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You don’t get to talk to Christina Ricci every day. I’m not bragging here, I’m just stating a fact. I needed some way to get the ball rolling on this interviewiticle…or maybe artiview? Whatever disturbing bastardizing of the English language to mash words together you prefer just go ahead and substitute up there. Back to you not talking to Christina Ricci, star of such classic films as The Adams Family and The Adams Family Values. In last year’s Black Snake Moan she was tied up by a loud black man who had a haircut that looked as if a cowl had been partially removed. I’ve enjoyed all facets of her career so far.
Christina herself is a very gracious young lady, who genuinely enjoyed talking to the press all day long. Or maybe she was playing pretend, you can never tell with actors… they’re always acting. Which is why it’s perfectly fine to call out to one by their character name, especially if they’re coming out of a church with a woman in their arms. Somebody needs to keep me on track, otherwise you’ll never get to hear about Speed Racer.
Now that your interest is further piqued, it’s about time we get to the little discussion Cinema Blend had with Christina Ricci on a cozy afternoon. She was kind enough to share her thoughts on the upcoming fairy tale fantasy Penelope, in which Ricci plays the titular character with a porcine nose. While the film tackles the issue of beauty and preconceived notions of society, it is far closer in tone to Ever After than the brilliant Chuck Palahniuk novel Invisible Monsters. And yes, there are some comments made about Speed, but you’ll have to read the whole interview to find them. I deliver the goods; I don’t make it easier for you to digest them. I recommend prune juice if you’re having problems though.
Can you tell us about how long it took to put on the pig nose every day?
It took about an hour and a half to put the prosthetic on. Then I’d go over to regular hair and makeup to get normal beauty makeup put on over that.
Did that get a little old after awhile?
Generally the hair and makeup trailer in the morning is kind of fun. So, the only thing that got old was I had to not talk at all while the nose was being put on my face. Because you can’t move your mouth when there’s something being glued to it. Sometimes being silent for that long – I had a problem with – because I am a compulsive talker.
Has the movie or the script changed the way you view people at all?
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 generally. And actually 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 somehow feel that they’re being talked down to, or that it’s cheesy to make a movie that’s 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 everyone seems to be sort of grateful in a way for a movie that has this theme in it. It’s a movie that celebrates being an individual, being different. You know it kind of made me feel like wow, people are hungry to not have to live up to standards that don’t apply to them.
That’s very true.
I was really happy about that. People are ready to celebrate being a very specific different person. I am so thrilled to know that the world is ready to celebrate the individual.
In the film Penelope is chased by photographers. What do you think of the paparazzi, the tabloids and gossip sites?
Well, I think it’s a little bit sick in a way. I am definitely guilty of picking up those magazines; I read them on planes. But at the same time I think they can be really cruel. I think that one thing that people don’t really understand about gossip about actors is that it can actually have an effect on their careers. I think people tend to take an actor’s career as – it doesn’t seem as real as somebody’s job at a big company, or their career as a CEO. But the fact is when these people are really mean or they’re really slanderous [they] are really hurting somebody in the way they support themselves and their families. In a way it’s kind of a little bit irresponsible I think, culturally.
You talked about the message of the film a little bit. A secondary message, sort of intertwined is the love story with Max. Can you talk a little bit about Penelope’s journey about learning of love, and how Max makes her view the world?
Yeah, I think getting what Penelope has gone through for years and years she does not really believe in love. I think that’s why she’s willing to settle in a way in the film. I think that’s why ultimately there is this sort of – they misunderstand, they don’t get together. It really has to do with Penelope’s experience with men is that they would reject her. And I think Max really teachers her that there is someone out there for everyone, there is true love. I think it’s great in the movie that she can’t find it until she learns to love herself. Because I think that’s sort of a universal truth.
Speaking of men, how was it working with James [McAvoy]?
Oh it was great, he was awesome. He’s such a talented actor, and a great partner to have onscreen. I loved working with him.
I was wondering what it was like to work with Mark [Palansky], who is actually a first time director. And also to work with Reese [Witherspoon], who’s both a costar and producer.
This movie Reese submitted directly to me. That was great, and very flattering. I have a lot of respect for Reese. I’d known her for a couple years, and we’ve had over the years many conversations about the business and women’s issues. How her views of the world have sort of changed ever since she had a daughter. So I was very flattered that she chose me. She’s great to work with. She was a great producer for this movie to have because she was just so strong in making sure that this film always stayed true to its initial intention.
Mark is an incredibly talented director. Technically he’s so incredibly proficient, having been a Second Unit director for so long. But also artistically the visuals he comes up with, what he sees in his head and is able to manifest are just really beautiful. I think the biggest challenge for him and what might have scared him the most on this movie is that it would be the first time he’d be dealing with actors that much. He had a wonderful sort of corrobative, non-overly authoritative, approach to it.
Preparing for a role like Penelope, how do you go about doing something like that?
Unless it’s a specific accent, or something about physicality you have to change, I am generally not such a conscious actor. Usually it’s a mix of being on a set and being surrounded by a production unit. But certain production design really informs you of tone. Then reading with different actors and getting a feel of what the story is and who they are. And then your hair and makeup has a huge impact on the way you behave. Generally I don’t do a ton of preparation.
This is a fantasy film, which I know with films like Big Fish and other fantasy films not doing really great in America, but still being good films. Are you at all nervous about how American audiences will perceive this movie?
Everybody that I’ve spoken to, in terms of the press, has responded really well to this. We’ve had test screenings, and they’ve done really really well. I think this is one of those movies that a certain group of people will be immediately attracted to. But then I feel like it’s a movie people will talk about, and because of that it will kind of spread in popularity. I don’t think people are going to dismiss this one just because it’s a fairy tale, because really this movie isn’t a fairy tale. She sort of uses the fairy tale structure in order to employ a lot of metaphors. But we’re telling a very realistic, human, universal kind of story.
It seems to me what is interesting was other than one said feature, the film had Penelope be a normal attractive woman that sort of had to be hidden for fear of being ostracized. What do you think that says about the beauty culture? And was that a conscious decision to not make her a complete ogre?
Well, I’m not so sure that was a conscious decision. I kind of feel like having an animal part on your face as a human is sort of a big deal. I don’t think we need to add insult to injury in a way. I do think that one of the things we’re trying to say with this movie is that there’s nothing wrong with beauty culture, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating beauty. But it doesn’t need to have, you know in the movie her looks become so secondary to who she is. What is charming and endearing about her, and her personality and talents is her strength. I think what the movie is saying is, it sort of takes away the importance of stereotypical beauty.
This is not the first time in your career that you’ve taken on a role that’s fantastical or supernatural. What is it about that sort of film that intrigues you?
I’ve always loved fantasy. I was a big sci-fi fantasy geek when I was younger…secretly, in my room. I’ve always wanted to do a fairy tale; I’ve always wanted to be in a fantasy kind of film, or science fiction. I think I am naturally attracted to things that are a little bit out of this world.
You have this coming out about three months from Speed Racer, how do the two compare?
They’re very different stories. I think that the one thing they have in common is that they’re both sort of message movies in a way. Larry and Andy [Wachowski] wanted to make a film that was very much about the underdog and about staying true to who you are and what you believe in. That’s really what Speed is going through in Speed Racer. Again I get to play a really awesome, strong girl that I think people will really like. She’s sort of like the girl I always wanted to be. She fights, she kung fu fights, she does gymnastics, she races, she flies a helicopter. But she has a special outfit for each activity and is still incredibly girly and always has lipstick on. That is what I hope that all women felt is completely in their rights to do.
How did that compare to playing Penelope?
It’s similar in that Penelope is a very very strong girl and the things that she does she has no qualms about. She expresses herself as an artist, freely without questioning that. She has enough strength that despite all of the things that try to keep her from going out and enjoying her life, she does it anyways. They’re both really strong women. The one thing that’s missing is that Trixie obviously doesn’t have any self-esteem issues.
Penelope hits theaters on February 29th.