Christina Ricci pilots rocket-fast cars in Speed Racer, the new film from the Wachowski brothers. It’s an experience that tested her physical fitness as well as her ability to keep her partially-digested breakfast from making a guest appearance on the set.
The driving scenes, Ricci says, “were rough, very herky-jerky—all over the place. At one point I did have to get out and vomit and then get back in the car. But I love all that, so to me all that stuff is: How tough are you?”
“I like to prove my toughness,” continues Ricci, 28. “I like to be the tough guy whenever possible.”
“Tough guy” is not the first description that comes to mind when one thinks of the petite Ricci. But if you consider how difficult it is to evolve from child stardom to a successful career as a serious adult actress, you’d have to concede that Ricci is more resilient than most.
Long before she was even eligible for a driver’s license, Ricci was appearing on screen alongside Cher and Winona Ryder in Mermaids (1990), starring as Wednesday in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) and hanging around with a benevolent spirit in the little-remembered Casper (1995).
As the professional trajectory of many child stars has demonstrated, it isn’t easy to grow up on screen and ultimately be taken seriously in one’s post-adolescent years. Ricci, however, has done this as well as anyone in contemporary Hollywood. In her late teens she began to appear in strong independent films like Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm (1997), John Waters’ Pecker, Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ‘66 (both 1998) and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999).
After big, enviable roles in movies like Woody Allen’s Anything Else, Patty Jenkins’ Monster, in which she shared the screen (and her lips) with Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, and Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan, which saw her chained to a radiator by a sweet but misguided blues musician (Samuel L. Jackson), Ricci is now making her first turn as the star of a big summer blockbuster.
Larry and Andy Wachowski, the writers and directors of The Matrix movies, chose Ricci to star alongside Emile Hirsch and Susan Sarandon in their big-screen version of the 1960s anime series. As Trixie, she’s a skilled driver who also happens to be very cute.
Ricci, speaking from her home in California, says the chance to make a movie with the Speed Racer team made her choice an easy one. “What really interested me about it was the Wachowskis,” she says. “I’ve wanted to work with them ever since I saw the first Matrix. I’ve wanted to do a bigger action film for a while.”
Because of her skin tone, dark hair color and big, round eyes, “for years people have actually been saying, ‘You look like anime. They’re going to make a movie of Speed Racer; you should play Trixie.’ So it’s kind of funny that I got the call to go audition for it.”
“It was just one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had,” she says of the production, which took place last year in Germany. “It was such a fun movie to make. We got to do so many different kinds of things, like stunt work and fight scenes. They even had us soldering a car.”
This is surely the first time Ricci was asked to do auto body work on a movie set, but her career has been full of other interesting turns. As a child she took obvious roles for actresses her age; as an adult the roles open to her have broadened, an invigorating development for a performer with a curious spirit.
“For a long time I was taking what came along and just keeping a steady pace in my career and work,” she says. “Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten to a place where I feel like it’s very important for me to be more selective. I was just lucky up to this point that most of the things that were seen by audiences and that are memorable to people happen to be kind of cool movies. But a lot of that was not by design, a lot of that was just luck, and now I’m at a place where I’m being more choosy.”
Ricci’s professional growth has been accompanied by the recent influx of moviemakers who might lack her experience but happen to be part of her generation.
“What’s happening,” she says, “which is sort of interesting and making me think about it more, is that the people who are in positions of authority or are people who have arrived with where they want to be with their careers—young directors—they’re now my age. So now that I’m sort of the same age as the directors and casting directors and writers, I hear a lot of people saying: ‘I grew up with you.’
“I think that older directors had a harder time understanding what kind of actress I was—or what I was in general—but the younger ones, the ones my age, get me a little bit better. There’s never that whole ‘Is she weird?’ They’re just like, ‘No, we grew up with her, we know who she is.’ So that’s a great thing that’s happening now.”
Read the full interview with Christina Ricci in MovieMaker Magazine’s Spring 2008 edition, on newsstands now. If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up today at the discounted rate of $9.95 for one year—available to MovieMaker.com readers only at https://www.moviemaker.com/subscribe/online_only.