The anorexia, the self-harm, the downright weird statements about incest… Christina Ricci freely admits that she was one mixed-up kid. But now, the actress tells Catherine Elsworth, it’s time the world saw her afresh

I’m walking up to the Hollywood sushi restaurant where I’m due to meet the actress Christina Ricci for lunch, when I see a photographer leap out of a car and begin frantically snapping pictures. I follow his gaze to a black Mercedes that has just pulled up at the kerb and see a petite figure in a green minidress, flip-flops and oversized sunglasses hand her car keys to the valet and step swiftly towards the restaurant entrance.

Inside Ricci greets me, a little flustered. She’s used to the paparazzi but today, for some reason, she wasn’t expecting to be followed. ‘I stopped at the pharmacy on the way here and I wasn’t very careful getting out of my car. I just didn’t think. But this dress is so short… I’m pretty certain there’s going to be some crotch shots. At least,’ she sighs, ‘I was wearing underwear.’

By now we’re sitting at a table and have ordered drinks. Ricci hasn’t stopped talking and after a few minutes we’ve already covered the paparazzi, nudity in films (‘I do it all the time – I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal’), what time she goes to bed (‘I’m always in bed by 11 or 12 and people laugh all the time – they want me to hang out until two in the morning, but n-n-no, I need my nine hours’) and her quest to eat healthily.

Today she looks fighting fit – her skin is clear, her huge hazel eyes are bright, and she is slender but not scarily so. It’s a far cry from the well-publicised extremes of her troubled youth when she cut herself and battled with anorexia. At one point she shrank to six stone and so disliked her appearance that she covered all the mirrors in her house.

I ask if she usually eats well these days. ‘No. I eat crap. I’m an inconsistent eater – all the things you’re not supposed to be. I forget to eat, then I’ll eat a bag of potato chips. And then you get to a point at a certain age when you’re, like, “All right, I guess I have to take care of myself now.”‘

The 28-year-old actress gave up drinking some years ago and now has three sessions a week with a personal trainer, though she often wimps out of cardio, she confesses: ‘I’m a lazy, lazy girl. But I figure I’m so high-strung I probably burn the same calories in nervous energy’.

Ricci is here to promote her latest film, Speed Racer, directed by the Wachowski brothers (of Matrix trilogy fame), a live action adaptation of a 1960s cult Japanese anime cartoon series. So far I’ve not had a chance to ask her about it.

‘I’m sorry if I’m babbling,’ she says, after a sudden pause. ‘I only realised recently that other people don’t give interviews like this where they talk non-stop. As a kid, I was told to talk as much as possible. I took it to heart then, and 20 years later I’m still doing it. But I apologise. Sometimes people are, like, “You’re talking way too much.”‘

Speed Racer, a family film, is a departure for Ricci on several fronts: it’s her first action film, potentially her first blockbuster, and probably the only time she’ll see her character get its own plastic action figure and McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Ever since, aged ten, she played the endearingly malevolent Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (1991), Ricci’s fans have become used to seeing her play dark, damaged young women, such as Rae, the abused nymphomaniac from the 2006 film Black Snake Moan (after which Ricci announced, ‘I’ve had enough sex for the next two years with this movie’), Shelby, the lesbian lover of Charlize Theron’s serial killer in Monster (2003) and the tormented teens she played in the art-house films The Ice Storm (1997), Buffalo ’66 (1998) and Prozac Nation (2001).

But there’s nothing disturbing about Trixie Fontaine, Ricci’s character in Speed Racer, unless you’re scared by a girl who flies a pink helicopter. Perhaps that’s why Ricci found the audition so terrifying.

‘When I read the script I was, like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Because when you read a script and someone is having a nervous breakdown or someone is crying because someone else is dying, it’s very specific. I know exactly what to do with that stuff. But when it’s just someone talking in a normal situation – there are a million different interpretations.’

With her heart-shaped face, large eyes and high forehead, she is the perfect choice to play a cartoon character brought to life. ‘What’s really funny is that people for years had been saying to me, “You know, they’re going to make a Speed Racer movie and you should totally play Trixie.” And I do look a little bit anime when I have dark hair with my white skin.’

The role involved a number of fight scenes. ‘I love the physical stuff,’ says Ricci. ‘I got to do a sequence where I was trained by the guys who did the Matrix movies. They taught me how to pick up a gun mid-cartwheel and I was, like, “This is the greatest thing!”‘ At one point in one of the driving scenes, Ricci recalls, ‘I got out and vomited and then said, “I’m getting back in!”‘

Filming, however, did not get off to an ideal start when, on her first day, Ricci found herself assaulted by a co-star who latched on to her breast and refused to let go. The co-star in question was a chimpanzee called Kenzie. ‘He had that hold little kids have when they hold way too tight,’ Ricci recalls. ‘I felt like, if I wasn’t calm, he might just pull away and not let go of my breast and I’d lose like a whole piece.’

Ricci was discovered aged six by a casting agent who happened to see her in a school play in Montclair, New Jersey, and began acting professionally aged seven. She was cast alongside Cher in Mermaids (1990) and then, of course, as Wednesday Addams. She worked constantly throughout her teens, but ‘not always on the greatest things’, she says. I ask if she ever watches her early films. ‘Not really, though when I do I’m, like, “Why did anyone like me?” I was such a bad actress.’

As a teenager, says Ricci, she liked to taunt journalists with what she claims were ‘ironic’ quotes about death and incest (she refers to her younger self as ‘this teenager spouting obnoxious things’). She would pepper interviews with comments such as, ‘I’m not afraid to die,’ and, ‘It’s such a natural thing to have sex with [your parents].’ This particular observation – which she said afterwards was a joke – took years to shake off. Most worryingly, perhaps, she once displayed the mementos of a bout of self-harm during an interview. ‘I was trying to impress Gaby,’ she explained at the time, referring to Hoffmann, her co-star in Now and Then (1995). ‘I heated up a lighter and pressed it on my hand, then up my arm. I wanted to see if I could handle pain. It was a sort of an experiment to see if I could take it.’

In her early teens Ricci struggled with her self-image and developed an eating disorder, although she has said her troubles were more due to her family life than Hollywood. Her mother was a former model and her father a counsellor who practised primal-scream therapy (growing up, Ricci could hear his clients’ yells coming up from the basement) and taught his children that ‘no one ever really likes you’. They split up when she was about 13.

After the divorce Ricci cut ties with her father. In the past she has been critical of him and his parenting: ‘Having someone analyse you or tell you why you’re behaving in a certain way or even point out that you have a psychosis does create an unhealthy perspective for a lot of people,’ she has said. ‘You’re not supposed to know these things at a young age.’

She has described him as a ‘very paranoid man’, and once said she severed contact to protect herself. ‘I know it sounds cold, but it was one of the first things I ever did in my life – to take care of myself. Decide that only people who deserve it can be in my life.’

When I ask her about him all she will say is that they are not in touch. She is, however, close to her mother, whom she describes as completely supportive of her desire to be an actress. ‘Oh, yeah, my mom travelled with me everywhere until I was about 16 or 17, and then I started going off on my own.’

Ricci says she’s still unpicking some of the issues from her childhood, but today has ‘got to a place that everyone gets to one day where you feel more secure. I decided to turn everything I know now and all my experience into really positive things for myself. The more I do that, the more I’m kind of finding out who I am.’

She also has a new confidence in her acting ability, describing her performance in Black Snake Moan as ‘probably my best work’. But she’s determined to ensure she has a say in what happens after a film has wrapped. In her opinion the posters for Black Snake Moan – which featured a chained-up, scantily clad Ricci above the tag-line everything is hotter down south – completely distorted its message.

‘I thought I was getting into a part where I could really show the gritty reality of someone who had post-traumatic stress syndrome – what we call rape trauma syndrome,’ says Ricci, who for ten years has been a spokeswoman for the American organisation Rainn (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network). ‘And then it’s sold in this exploitative, objectifying manner, so that I look like I’m part of some 1970s porn, when I’m making a movie about what happens to a f-ing rape victim.’

It’s almost exactly a year since I last interviewed Ricci. During that interview she enthused about her then boyfriend, the actor and director Adam Goldberg, confiding she was ready to settle down and start a family. I ask if she still feels this way.

‘I, er… yeah, well, no, because I’m single now, so… I mean, I am thinking, of course, about having a family because I’m at that age, but for me right now my career is my priority and, you know, I think a lesson I learnt is not to talk about my private life,’ she laughs.

Ricci won’t say what happened other than she and Goldberg ‘went our separate ways’. And she won’t say if she’s dating anyone, despite recent rumours that romance blossomed between her and her Speed Racer co-star, Kick Gurry, 29, an Australian. (Earlier in the interview, though, she brings him up, unsolicited, describing how she poked fun at his ‘new wave’ haircut in the film.) Instead, she says, she’s focusing on her career and, most importantly, on shedding her slightly sinister image.

‘Kids don’t know who I am, so their first impression of me will be Trixie. It’s a very different impression [from Wednesday Addams, her peers’ first impression of her]. And as they grow up they won’t be talking about me as kooky and weird for the rest of my career,’ she says laughing. ‘It’s like reintroducing yourself in a totally new incarnation.’

From The Sunday Telegraph