Christina Ricci

The versatile actress talks about her latest film, that nose and Samuel L. Jackson's endorsement

Christina Ricci has been in the public spotlight for nearly all her life. She starred in The Addams Family when she was just 11, and it instantly made her a star. Her latest film is Penelope, which hits the theaters this Friday and stars Ricci as the title character, portraying a normal girl with an abnormal feature: a pig nose. I was recently in on a conference call with this talented actress, and here's what she had to say.

Can you tell us how long it took to put on the pig nose every day?

Christina Ricci: It took about an hour and a half to put the prosthetic on, and then I would go over into regular hair and makeup and get normal beauty makeup put on over that.

Did that get old after awhile?

Christina Ricci: Well, you know, generally the hair and makeup in the morning is actually kinda fun, so the only thing that got old, was that I had to not talk at all with the nose being put on my face, because you can't move your mouth when something is being glued to it. So sometimes being silent for that long I had a problem with, because I'm a compulsive talker.

Has the movie changed the way you view people at all?

Christina Ricci: I think in a way it has. I don't think it was the movie itself, or the script, but I think it was more people's reaction to the movie, that has changed my opinion about the world in general, and what people are hungry to see. You always fear, when you're making a movie that has a moral to the story, that people are going to reject the idea of being taught a lesson, or you worry that people are going to feel they're talked down to or that it's cheesy to make a movie about self-acceptance. But I've found that all the press I've talked to - I've been all over the world promoting this one - and everybody seemed to be sort of grateful, in a way, for a movie that has this theme in it. A movie that sort of celebrates being an individual, being different. It kind of make feel like people are really hungry to not have to live up to standards that don't apply to them. I was really happy about that, the fact that people were really ready to celebrate being a very specific different person. I'm so thrilled to know that the world is ready to accept and celebrate the individual.

In the film, Penelope is chased by photographers. What do you think about all the paparazzi and the tabloids and gossip sites?

Christina Ricci: Well, I think it's a little bit sick, in a way. I'm definitely guilty of picking up those magazines, and I read them on planes, but at the same time, I think they can be really cruel. I think one thing that people don't necessarily understand about gossip about actors, is that it can actually have an affect on their career. I think people tend to take an actor's career, it doesn't seem as real as like somebody's job at a big company, or their career as a CEO, or any other thing. But the fact is, that sometimes these people, when they are really mean or really slanderous, they are hurting the way in which somebody supports themselves and their families. So, in a way, it's kind of irresponsible, culturally.

Was that sort of a conscious decision not to make her a complete ogre, but just an attractive woman with just one thing that made her stand out?

Christina Ricci: I'm not so sure that was a conscious decision. I kind of feel like having an animal part on your face if you're a human, is sort of a big deal. (Laughs) I don't think that we needed to add insult to injury in any way. I do think that one of the things that we were trying to say with this movie, is that there's nothing wrong with the beauty culture. There's nothing wrong with celebrating beauty. In the movie, her looks become so secondary to who she is, and what is charming and endearing about her personality and her talent and her strength. I think what the movie is saying is it takes away the importance of stereotypical beauty.

What was it about the script that originally appealed to you?

Christina Ricci: What really did appeal to me was the message, and the way the message was framed and presented. She uses the fairytale structure, which is something we're all so familiar with that we assume that we all know what's coming next, and just when we assume that we know what's coming next, she really flips it on its head. By doing that, it really drives an important message home, in a way that it's not preachy or patronizing or manipulative. That, to me, was great, because it felt like here was a way to say something that was really important, but not in a way that is going to feel insulting to people.

All of your projects have a unique appeal to them. What specifically do you look for when you're looking for a role?

Christina Ricci: It's always something different. It could be a story that I felt hasn't necessarily been told yet. It could be a director that I've always wanted to work with, and I don't care what script it is because it's Martin Scorcese. There's always some different element. I can't really explain why the things I've been in have had a different feeling for everybody, because it's not like I made a decision to just be in really different kinds of movies, it just sort of happened that way.

What was it like for you working opposite of Catherine O'Hara?

Christina Ricci: Oh, it was so much fun. I was so excited when we cast her. She's one of my favorite actresses ever. When I was a teenager, I think I saw Waiting for Guffman like five times in the theater. Working with her was great. She's just as much fun to work with as she is to watch. She's such a wonderfully warm and open person that she actually, one day sat down, and after Simon (Woods) and I gushed to her about how much we loved her, and I told her that her drunk is the best drunk I've ever seen in my entire life, she actually sat down and showed us how she created her drunk. She really broke down her drunk and showed us how she did it, and encouraged us to be braver and to take more chances and be more improvisational. Also, she was like, 'Go out there and look at the world and work on your drunk' (Laughs). It was just amazing to have someone of her talent who really will talk to you on such a straightforward level about acting. It was just a wonderful memory for me.

We've heard about some of the other cast members, but I'm a huge fan of Peter Dinklage...

Christina Ricci: Oh yeah. He's awesome.

Have you had any personal experiences with paparazzi like his character?

Christina Ricci: I have a very different approach to paparazzi than most people do. I've decided that the best approach is - you know, they're human beings too. They might be doing something that irritates you, but the best approach is to be friendly and nice. Like, when there are four cars following you, I like to view us all as like a caravan. I'll talk to them. I'll pull up and roll down the window and say, 'Is there anything specific that you're out here for today? Because I'm just gonna run errands.' They'll be like, 'No no no. We're just doing fashion shots.' I've found that if you're nice to people, they're generally nice back. Also, it's gonna happen anyway, so why allow it to drive you crazy. It's really not that big of a deal, unless, you know, you have something that you really don't want people taking pictures of.

Were you on first for this project before anyone else?

Christina Ricci: Yes I was!

Did you have any say into how the casting went?

Christina Ricci: Actually, the first meeting I ever had with Reese (Witherspoon), and Jen Simpson, her producing partner, and we talked about it and I said, 'Well, I think Catherine O'Hara would be amazing for the mother,' and they said, 'Well, that's exactly who we're offering it to.' So yeah. We all kind of were of the same mind with the casting.

I also read that you had braces when you were a child. Were there any similar feelings when you were a kid than what Penelope is going through?

Christina Ricci: Not with braces, or anything really physical. I mean, I went through an adolescent period where I really didn't like the way I looked that much, but I think a lot of teenagers go through that. I had more of a deep-seeded shyness. I'm just now getting over being socially frightened. I used to have a lot of trouble socializing and talking with strangers when it wasn't work-associated, but I'm getting over that now and I'm learning to go out and meet people and not be so scared.

Have you seen this with a group yet, or is there any feedback that you've been getting from audiences in general that has let you know that you're on the right track?

Christina Ricci: I haven't seen it with a group of young people, but I've heard that we're getting tremendously positive responses. Not only does it have this great message, but there's also a huge romantic payoff. It's a great romance movie too. I hear there are literally cheers in the theater for the romantic payoff at the end, so that's awesome. I did see it with a group, and I saw it funnily - I like saying funnily even though it's not a word - so, funnily enough, I happened to see it in Toronto sitting next to Sam Jackson at the premiere, and Sam was moved. So, I think that if the baddest man in town is moved by something, it's probably a good endorsement.

Penelope will charm its way into the theaters on February 29.