acclaimed roles in films such as Sleepy Hollow, The Opposite of Sex and The Ice Storm.

She also earned an Emmy Award nomination for a guest role in the hit television series Grey’s Anatomy.

Now Ricci is talking about what is possibly the role of her career, as Rae, a victim of sexual abuse, in writer-director Craig Brewer’s controversial new film Black Snake Moan, screening at the Sydney Film Festival next Sunday.

“I wanted to show the human aspect of this girl and make her as accessible as possible so (people) could recognise the Raes that they know in real life,” Ricci tells Insider from Los Angeles.
To prepare for the role as the out-of-control Rae, Ricci lost weight and bleached her hair.

During filming, she appeared half-naked in graphic scenes that exposed the desperate existence of Rae.

When Black Snake Moan premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in January, Ricci’s courageous performance won high praise.

Among the fans were her co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and pop singer Justin Timberlake.

“I don’t think you’ve ever seen performances braver than what Christina did,” said Jackson. “She took risks.

“She’s walking around in that state of undress and was willing to expose emotions so raw that it really jumps out at you.”

Ricci says she willingly shed her emotional skin, along with her weight and clothes, to portray a girl on the brink of self-destruction.

“The thing I loved about Rae was that she was such a powerful character,” she says.

“Even though it’s not a great place in her life…you get the feeling she’s going to make it.”

Ricci is something of a survivor herself in Hollywood, having had a few bumps in her career and personal life along the way.

During her teenage years, constant scrutiny of her looks led to anorexia and alcohol abuse.

Now fully recovered, she sees much of Rae’s destructive behaviour reflected in the antics of many young women, including starlets such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

“We have little girls running all over the world who are acting like Rae,” she says.

“People are such hypocrites because the same people who would say she is a slut are the same people who have daughters who are acting like Rae, dressing like her and objectifying themselves in the same way.

“Our culture is creating little Raes all over.”

Hearing Ricci’s powerful opinions, it becomes obvious why Timberlake, who plays Rae’s boyfriend Ronnie in Black Snake Moan, was a little taken aback by her commitment to the role.

She says their graphic opening sex scene together caused the prince of pop to stop in his tracks.

“I think Justin was a little bit shocked by how much I went for it, just in terms of the nudity and the honesty of it,” she recalls.

“Nothing I did was sugar-coated and so for the first day he was like: `Wow! You’re really not going to wear any pants’?”

Off screen, Ricci has shown that she certainly wears the pants now.

Any talk of her being type-cast as an “indie movie girl” or of her career stalling has been silenced with her signing to Speed Racer, a live-action adaptation of the 1960s cult cartoon from Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski.

Ricci will star as Speed’s girlfriend Trixie opposite Emile Hirsch as Speed, with John Goodman and Susan Sarandon playing his parents.

Due to start production in Germany later this year, Speed Racer is tipped to be one of the blockbuster hits of 2008.

Which is why, despite her diminutive frame, Ricci is bigger than ever.

“Hollywood’s perception of me has changed a lot,” she says, adding that her “incredible acting stretch” in Black Snake Moan was partly responsible.

“I’m considered in a different way now.”

The Sydney Film Festival will screen the Australian premiere of Black Snake Moan on Sunday, June 17 at Greater Union George St.

Source: The Sunday Telegraph