Marie Claire – UK Edition, February 2000

Teen Spirit
Marie Claire – UK Edition, February 2000
Photographs by Rankin

A mainstream actress wth an offbeat personality, Christina Ricci is described as ‘maternal, childlike and sexual, all at the same time’. Chrissy lley unravels the contradictions.

It’s hard to imagine that Christina Ricci was ever a child, despite the fact that she’s only nineteen. Even when she played Wednesday in The Addams Family, it was with a spooky dominatrix vibe. That malevolent poker face, that scrutinising tear-through-you glare has always haunted her performances. I know a man who loves older woman, but who fantasises about Christina. He longs to be unnerved by her – he knows he’d dissolve because she could outstare him.

Christina has never managed innocence, even in Casper or Mermaids. Vincent Gallo, with whom she starred in Buffalo ’66, said of her, “She’s maternal, childlike and sexual, all at the same time.’ On screen, she has a thick charisma that fleshes out that mother/Madonna/whore triangle in a unique way. It’s somethign to do with that high-rise, satin-fleshed forehead. Is it brainy genius, a baby or an old, wise person, or simply an alien?

In The Opposite of Sex, she was a trailer-trash blonde, sexually voracious, overflowing from her dresses, who stole her brother’s lover. The Ice Storm was her transition from the child who wasn’t a child to the teen fresh coctail of outrage, angst, sex and depression.

She has been the princess f the independant movie. Now, she’s looking like a princes as Katrine Van Tassel in Tim Burton’s hugely budgeted Sleepy Hollow. It’s a fairy-tale horror story where no one knows the depths of who’s good and who’s evil. And after this, she plays a disgarded Russian aristrocrat in a wartime movie, The Man Who Cried. Mainstream movies, mainstream roles, but there’s nothing mainstream about her, not in the way she thinks or looks.

Johnny Depp plays her lover in both films, and I couldn’t help but wonder is there was any sense of art meets life. ‘No,’ she says, ‘we’re very comfortable together and there’s no weird tension. I’ve known him since I was nine years old, when he was with Winona (Ryder) and he used to come visit the set fo Mermaids. I don’t think of him in any sexual way and he doesn’t think of me in any sexual way. There’s no awkwardness.’

She speaks in small, deliberate sentences. Everything about her is compact: teh way she extends her dismissal or enthusiasm, it’s very subtle. We meet at the old-time glamorous Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. It’s glamorously gloomy in the twilight.

She tells me that, first fo all, she must apologise for the way she looks. She came straight from the gym. Of course, she looks luminous, skin of axy satin bathen in the moon glow. Her eyes are huge, the famous forehead filled with all kinds of thoughts; mouth is neat, perfect; hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her body is neat, no bony from her anorexic phase and not bosomy either.

She has been acting since she was nine, first of all in commercials, then her break – Mermaids. She was a serious child. She got serious parts. She says it was because she was very guarded and tight with her own emotions: ‘I was a weird person playing wholesome people.

‘I arrived to film Casper with another girl my age to find her mother very concerned. She didn’t want her daughter to hang out with me. I suppose I smoked and cursed freely, but I was always well-mannered. My mother taught me to me, I was having a normal childhood because it was the only childhood I knew.’

She was born in Los Angeles in February 1980 and moved to New Jersey when she was three. By which time, her sister, Pia, who’s four years older, had taught her to read. Her father, Ralph, who saw himself as a Mafioso, gave them all Italian names. He ha varying careers, working his way trhough being a gym teacher to a lawyer via being a therapist.

‘When I was about eight, he was a primal scream therpist. I remember trying to sleep and I’d hear “I hate him. He’s an asshole. Fuck you. Fuck you.” He was helping people deal with their anger.’

Her parents split in her early teens. Her father is now a drug and alcohol counsellor for prison inmates in northern California. Her mother, Sarah, was a model. She used to do fittings for Twiggy. ‘It’s unfortunate that we don’t look alike at all,’ says Christina with her famous deadpan.

We order beers and smoke cigarettes. The outside patio frest around her. ‘ONe of my mother’s main focuses was to show us how to be socially graceful, to rely on myself and not be frightened of doing things on my own. I don’t like to be alone, though.’

She’s frighteningly independent and strong-willed, but when she came to London to film Sleepy Hollow, she got lonely. Flew her mother over, flew her friends over and pined for her boyfriend.

The day after we meet she is due to fly to Paris to film The Man Who Cried. She’s very uneasy. Not because it’s major league, and she’s looking forward to having Cate Blanchett play her best friend, but because there’s the whole domestic suburban cosy side to her, the one that loves gossip magazines and Sex And The City and Friends, and doesn’t want to go anywhere except shopping. ‘I hate change.’ she says. ‘Any change.’

Yet she has spent her life traveling coast to coast, playing dark and unpredictable characters. At one point, she thought she was going to die, so she liked to move house and change things around as a way or reinstating her feelings that she was alive. She says that it was do do with, ‘When you’re a child and stop being a child, part of you does die.’

And for all her knowingness, another part of her is still unformed. She says: ‘I think you take something from every relationship to become who you are, whether it’s friends, lovers, partens, or who you work with.’

Have you had many lover? ‘No. Not many. I’m only nineteen,’ she says in a voice that’s part coy, part curt. She’s been with her boyfriend, Matthew Frauman, for two years. He’s 27 and an artist/actor. ‘We met through a friend in New York and started living together the first day we met.’

How did you know you wanted to move in with him? ‘I’m impulsive. I decided. I had just come back from shooting a movie in Baltimore and I went to stay with my friend Tara in New York with my suitcase, and her room-mate was Matthew so I ended up staying with him instead of her. So yeah, I was a bit of a slut,’ she says, with an air of purity.

‘I knew straight away. I read all of these things in magazines where you’re not supposed to tell people certain things and not act in a particular way, but that isn’t really you. I bought that book The Rules: Time Tested Secrets For Capturing Mr Right and I failed completely as a Rules girl. I’m not able to be that deceptive.’

I told her I’d interviewed one of the woman who wrote The Rules and she reprimanded me for goign to the gym without make-up. ‘Yes, oh my God. It said, don’t even go running without listick in case you meet the man of your dreams. But the man of your dreamsis going to have to wake up with you every morning without lipstick, so… And if the man of your dreams called you, then your not supposed to call him back for a week. I could never do that. I’d be like, “All right, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

‘I can understand how it’s meant to work, as men like to believe you’re this incredible woman of mystery, but it never could have worked with Matthew because he’d have felt immediately rejected if I didn’t call him back for three days.’ When she met him, he was an artist painting doors and old pieces of wood. Now he’s acting. She says that she can often judge people by how they treat him. If they ignore him because he’s less famous than her, she will ignore them.

Again she says: ‘I really don’t like change. Most people dislike it, they’re still excited. But I’m like, let’s keep everything the way it was.’ Do you think that was a result of having a childhoos where everything changed so quickly? ‘Probably. That would make sense,’ she says.

She has all the unstable, creative, spontaneous personality of the artist, but a disquieting love of calm. I read that she has two therapists, an East Coast and a West Coast one. ‘That’s not really accurate. I didn’t have them at the same time. I found I would choose talking about what things they’d respond to best, which is clearly not the point of therapy.’

Did you ever have primal scream therapy? ‘No, I didn’t have a problem expressing anger. I would, um, say things. I don’t realy do it anymore. I’ve changed, but in interviews, I’ve a tendency to want to be shocking. Or sometimes, I’d just eb sarcastic because it was appropriate for my years, but not my job.’

When Christina Ricci has done interviews before, a friend of hers told me, she used to speak in that bodl type that they place at the top of the page. Everything that came out of her mouth was in bold type. Then she relised she didn’t have to try that hard to be interesting.

Her shock-value, sound-bite phase included endearing anecdotes about her love of fur and eating the animal that went with it, but he didn’t really mean it. She once explained that she thought it was easier to be less painful to make people hate her then just wait for them to come around to hating you.

Her phase now is that she doesn’t need to please or entertain. Like her character Dedee in The Opposite of Sex, she doesn’t have a heart of gold and, by the end of the movie, she doesn’t find one. By the end of the interview, I don’t have to like her, but I do.

I tell her how much thinner she is than I imagined, although at one point she was anorexic. ‘But I got over that.’ That was in 1995, when she was doing a movie called Now and Then, produced by Demi Moore.

‘I was trying to get attention,’ she says, suddenly sounding her age. ‘I spin and I have a trainer. At first, I avoided doing all of that because I felt that it was expected. But then I realised I wanted to look a certain way, so why let other people affect what I want to achieve? I don’t like being obsessed with what I eat, so that’s why I go to the gym. The anorexic thing, it just doesn’t make any sense to me now, but it did at the time.’

‘Someone talked about the new body that we can have, and one review of The Opposite of Sex said that my appearance was slutty and trashy and that I was slutty, and confusing me with the character, and it made me feel kind of icky. Then recently, I was included in these features called things like “Hollywood Heavyweights”.’

Even at 25lb heavier (she’s 5ft 2in), there’s no way she could be a heavyweight. And now, despite the guardedness, there’s a vulnerability. ‘It’s crazy, but unfortunately society is obsessed with people’s weight, so even when they were praising me, I felt a lot of that praise was condecending at the same time. They called me chubby and said: “Oh we’re proud of her because she’s chubby.”‘ Deep scrutinising sigh. ‘You either obsess about that crap or ignore it, but it’s hurtful.

‘My boyfriend told me to stop reading magazines, but I can’t. I’m addicted, and that means I know someone like me will be reading a magazine and judging me.’

We both decide that we are starving and I order a pumpkin pasta and she orders a hearty pizza. Her mother used to talk to her as a child, saying, when you grow up, you’ll be on a scotch and steak diet. Apparently, this was the diet that all the models in the 1970s were on. ‘I always knew my mother was beautiful,’ she says. ‘She was in magazines. She was acknowledged as being pretty and did go on the scotch and steak diet.’

It’s hard to imagine Christina Ricci as the happy homemaker, but she herself says she makes a good steak and a good pasta sauce – her father’s recipe. They were estranged for a while, but they speak again. ‘We all moved apart when I was thirteen or fourteen.’

Did you miss him? ‘Yeah. I’d rather no talk about it exactly if you don’t mind. I think the problem most kids have when their parents get divorced is they have a whole consistency of their life and suddenly it’s a completely different one. I never had that consistency, so it didn’t affect me in the same way.’

She does display a kind of old-soul quality, as if already much in her life has been heavy, disturbing, but now resolved. Her mother still manages a lot of her business and she’s particulary close to her sister. Christina says that she’s had chemistry with other actors, but doesn’t see the need for them to become her best freinds in real life.

Does she make friends easily? ‘No. I have a few really close friends, and then I don’t bother with surface-level friendships. My life’s too hectic.’

How do they get into the inner sanctum? ‘Oh, people I’ve had to work with and spent every day with. My closest friend is Gaby Hoffmann. We’ve been friends for five years.’ They recently worked together again playing loud-mouthed, over made-up girls from Long Island in the movie 200 Cigarettes.

Having established that she seems to see Johnny Depp as an uncle figure, is there a man she’d be crazy to work with? ‘John Malkovich. I’ve always had the biggest crush on him,’ she says, but flatly.

She only gets excited when talking about shopping. ‘I can’t go into a store without buying things. People get excited if they see me coming into their store. Whether it’s clothes, shoes or plates, I shop until I need someone to help me carry all my stuff to my car.’

You might have imagined there’d be dark obsessions. But no. ‘I may appear controversial because I don’t look mainstream, but I don’t do anything in my life to deserve that. I don’t drink hard liquor and I don’t do drugs.’ There must be some substance? ‘Chapstick,’ she says, delving into her bag.

She does confess to being fairly compulsive. For instance, now she’s trying to make her way through the classics, from A to Z. ‘I’m only on to Honore De Balzac. My favorite book is The Fountainhead. That’s by Ayn Rand. I relate to it because of the idea that you’re not a bad person if you don’t love everyone.

‘Maybe I should try harder. But if I don’t like someone the first time, I always realise I was right to begin with. I say to myself, trust your instincts.’ It’s her attuned instincts that made her adopt her weirdness in characters and make them her own. It’s precisely that instinct that has steered her and helped her grow up in public.

She’s able to do that clever thing of exuding sex and innocense at the same time. Either way, she affects, disturbs and surprises. She makes you want to confess bad things because you know she’s probably been there. Suddenly, she realises the time. It’s late and she hugs me goodbye.