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Christina Ricci’s Search for Authenticity

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The actress, who grew up in the public eye, finally finds the role she’s been looking for.
Christina Ricci knew there were great roles out there for her. She just had to wait until she was older. Not old — just older. Old enough to no longer be judged for how sexy she was (or wasn’t). Old enough that the men in the room didn’t think about her in that way. This was in the early aughts. Ms. Ricci was in her 20s and already a full-fledged movie star. Just a few years earlier, she had played the rosy-cheeked, towheaded Katrina Van Tassel opposite Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s adaptation of “Sleepy Hollow.” She had hosted “Saturday Night Live” and appeared on television talk shows and the covers of major magazines. She was ambitious. She wanted to build a lasting career. But this was also the era of romantic comedies, when actresses like Kate Hudson, Rachel McAdams, Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Love Hewitt dominated the screen. Could Ms. Ricci try to be a little more like that? You know, feminine. Relatable. Easy to laugh. Friendly. The girl next door. Still sexy, of course, just with a little less edge. None of that dark, goth stuff. It was cute when she was younger, but come on now, it’s time to grow up. Some of her films around this same time — “I Love Your Work” and “The Gathering,” specifically — had flopped. It was OK to have one or two failures, but in this industry she needed to be careful. Irrelevance lurked just around the corner. This kind of talk bred insecurity and made her impressionable. Other people’s opinions of what scripts to like and who she should be mattered more than they should have. So she auditioned this new version of herself. She was likable, fun, normal. But she was told that her look was too specific. Was she really a leading lady, she wondered? Whenever she said “I love you” for the camera, it never felt that convincing anyway.
“When I watch myself and I’m trying to be afraid,” she said, “I always find I’m just a little too blasé about the whole thing.”
Now, at age 42, Ms. Ricci is playing Misty Quigley, a terrifying nurse who owns a pet parrot named Caligula and knows how to disappear a body. She is part of a standout cast in Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” which premiered last fall and has quickly become one of the network’s most successful series. The show alternates between 1996 and the present, telling the story of a high school girls’ soccer team whose plane, en route to a national tournament, crashes in the Canadian wilderness. The team survives for 19 months before being rescued, and, in that time, possibly practices cannibalism. One reason she has loved this role is because she doesn’t have to pretend. “With Misty,” Ms. Ricci said with a little smile, “I never had to play any of those annoying emotions.”
Her character is the team’s bespectacled, curly-haired equipment manager, who lacks the charisma of the more popular athletes around her. Ms. Ricci portrays her as a passive-aggressive weirdo, whose syrupy sweet voice is laced with an unnerving amount of hostility. America’s sweetheart she is not. Ms. Ricci explained this all to me one recent morning as we hiked up to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where she strode briskly up the dirt path. Her face was obscured by large sunglasses, and like everyone else on the trail, she was dressed in athleisure. When she stopped to pet a friendly dog, its owner pulled out her phone to take a picture. I asked Ms. Ricci if people recognize her a lot, and she shrugged, as only someone who has been famous her whole life would. It can be hard to keep up with Ms. Ricci’s body of work. She has never stopped performing, appearing in a film or television series (or two or three) almost every year since she started acting as a child. She’s played a cursed heiress with a pig’s snout for a nose (“Penelope”), a privileged sorority girl who falls in love with a person with disabilities (“Pumpkin”), Zelda Fitzgerald (“Z: The Beginning of Everything”), the writer Elizabeth Wurtzel (“Prozac Nation”), a con artist (“Miranda”), an ax murderer (“The Lizzie Borden Chronicles”), a yellow crayon (“The Hero of Color City”) and a lawyer on “Ally McBeal,” among many others. By the time she was 10, Ms. Ricci was a celebrity. She made her film debut alongside Cher and Winona Ryder in “Mermaids” (1990). A year later, she played Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family” (the character is being reprised in an upcoming Netflix series, directed by Tim Burton and starring Jenna Ortega; Ms. Ricci is also part of the cast), in which she made an indelible impression as a cherubic-looking, precocious little girl who had a flair for sadism and spoke with the deadliest of deadpan. Despite her sociopathic tendencies, there was an innocence to Ms. Ricci’s Wednesday that still endeared her to you. In real life, she was just as intelligent and charming. The media loved her confidence and her lack of interest in performing for grown-ups. By the time she was 15, she had already made eight films, including the mega-hits “Casper” and “Now and Then.”
A few years later, she started appearing in indie and dramatic films: “The Ice Storm,” “Buffalo ’66” and “The Opposite of Sex.” In all these films, she played characters who were less innocent, teenage girls who tested the boundaries of the adults around them and had grown up a little too loose and too fast.

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