Christina Ricci’s 1990 film debut performance as Cher’s daughter in Mermaids thrust the 10-year-old directly into big-time moviemaking, with leading roles in two Addams Family films (as Wednesday), Casper and Now and Then (as the younger version of Rosie O’Donnell!) over the next five years. Ricci proved that her youthful success was no fluke with acclaimed performances in dramas such as The Ice Storm, The Opposite of Sex and Monster and lighter fare such as Speed Racer and Penelope. Now this distinctive actress is set to make her Broadway debut in the return of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still (replacing Alicia Silverstone). It’s Ricci’s first time on any stage, but she’s upbeat and excited about joining returning cast members Laura Linney, Brian d’Arcy James and Eric Bogosian in a play that tackles big themes of love and loss, guilt and happiness. In conversation, Ricci is bubbly and girlish—virtually the opposite, in fact, of her dour movie persona, but very much in tune with the guileless young party planner she plays in Time Stands Still.

You’re tackling a juicy role in a play by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Were you nervous at your audition?
I was really nervous! Plays are very different from film scripts. There are a lot more speeches! [Laughs.] There’s a lot more to memorize and a lot more nuance packed into a 20-minute scene. It’s intimidating, but I’m looking at this as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow as an actor. It’s very exciting.

How did Laura Linney, Brian d’Arcy James and Eric Bogosian welcome you?
[Early in rehearsals] when I would be muddling through or seem confused, Laura would wink at me or mouth, “You’re doing great.” They’ve been incredibly supportive, and so has the entire production staff. They say, “You’re fitting right in; it’s going really well.” I didn’t see [the original production of] the play because I was out of the country, so when I walked in for the first blocking rehearsal, I said, “Just tell me where to stand, guys!” But I think it’s good that I didn’t see it because I can come in with a new and crazy character.

What’s it like to fall in love with Eric Bogosian [as an older editor besotted with Ricci’s character, Mandy]?
I’ve had a huge crush on Eric Bogosian for years. I’ve seen a lot of his work in movies and TV shows, and I think we’re going to have a good time playing this couple. It’s been really easy.

What do you like about Mandy?
It’s great to play a character whose base personality is happy. She always goes back to happy, and that lends itself to a feeling of confidence playing the part. I can totally relate to her.

That’s interesting, because you’re best known for movie characters that are edgy and sarcastic.
As much as I love playing dark characters or people who are troubled [in movies], I made the choice a long time ago that I was going to build myself a happy life. I make a conscious effort not to be troubled in my personal life, so I relate very deeply to Mandy. And I tend to act quite a bit like her in social situations, especially when I’m intimidated by people. I always put my foot in my mouth, try to be cute and friendly or too cheerful and somehow embarrass myself.

Is it annoying when people mix you up with your movie roles?
You know, it could be annoying, but at the same time, what better compliment? You did you something well enough that people really believe it! I choose to look at it that way.

Does it feel like you’ve been acting professionally for 20 years?
I’m 30, and it feels like I’ve been doing this for 30 years [laughs]. I am hard-pressed to remember a time when I wasn’t acting.

Did you realize right away that you wanted to pursue acting as a career?
At first, it was just something I loved. Every time I got another job, it was exciting, and it had a really positive influence on my self-esteem; it made me feel like I had something that was mine. I’m the youngest of four kids, and in any big family, the kids struggle to find their identity. Being an actress was a great contribution to that. Then, when I was teenager, I looked around one day on a movie set and said, “This is what I want to do forever, and I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m always able to be a working actress.”

You became famous when you were really young. Do you have good memories of that?
I didn’t feel hugely famous. My world was still really small—after I did a film, I would go back to school in Montclair, New Jersey, with the same kids I had known since I was seven. I still don’t feel hugely famous. When you grow up doing this, you get accustomed to people smiling at you or calling you by your first name as you walk down the street. I kind of feel like I live in a small town where everyone knows me [laughs]. It wasn’t as overwhelming as it might be for someone who comes into it as an adult.

As a teenager, you missed a little of the current celebrity frenzy, with six magazines coming out every Friday.
I was so lucky, because that stuff really hinders the development of young actors. This idea that everything you do is going to be photographed and analyzed, and you can’t leave the house without someone making fun of what you’re wearing? To be a teenager and have those fears validated is horrendous. I was allowed to have growing pains and make mistakes without this insane tabloid culture we live in. And I’ve been super-lucky in terms of the people I’ve worked with and my representatives—great people who really cared about me and were invested in my well-being.

You never studied acting, right? You learned by doing?
Yes. My mom always said, “Look at what the adults are doing, and learn from that.” I’ve always been someone who watches other people, and I had some great teachers in that respect. I learned from Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston [in The Addams Family]. Bill Pullman [in Casper]. Just amazing actors. I still remember things Raul told me, or Cher [in Mermaids], after all this time.

Speaking of The Addams Family, have you seen the Broadway musical?
No, but I would love to go. I’m going to see what happens with my schedule and my exhaustion level.

You’ve become a favorite of designers and appeared in the September issue of Vogue. How did you get interested in fashion?
My mother was a model in the 60s—one of those mod Twiggy kinds of models. She was always very into fashion, and as I got older it became something I thought was fun. I’m very girly, so I enjoy the whole “dressing up” thing and being glam. Once you get a little attention for being well dressed, all of a sudden designers are like, “Do you want to wear this?” I also love photography and having my picture taken. I always say that if I had gotten tall enough, I would have wanted to be a model.

You change your look so often. Has being a chameleon ever worked against you?
It’s true—I love changing. For a long time, I [asked myself], “Why can’t you stay the same for more than four months? What is wrong with you?” [Laughs.] I was afraid it meant I had no identity of my own. People tease me about it all the time. My neighbors laugh and say, “It’s been two months. What are you going to look like now?” But I’ve embraced the fact this is part of my identity, and it’s cool with me.

In addition to the play, you have several movies coming up, including one with Twilight hunk Robert Pattinson.
It’s a film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami, set in Victorian Paris, so we had gorgeous costumes and makeup and hair. It was such a luxurious movie to work on, and Rob is a sweetheart. We had such a good time together. I also have an Adam Sandler comedy, Born to Be a Star, coming out, which was a totally different world, with everyone trying to crack each other up and be silly.

What’s the best movie you were ever in?
I have a soft spot for The Ice Storm [1997, as troubled teen Wendy Hood] because it was the first movie where I gave a performance that was driven by my subconscious, in a way. I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing, but I managed to project something that touched me when I saw it later. I could see the emotions that I had in me at that age.

Are you excited about living in New York while you’re on Broadway?
Yes, I have my little dog, Karen, with me and we’re trying to get into a routine. She’s half dachshund and half Chihuahua. She’s very cute and very friendly—she loves to walk up and down the street and say hello to everyone. I keep telling her, “Wait till winter! You’re not going to want to be outside anymore.”

I’ve never heard of a dog named Karen.
I looove Karen Carpenter. I listen to Karen Carpenter all the time, and I was just like, “She’s Karen.” [The dog] has brown hair and big watery eyes; she’s beautiful. I almost named her Natalie because Natalie Wood is my other favorite famous person.

Is it weird to Google your name and see pictures of yourself walking the dog or running errands with your boyfriend [photographer Curtis Buchanan]?
It’s a little weird, but my sister has imposed a “no comments” rule. I can look at the pictures if I really must, but I’m not allowed to read the evil comments that people write. If I get upset about something and I tell her, she will say, “Were you reading the comments?” So, that’s my advice to everyone: Don’t read the comments.

See Christina Ricci in Time Stands Still at the Cort Theatre.