Christina Ricci glides almost imperceptibly into the restaurant, making her subdued entrance exactly on time, almost to the second. “I’m never late, I don’t like to be late,” she says, sliding her 5’1” frame onto the leather banquette, resting those lantern-like green eyes on mine and smiling warmly. Time is obviously something Ricci respects—has she ever wondered how much time she really has, I wonder? Has she considered her mortality, in terms of years, or even days, left on this earth? “Never. I don’t like numbers,” she says, her voice lowering. “And you really shouldn’t worry about things like that too much—that’s a bad habit.”
We’re in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, which Ricci has called home since the age of 19. Her home is nestled in the shadow of the Griffith Park Observatory, a stargazers’ paradise where James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause was shot, and where astronomers point giant telescopes at the Milky Way nightly. Twelve years since moving there, she still loves venturing up through the wild, dusty hills to the observatory—even though she doesn’t like being outside. “I dislike sunshine and earth,” she says. This explains her porcelain complexion, pale to the point of translucence.
This fall, Ricci is gearing up for a new phase of her acting career, with her first major television acting role in Pan Am. About the glamorous Pan Am air hostesses of the 1960s, it’s been billed as a kind of Mad Men in the sky, with some old-fashioned misogyny and espionage thrown in for good measure. When I ask Ricci if she knows that Pan Am had a waiting list for future flights to the moon, giving out “First Moon Flights Club” membership cards, she nods emphatically. “My mom got one in the ’60s. She still carries it in her purse!”
She’s moving to New York in a few weeks, because that’s where the show is being filmed. She and her Pan Am costar, Aussie actress Margot Robbie, have found an apartment in Brooklyn, which they will share for several months. “I haven’t had an apartment in New York in a very long time,” says Ricci, her shoulder-length, mousy hair perfectly flat- ironed. “It’ll be interesting. I’ll really miss my boyfriend and our home and our dogs.” She’s not worried about having a roommate, as she and Margot are very compatible. “I’m the kind of person who, if we have to be ready to get in the car at 6.30am, I set the alarm for 3:00am. And Margot will laugh and say, ‘Okay, Frank.’”
“Yes, she calls me Frank. Long story. Anyway, she’s much more laid-back and relaxed than I am. I’m so high-strung, but she likes it because with me, it’s impossible to be late for anything. And Margot tells me to just look at her each time I feel anxious, which always calms me down. So we’re really a good match.”
If Ricci’s a nervous bird, she certainly does a good job of keeping it under control. There’s nothing fidgety about her demeanor in the slightest. In fact, she’s one of those rare beings who seems entirely unafraid to maintain steady eye contact. At first it’s unsettling, until you realize it’s because she’s actually paying attention to what you’re saying. Ricci agrees that she’s actually far more relaxed these days than she was in her teens and early twenties. “Back then, each day was like, ‘Oh, what fresh hell is this?’ And then you grow up.” Of course, there’s a part of her that’s nostalgic about her teenage angst. “The glitter and the combat boots and the tearing out sheets from Dante’s Inferno and pinning them on my wall? How amazing is that? I used to have this energy and anxiety, this need to constantly be making things happen or fighting for something. Now, even though I still have moments of being totally irrational and high-strung, I mainly just feel like I want to make the best of things and have a good time.”
Ricci’s skin is dewy and makeup-free, and she is wearing ballet flats and a demure blue dress. Her attire accentuates her trademark china doll aesthetic which, combined with a dry-as-bone wit, made Ricci a bona fide child star with her iconic performance as solemn little Wednesday Addams in 1991’s The Addams Family. She followed with a string of ultra-indie, Lolita-ish roles. Who can forget her tap dancing in that baby blue slip dress in Vincent Gallo’s cult classic, Buffalo ‘66? Or her as a 16-year-old pregnant femme fatale in 1998’s The Opposite of Sex? As Johnny Depp’s winsome love interest in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow? As a Barbra Streisand-obsessed artist in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? John Waters, king of transgressive cinema, cast her as Edward Furlong’s laundromat-manager girlfriend in Pecker, a film about a shitty photographer who becomes a darling of the New York art scene. When asked what the word “indie” means to her today, Ricci pauses for a long time. Then, with genuine curiosity, “Are there still independent films? I’m not really so sure.”
In the early 2000s, around the time she swapped the New York downtown club scene for her life in L.A., she ventured into more adult cinema territory. “I’m usually drawn to characters based on people who are labeled in our society in negative terms,” she says, nibbling on her whitefish. “I like knowing why that type of person might be the way they are.” She won acclaim for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos’ lesbian lover in 2003’s Monster; also for her role as the chronically depressed Elizabeth Wurtzel in 2001’s Prozac Nation (which was never actually released in the U.S.), and for 2006’s Black Snake Moan. Here, audiences saw Ricci at her most provocative, playing a young, pathologically-promiscuous southern woman who is chained up (and saved from herself) by an older, religious bluesman played by Samuel L. Jackson. A dark, serious film hopelessly mis-marketed as a sex romp (the poster read “Everything is hotter down south”—Ricci was furious), Black Snake Moan did poorly at the box office only to later achieve a word-of-mouth following, thanks to Ricci’s raw and courageous performance. “I’m so proud of that film,” says Ricci. As a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the subject matter was close to Ricci’s heart. “That character was manifesting her own victimization as a way of trying to have some control over what happened to her as a child,” she says. “That powerlessness left her terrified to be alone, so she perpetuated her own abuse by being the ‘slutty girl.’ That’s what I mean about being drawn to certain roles—maybe people who watch that film will think twice about abusing, discarding, and disrespecting the girl they call the ‘town slut.’”
After more than 20 years in Hollywood, there’s no sense that her love for the craft is waning. Not even slightly. “Oh my god, I love working,” she says. “I love being on set. I love crews and the whole process.” She says film crews make fun of her because she is so excited to be at work. “I’m that weirdo who starts dancing in the makeup trailer at 6:00am, and everyone’s looking at me going, ‘Oh, my god.’” Her Black Snake Moan costar Justin Timberlake decided that if Ricci was going to dance in the makeup trailer, he might as well teach her some moves. “You know, Justin told me it’s actually impossible to pop and lock at the same time. I was like, ‘Oh.’ He tried to teach me. Then I realized that, no, I don’t think I am a dancer after all.”
Ricci’s a dichotomous creature—hyper-sensitive yet utterly poised; obsessively punctual but unwilling to measure time; excited to be an actress, but really into cutting. Not the sad, dysfunctional cutting, but collage—she’s obsessed. “Okay, there are serious artists, the kind who are going to revolutionize the art scene,” she says. “And then there are people like me, who are just really, really excited about sticking fun shit together.” One of the reasons she’s excited to move to Brooklyn is because of the abundance of art supply stores there. “It’s like craft heaven,” she sighs.
She pulls out a brown bag and inside is a birthday card, a collage piece that she made herself. It is kitschier than kitsch and charming, in an awkwardly rendered and very honest pre-school kind of way. Ricci has decorated it with glitter and a huge, blue paper heart. “I love blue hearts,” she says. “I don’t go for red hearts at all.” The card is for some friends of hers. They had asked Ricci, along with all of their friends, to send birthday wishes on personal stationery. She laughs, nodding with pride at the giant “XOXO” she had Sharpied at the bottom of the card. “I’m 31, but there’s no way I feel grown up enough for personalized stationery. I’m not sure I ever will.”