Paper – 1998

Not even your atypical girl next door…
Paper, 1998

Not even your atypical girl next door, Christina Ricci is a living work of art who confounds stereotypes and shatters expectations. She has the face of a cherub, with features borrowed from both Renaissance and Keene paintings, but her sardonic humor and dark world view elevate her light years beyond everyday ingenue status. The fact that there’s something innately different about Ricci has kept her from megasuccess, but earned her respect from those who don’t think banal teen stardom is something to cheer about anyway. And, thankfully, she doesn’t feel like changing the situation. “I’d like to get paid well and have a big trailer,” the 18-year-old says, puffing on a cig at Time Cafe. “But that’s probably my choice. If I had a personal trainer and put the right color highlights in my hair and decided to be in teen horror movies, I’d probably be getting paid more, but I’m too lazy to go through all that shit.”

So the costar of big-budget Hollywood flicks like Addams Family Values and Casper-a Santa Monica-born cutie who was discovered at eight in a school Christmas play-has emerged into extra-quirky maturity, popping up as the inevitable high point of smaller, more eccentric flicks-and a lot of them. She was the saucy, sexually curious daughter with an oddball Thanksgiving prayer in The Ice Storm; the acid-tripping Barbra Streisand portraitist in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; the amoral, loose-lipped Lolita Dedee Truitt in The Opposite of Sex; and the impressionable sweetie Vincent Gallo instructs to love him in Buffalo 66.

Generally tapped either for her vulnerability or her edge (“Well,” she says, “all there are in Hollywood are extremes”), Ricci finally gets to combine the angel and the bitch in John Waters’ folk-art celebration, Pecker, in which she plays the loving, Laundromat-owning girlfriend of the title character (Edward Furlong). She’s the kind of person who, after Pecker’s photographs of raw reality are embraced by New York’s cognoscenti (in a montage, she and Furlong even end up on the cover of PAPER with the headline, “Art Couple of the Year?”), would rather be working at her Laundromat in Baltimore than hanging out at B Bar. To Ricci, the movie is a reversal of Gummo, “which was New Yorkers making fun of what they view as idiotic, small-town people. Here, these people are making fun of us.” But clearly she’d like to turn the tables back and make fun of them again. “Baltimore’s really horrible,” she says. “I hated being there so much. But I felt bad about hating being there because John is so much about Baltimore. But I just thought it was atrocious.”

She’s not wild about laundry either, and winces, “We always had to go to a Laundromat, and I hated doing that.” “I’d rather go to church,” I interject, and she agrees, saying, “At least you can sleep in a church. You’re safe.”

Her character verges on being a recurring laundry joke, with typically campy Waters dialogue (“You can’t dye clothes in here!”). Ricci’s approach involves no Methody fussing or overanxious research. She didn’t investigate the history of the spin cycle. As she puts it, “I sort of go on autopilot and just say my lines, which is what I always do. I don’t develop characters; writers do. You just go in and say your lines and look right. I don’t ad lib. In my job as an actor, I don’t have to think-so why ask to have to?” The girl’s either short-selling herself or unwittingly drawing attention to her natural gifts. Without extraneous B.S., Ricci delivers plain, direct genius. She has a natural instinct for the camera, and can veer from a doll to a demon with the drop of a listener’s jaw.

Was she the first choice for the part? Apparently not. Ricci says that when some “bitch actress” was told that Ricci made it into the movie, she said to her, “That’s so great! I told Chloe [Sevigny] she shouldn’t have turned down that part!” Ricci takes a puff, then tells me, “I was like, ‘You are an evil cunt.’ I mean, I like Chloe, but this other actress is a fucking whore. It destroyed me for about five minutes, then I was like, ‘I hate you.’ I came back and built on my hatred for this girl.”

When asked, John Waters diffuses the “first choice” scenario. “There were thousands of people mentioned for the part,” he says, and they kept changing based on logistics. But he’s thrilled to have ended up with Ricci, who he feels is a complete natural. “It’s like when Ricki Lake read the part in Hairspray: she read it exactly right,” he says. “Christina got it [at the audition]-she knew how to say the words I wrote, which is always a little bit angry and with love. How dull to have a young person who isn’t angry. They can’t be angry later in life, but at her age, it’s sexy to be angry.” Waters describes Ricci’s screen persona as “Tuesday Weld with a chip on her shoulder and a good sense of humor.”

Offscreen, I’m loving that this sweet, angelic face can toss out such sizzling barbs-her way of expressing impatience with hypocrisy and pretentiousness. I also appreciate (admittedly with some frustration) that she always stops short of naming names. In fact, when I ask who’s a bad actor, she replies, “That’s not nice,” and refuses to answer. She has a kind streak!

Still, she admits, “I always wanted to be an Ayn Rand character. I have a lot of mood swings.” And if people think she’s really like the heartless Dedee in The Opposite of Sex-though she isn’t-that’s O.K. with her. “I always wanted to be like that when I was little,” she says. “I think it’s funny to say inappropriate things.” (In fact, she said “tits and ass” on The View after a producer instructed her to “make sparks.”) “I never knew that mongoloid was an offensive thing, for example. I assumed it was the same as calling someone a retard.” I inform her that retard isn’t all that correct either, and she balks, “Yeah, but everyone says retard.”

You don’t argue with Christina Ricci-why would you? And as she unleashes her teeny likes and dislikes-if I can segue into my Tiger Beat mode-they sound perfectly appropriate. She hates theater and says, “The whole time you’re concentrating on really enjoying it so you won’t hate yourself for being there.” She likes art, but while she once almost bought a painting for $8,000, she decided to rent an apartment instead. She likes getting good writeups, “but it doesn’t really mean much.” She loves cheesy teen films-the kind she’s never in-and raced to see Wild Things. (“Denise Richards is practically naked the entire movie. And you see Kevin Bacon’s dick-full-frontal nudity!”) She liked the first half of Titanic, “but I had no desire to put in the second tape. I decided I already know what happens. Everyone dies except for a couple of rich people and Rose. I don’t like watching children die.”

And she also loves tabloids, but with a healthy, postmodern perspective. While she enjoys the presidential sex scandals, she says, “I think most people cheat on their spouses. Because it’s the president shouldn’t make a difference. Who cares?” When I bring up a much larger loyalty issue-Ginger Spice’s departure from the Spice Girls-she rolls her eyes and smiles, “I could really care less about Ginger Spice. That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about in my life. The only one I like is Posh Spice. She goes out with a soccer star. I respect that.” “Posh Spice probably slept her way into the group,” I gratuitously add, and Ricci smirks, “No, I think Baby Spice did.”

Oh, she also likes getting free outfits from designers, but she’s discovered that some of them make horrible, cheapo clothes. “They look really pretty,” she says, “and then you wear them for five seconds and they’re completely wrinkled and the zipper breaks. So I’m glad, because I’ll know what to avoid in the future.” Again, no names.

I did finally get a few, though. Her boyfriend is an actor/DJ named Matthew, and, Ricci adds, “He was one of my good friend’s roommates. I went to stay with her and I ended up staying with him instead.” Oh, and her next movie is called 200 Cigarettes, in which she and Gaby Hoffman play a pair of Long Island girls. Ricci’s mad that they didn’t give her an accent coach, only a tape, and says, “I had to think about every word as I said it, so I don’t think I’m very good in it. It was so ridiculous.”

Still, she enjoys making movies, and has ever since her first, Mermaids, in 1990. She’s about to start shooting Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, in which she stars opposite Johnny Depp. “I still love acting,” she says, “but when I was little, it was the greatest thing on earth. I got out of school, I got tons of attention from everybody on the set and I was being paid to do something I thought was so idiotic.” I’m glad you’re still doing it, Christina. The idiocy has a touch of pure magic to it.