CHRISTINA Ricci’s film career hasn’t so much skyrocketed her to fame as locked her in a semi-leisurely orbit.

The 40 movies she has made since starring opposite Cher in Mermaids at the age of nine have run the spectrum from sure-fire hits to forgettable misses.

But Speed Racer the upcoming mega-budget movie by the Wachowski brothers, who gave us the Matrix trilogy – could mark the beginningof a big 2008 for the diminutive Ricci.

“I’ve made films that didn’t come out at all,” Ricci says, philosophical beyond her 28 years. And usually that’s been a good thing. They’re doing me a favour.”

Ricci became an international star in 1991 after landing the breakthrough role of melancholic, gloomy Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family.

One of her most acclaimed roles in recent times was as the lesbian lover of Charlize Theron’s serial-killer character in 2003’s Monster.

Quirky roles are definitely her forte. In her other big movie for 2008, Ricci stars alongside Reese Witherspoon and Atonement heart-throb James McAvoy in Penelope as a character cursed with the features of a pig.

“The first make-up tests – we did about four – ranged from really, really wild-boar awful and hideous and monstrous to really super-cute,” Ricci says.

“We ended up with something somewhere in the middle. I had some say about how I’d look for the movie. I got to say: ‘That’s really hideous. Let’s make me a little cuter, can’t we? Maybe more Miss Piggy?”’

In Speed Racer, Ricci plays Trixie, a plucky helicopter pilot and girlfriend of the title character, played by Into The Wild’s Emile Hirsch.

“The film resembles Blade Runner but with Andy Warhol pop-art colours,” she says.

“The racing effects are insane. It’s crazy-looking. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Ricci also credits the film with helping her find romance. She met her current boyfriend, Australian actor Kick Gurry, who plays Sparky in Speed Racer, on the film’s set.

As Speed’s devoted girlfriend, Trixie, Ricci – an outspoken feminist – is decked out like a living doll in pink and red.

“On the contrary,” she says, referring to her feminism, “I loved playing Trixie because she’s truly what feminism is all about.

“She does everything the boys do, but at the same time she’s the girliest girl ever … She’s actually a great role model for girls because she’s smart and funny.

“She has a special outfit for each activity, and her lipstick always matches her hair clips or her T-shirt or shoes, yet she flies a helicopter and kung-fu fights with the boys.”

Ricci had heard about Speed Racer, but never seen the cult ’60s Japanese television cartoon.

“I knew about the imagery from Speed Racer. You know, how the characters are used in hipster paraphernalia, T-shirts and stuff.

“But I had never watched the cartoon, so I auditioned for it without having seen the show.

“I didn’t cut my hair like Trixie for the audition, didn’t do anything like that, but I guess I do look like her.

“I just read the script and tried to give the Wachowskis what they wanted – because they’re making a very different thing from that TV show. I mean, these guys did The Matrix.”

Ricci took to the role of Penelope like Miss Piggy to mud. Just as she was more than happy to live in Speed Racer’s cartoon-world-turned-real, she enjoyed wearing a fake snout and escaping into Penelope.

“Penelope is a young woman who can’t break this nose curse until someone ‘of your own kind’ loves her for who she is,” she says.

“I loved the way it breaks and twists the old fairy tale that told little girls they had to wait for their man to come and save them.

“That idea that love will make you whole is a part of that fairy-tale cliche. We all have to accept and love ourselves to have anything good happen in our life.”

Ricci’s Wednesday Addams turn in those Addams Family comedies of the ’90s got her pegged as “dark”, then years of films such as the grim, gay-bashing commentary The Laramie Project, the Iraq war melodrama Home Of The Brave, the erotically arch Black Snake Moan and the Oscar-winning Monster made her think about going “light” for a change.

“You can’t stay that dark all day and night for weeks on end,” she says. “You have to loosen up.

“But when the whole movie’s light, the work just comes easier. That lightness on the set of these movies shows up on the screen.”

Speed Racer opens next month

From The Daily Telegraph