Itâ€™s hard not to be a little intrigued by Christina Ricci. Getting her start as a child actor in the 1990 with The Addams Family and coming-of-age film Mermaids opposite Cher and Winona Ryder, she later transformed into a teen idol for rebels and outsiders with films like Buffalo â€™66, The Opposite of Sex, and John Watersâ€™ Pecker.
Indeed, itâ€™s been nothing if not an unconventional career trajectory for the now-31-year-old actress, which is why I was curious to hear that sheâ€™d be starring in a series regular role on the new ABC show Pan Am, which follows the lives of a group of young stewardesses in the early 1960s.
And yet true to her image as one of the industryâ€™s more thoughtful and articulate young actresses, the show clearly illuminates issues Ricci feels very strongly about.
â€œThe show involves women navigating a blatantly misogynistic society,â€ said Ricci, who plays the role of Pan Am stewardess Maggie, when I stopped to speak with her at the networkâ€™s post-panel TCA party. â€œI am a woman navigating a thinly-veiled misogynistic society. So to be honest, there are just as many things that are misogynistic, and checkpoints and standards that I have to measure up to that arenâ€™t necessarily written down, or rules that are spoken about.â€
Nevertheless, while the female stewardesses of the time were forced to undergo a litany of horribly sexist â€œgrooming inspectionsâ€ and â€œgirdle checksâ€ prior to beginning a shift, Ricci insisted they were ultimately empowered by the jobs that they held.
â€œThey were flying all around the world, on their own, with other women their age, learning to navigate in cultures, in worlds that most American men hadnâ€™t seen,â€ she said. â€œAnd they were in the highest pay grade amongst women and men in America at that time. So in a way, they kind of were playing the system.â€
Again, while a major broadcast network may seem like an odd home for a performer who has repeatedly demonstrated her tendency to go against the Hollywood grain, Maggie will ultimately serve to reflect Ricciâ€™s own somewhat rebellious attitudes.
â€œJack spent a lot of time with all of us girls on the pilot,â€ she said. â€œHe would sit around and talk to us and listen to our stories. So I found that the episodes that were written subsequently reflected a lot of our personalities. The first episode I read I was like, â€˜Uh-huh, she says things she shouldnâ€™t, and sheâ€™s got an authority problem â€” wow. Got to know me kinda quickly!â€™â€
Still, despite being the biggest-name actor in the cast and the seriesâ€™ obvious linchpin, Ricci admitted she doesnâ€™t exercise any real control over the showâ€™s plotlines.
â€œI donâ€™t really have that much [creative input],â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m trying to just do what I do. I mean, itâ€™s my first TV show, Iâ€™ve never done this before, and I kind of was just like, â€˜I wanna learn what it means to be an actor on a TV show.â€™ So Iâ€™m just doing what everyone else does.â€
With or without her input, Ricci seemed pleased with the showâ€™s emphasis on showcasing healthy female relationships â€“ a rarity when you consider the catty undercurrents of most female-centric TV series.
â€œOne of the things thatâ€™s so powerful that [executive-producer] Nancy Hult Ganis said to us â€” she used to be a flight attendant at [that] time â€” she was saying it was so hard to become a Pan Am stewardess that once you became [one], youâ€™d made it,â€ she said.
â€œThere was no reason to be a rival with your fellow stewardess. There was no infighting over men â€” none of that craziness! It was just like women together traveling the world, looking out for each other, working together, and thatâ€™s something thatâ€™s so empowering, I think.â€
Of course, given that the series begins in 1963 â€“ the start of one of the most tumultuous time periods in American history â€“ the show will also attempt to incorporate a broader view of the radical events that defined the decade.
â€œWeâ€™re gonna delve into quite a lot of historical things that happened, and I think that theyâ€™ll probably use each character to reflect a different point of view from the time,â€ said Ricci.
So does that mean we can expect a gay character in the showâ€™s future?
â€œI think probably,â€ she told me. â€œI would imagine so. I think probably the first thing weâ€™ll deal with is stuff having to do with the civil rights movement. I would imagine that would be the first kind of social issue that we deal with.â€
Thatâ€™s OK, Christina; weâ€™re willing to be patient.