In pursuit of her art, Christina Ricci has done a lot of pretty brave things: She’s simulated sex on-screen while wearing a Nixon mask and spent a lot of time half-naked in a movie while chained to a radiator.
Live theatre? That’s another thing entirely.
“I always was really, really, really against doing anything in front of a live audience,” she says. “I’ve always had stage fright. I don’t like speaking in front of people. I don’t like to present at awards shows â€” that to me was always the scariest thing ever. So the idea of doing a play for years was just like, ‘Are you kidding?'”
So Ricci is still a little stunned to now find herself making her Broadway debut in Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still,” opposite Laura Linney, Brian D’Arcy James and Eric Bogosian.
“It’s an incredible experience. It’s totally different than anything I’ve ever done. It’s sort of fascinating the things that happen when you’re out there,” she says in an interview. “It’s kind of like being on a really long first date â€” with somebody you really like.”
The four-person play debuted on Broadway in the spring and then took a summer hiatus. Ricci, who is scheduled to hit the stage eight times a week into January, takes over the part of Mandy Bloom from Alicia Silverstone.
Though Ricci is friendly with Silverstone, the two have never discussed the role, and Ricci never saw Silverstone in the initial run â€” both of which have made Ricci more confident.
“I’m not fighting any preconceptions or, ‘Oh, this is how it was done.’ I don’t have to fight any of that stuff,” she says. “It could really make you make really stupid choices.”
Ricci says she’s tried to soak up the advice of her fellow actors and the crew. “Not since I was 9 years old have I walked into a work situation and not known exactly what the rules are and how things go,” she says. “To be in the middle of your career and to get to learn so much is really a gift.”
The play’s Tony Award-winner director, Daniel Sullivan, who has helmed such works as “Proof,” ”Morning’s at Seven” and “Accent on Youth” was impressed by Ricci’s audition and her ability to use her acting gifts in a new way.
“You can read her eyes from the back row of the balcony. She has those giant eyes that are extremely expressive,” he says. “Her face picks up stage light beautifully. She just sort of glows up there.”
The play tells the story of a photojournalist (Linney) and her journalist lover (James) who are forced to re-evaluate their priorities after returning to New York following years covering carnage overseas and a near-death accident. The other characters are their editor (Bogosian) and his girlfriend, Mandy, a young events planner who comes off as horribly naive at first but grows in strength as the play goes on.
Ricci read the play while shooting the film “Bel Ami” in Europe with Robert Pattinson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Uma Thurman. She had been tossing around the idea of stretching her skills and connected with the part.
“I forgot about being scared. I read it and could just look at it for what it was instead of looking at it through such a filter if fear,” she says. “I also thought, ‘OK, I’m 30. That’s 20 years of doing the same thing.’ To be able to go and learn something totally different was too exciting.”
Since she burst onto the scene in 1990 as Cher’s daughter in “Mermaids” and then made a convincing Goth child in “The Addams Family” a year later, Ricci has veered from dramas such as “The Ice Storm” and “Black Snake Moan” to kiddie films such as “Speed Racer,” ”Penelope” and the just-released “Alpha and Omega.”
“While on film I can be very quiet and be this one kind of intensity, in real life I tend to be very big,” she says. “I’m always the loudest one. I’m always the one in the makeup trailer who’s making a fool of themselves … or getting in trouble for this or that or the other. So I was like, ‘I’d like to bring some of that more into my acting.’ And just as I was starting to do that, the play came along.”
For now, the barely 5-foot tall Ricci is trying to settle into life as a New York stage actress. She has moved into a hotel room with her 9-pound dog, a caramel-colored dachshund-Chihuahua hybrid named in honour of the late singer Karen Carpenter.
“When I go out with her, people will be like, ‘Really? You’re staying in a one-room hotel room?’ I’m like, ‘Look at me. And look at the size of my dog. You really think either of us miniature things need a big room?'”