“I think the main reason a lot of child stars don’t make it is that it’s hard to see someone as cute and then all of a sudden see them as having more depth. I guess I was just lucky that, when I was little, nobody thought I was that cute.” Often described as precocious and outspoken, Christina Ricci might not have considered herself a cute child but she was certainly talented as the Santa Monica native made her acting debut in Mermaids in 1990 before stunning audiences and critics with her performance as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. Quickly becoming known for her shock and awe approach during interviews, Ricci became a teen idol thanks to hits like Now and Then and Casper before she transitioned into more adult roles with Monster, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. With her most recent credits as Zelda Fitzgerald in Z: The Beginning of Everything, let’s take a closer look at the 37-year-old’s journey to fame and how, as the youngest of four children, she had to beg her parents to let her audition!
Born on February 12, 1980 in Santa Monica, California, Ricci grew up in Montclair, New Jersey where her father worked as a lawyer and therapist while her mother, a former model, worked as a realtor. Much like her older siblings, Ricci dreamed of taking the stage but had to first convince her mother to let her audition. “This had happened to every single one of my siblings,” Ricci recalled. “My mother had been a model from the time that she was a teenager, so she always said no, because she didn’t like how she had been treated. But, by the time it came to me, my siblings were old enough to tell her that she should really let me try out.”
Ricci’s talent was undeniable as the eight-year-old was discovered at Edgemont Elementary School where she stole the show in the school’s production of The Twelve Days of Christmas. After a talent critic gave her performance rave reviews in the Bergen Record, Ricci auditioned for and won parts in a string of parody commercials for Saturday Night Live. In 1990, she made her feature film debut opposite Cher in Mermaids but even bigger things were in store for the young actress when she was cast as the morbidly bitter Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family. Reprising her role in the 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values, Ricci was soon a household name in Hollywood as she accepted the starring role in the 1995 fantasy comedy, Casper, and joined Rosie O’Donnell in the box office hit, Now and Then.
Amid her growing fame, Ricci built her reputation as an outspoken young star and often shocked the media with her comments saying everything from “I’m obsessed with incest” to “I was so perverted when I was a little girl.” Looking back, Ricci says her need for attention and her own battle with self-harm and an eating disorder were the results of child stardom and no real knowledge of how to deal with her overnight fame. “When you’re young in Hollywood, you don’t know what the rails are,” she said. “I think it’s interesting to ask a child to go into a completely unnatural experience and then expect them to behave naturally later on. I knew at the time it was really crazy. I think that’s why I lashed out so much; I was in the middle of it—what was I supposed to do?”
Learning to navigate her stardom, Ricci was tired of carrying around the baggage from her childhood and dove headfirst into more adult roles with films like The Ice Storm and Buffalo ’66. She gave an award-nominated performance in the 1998 film, The Opposite of Sex, and stunned audiences with her performances in Prozac Nation, Sleepy Hollow and Monster. In 2006, she earned an Emmy Award nomination for her guest appearance in Grey’s Anatomy but still struggled to find her place in Hollywood with her youthful appearance making it hard for her to land more professional and adult-oriented roles. Because of this, Ricci is the first to admit that she’s had to create her own path in the industry. “I’ve never just been offered good or interesting things,” she says. “I’ve always had to go after things and, in this case, create my own work.”
Fortunately, creating her own work has ultimately worked out for the 37-year-old who gave a stellar performance as the lead in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax and again in The Lizzie Borden Chronicles before discovering the life of Zelda Fitzgerald in Anne Fowler’s 2013 novel, Z. Jumping at the chance to bring Zelda to life, Ricci took on the project and was determined to set the record straight in Z: The Beginning of Everything. “The misconception that I was under, which I think is a common one, was that she was this crazy drunk woman who ruined F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life,” Ricci says. “That was all I knew. And it turns out that’s what Hemingway, who hated her, taught us. So, I was very surprised to read all the biographies and to find out that these things I thought about her were not… not that they weren’t true, but just that they were very dismissive of somebody who was so much more than those things.”
For the first time in her career, Ricci jumped into a project that meant the world to her as the series premiered on Amazon in 2017. “I keep saying it’s like my baby because the whole thing started with me reading this book and finding out who was making it and now it ends with me doing all the press for it and getting sick in the stomach about it failing,” she said. “I guess it qualifies as a passion project. I finally committed to caring about something—I get why I didn’t do it before.”
Z: The Beginning of Everything is only one of a handful of passion projects for Ricci who met and fell in love with James Heerdegen on the set of Pan Am in 2012. Marrying in 2013 and welcoming a son in 2014, Ricci says motherhood has given her a different perspective on her work especially now that she cares so much about her family and the legacy she’ll leave behind for her son. “Before, I didn’t care about anything… It was just recklessness, an emotional detachment from reality, a lack of direction… I think what I do with my life matters more now.”