Christina Ricci is only 30 years old, yet she's been a working film actress for nearly two decades. The petite, round-eyed performer first attracted attention as dour Wednesday Addams in the "Addams Family" films, segued into adult roles in such highly acclaimed pictures as "The Ice Storm" and "The Opposite of Sex," and since then has enjoyed a you-can't-pin-her-down career in movies ranging from Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" to the Wachowski brothers' visual phantasmagoria "Speed Racer."
In her latest, "After.Life," the New Jersey-raised actress plays a young woman killed in a car crash who insists to her mortician (Liam Neeson) that she's really not dead. Lewis Beale spoke to Ricci by phone from London, where she's currently shooting the 19th century costume drama "Bel Ami," co-starring "Twilight" hottie Robert Pattinson.
What was it that attracted you to this rather strange film?
The director and I talked a lot about death, the fear of death and people who aren't afraid to die. How often can you place yourself in the place of a person who's questioning if she's really dead? And I thought, how interesting, and that's why I did it, to embrace the fact it was all over.
You spend a good part of the movie lying naked on a slab in a mortuary. What was that like?
It's like anything, you cannot be self-conscious at all and be in a film. I didn't realize how often I was going to be naked, but apparently my character wanted to hang out and talk. And that's what I like about being an actress, about being completely comfortable with something no one should really see. Even something like crying, in public you'd be embarrassed, but on a set you're comfortable and unashamed. Nudity is my chance to do something that's so abnormal in real life.
The recent death of former child star Corey Haim brings up, once again, the issue of young actors who can't seem to adjust to adult life. Yet you seem to have avoided those pitfalls. How did you do it?
I've had my share of personal and public disasters. I was lucky to get an amazing agent at 10 who I'm still with, and always protects me. I have a sister who gives me reality checks. And I think certain kids are mentally suited toward working as children, and some aren't. If you're mentally suited for it, you can grow up and accept you don't have a career anymore, or become an adult actor. There are plenty of young actors who don't grow up to become actors, and are successful; it's only the ones who self-destruct who you think, that's a tragedy. We shouldn't be measuring success by whether you have a career as an adult, but whether you can transition to a life that makes you happy as an adult.
You've talked in the past about how you don't have any formal training as an actress. So how do you prepare for roles?
I use different things. There's a lot of discovery in scenes, where the person you're acting with shows you their character. I think the discovery keeps stuff alive, but a lot of times there are characters I can relate to, so I can get into that frame of mind, and other times I relate what that character is doing to something I did.
What's the best and worst advice you've ever been given about the business?
People always say why don't you get in those really big movies, and that's the best and worst advice ever. It's not like I'm turning them down.
In fact, two years ago you appeared in "Speed Racer," a megabucks piece of eye candy that turned out to be a major box-office disaster. What happened?
They made a really different kind of movie, and I think when things look different, it takes people a while to accept it. Anytime people see something new for the first time, there's some discomfort. It was a movie for kids aimed at adults, but it also had this very postmodern style - the animation and effects commented on their own presence.
You've said that you seem to have a rather "controversial persona." In what way?
There was a period when I was doing crazy things, and that gave me a persona that was outrageous and shocking. I used to say things in the press for shock value, just because I was a teenager, and I didn't know how to do press and behave with grace. So I got this crazy girl image for a while. But I don't think I have that reputation now.