EXCLUSIVE: Christina Ricci Reinvents Herself Again
By Valentina Valentini
Photo: Getty Images
On January 27, Christina Ricci will make her debut as Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald on Amazon's new series Z: The Beginning of Everything, a fictional account of the flamboyant socialite who swept F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the literary geniuses of the 20th century, off his feet.
“I would never be cast in this part,” Ricci says frankly about playing Fitzgerald on the series, which she not only stars on but co-developed and produces. “With this, I created my own opportunity because this is not a part I would’ve been cast in in a million years.”
Although parts may have beckoned toward a more traditional leading-lady rise to stardom early in her career, Ricci, now 36, has come to terms with the fact that she didn’t fit into that role. “I am not considered a romantic lead by traditional standards,” she says. “I've never been cast in a rom-com or a romance or anything like that. I just never get those parts.”
But that’s not to say it’s hurt Ricci’s longevity. Her film debut as Kate Flax in Mermaids stole our hearts, and she continued to deliver great performances in the teen-friendly Now and Then and Casper. Then she skewed more adult in The Ice Storm, transitioning from child star to adult actress in The Opposite of Sex, Sleepy Hollow, Prozac Nation and Black Snake Moan. And no one’s quick to forget her as the morbidly bland Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family movies or as Charlize Theron’s girlfriend in Monster.
If anything has held Ricci back, she says it’s the public perception of her. “I said and presented myself a lot of times in ways that maybe people wouldn't have typecast me based on my performances, but then, based on the person I was to the public, it gave people an impression that hurt my career a little bit.”
With The Beginning of Everything, though, Ricci is getting a shot at this idea that’s eluded her up until now. Zelda is very much a romantic lead, a brilliant, beautiful and talented Southern belle who blossoms into an icon of the swingin’ 1920s Jazz Age.
“Zelda was born in the wrong time period,” says Ricci when she ponders the similarities and differences between herself and her character. “Today's woman thinks like Zelda a bit more than generations past. I think her behavior was a bit confusing back then, but now she's relatable.”
Ricci connects with Zelda on many levels, including being flawed and inconsistent -- human, as she sees it. “I relate to her having this drive to express herself, to stand on her own two feet and be valued on her own for who she is. I very much have that. I'm very stubborn and a little bit solipsistic, and so I understand that side of her.”
Despite being an actress, Ricci says just can’t get her head around Zelda’s attention-seeking behavior. “She was incredibly social,” she says, “and I'm not like that at all. I don't feel the need to have raving parties all the time or be amongst the glitterati.”
It’s staying away from all that glitterati and the social aspect of Hollywood that Ricci credits for her long-lived career. Where many child actors strayed, Ricci only had mild run-ins with badly perceived behavior and teen angst acting out in the public sphere -- “I was a very aggressive contrarian in my 20s,” she explains.
“I think that certainly if you want to have a long and varied career you have to have a long and varied life,” Ricci says, which for her includes moving to New York, getting married to James Heerdegen, a dolly grip she met on the set of Pan Am, and giving birth to their first child, Freddie. “Just staying in Los Angeles, in that bubble where you only see other people who are equally cut off from the real world, isn't good for your development as a person or as an artist. You have to live to understand other people's lives.”
It’s not the who’s who or who’s doing what with whom, but the business side of the business -- the real nuts and bolts of it -- that is appealing to Ricci. She’d tried earlier in her career to produce, and recently she served as executive producer on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, the Lifetime series that earned her a Screen Actors Guild nomination for her portrayal of the axe murderer.
“I have made attempts in the past to produce, but I've never had this kind of success with it,” Ricci says, referring to The Beginning of Everything. “I've never actually had a project come to fruition like this. Now that I've seen that my ideas are valid and my taste is good, I have a whole new approach to my career. I feel like the things that are going to be meaningful in my career are going to be the opportunities I create for myself.”
So create she will. Ricci’s next steps are two other pieces of intellectual property that she’s optioned: a short film script that she’s hoping to get financed and shot soon and a series of shorts. “As soon as my nanny comes back to work it's all really going to happen,” she half-jokes.
In all seriousness, though, Ricci says she didn’t quite know what it was to be an adult until her child was born. “I had no idea how immature I was until I had [him]. It's like you either have to grow up or kill yourself, so I grew up.”
Ricci, Heerdegen and their child now live in New York City, far from the bubble of Los Angeles. “[They] infused my acting ability and my taste and my desire,” she says. “I think I'm a more complex, deeper individual for having had some real experiences.”