Christina Ricci for “Monster”

The more one meets 23-year Christina Ricci, the more one realises that this former child star doesn’t suffer fools gladly. With a diet coke in one hand and cigarette in the other, this intelligent young actress with the intense eyes, hates stupidity, especially on the part of journalists.

As we chat at the end of a long day during which she is promoting the chilling Monster, opposite Charlize Theron, Ricci acknowledges her lack of impatience when this facet of her personality is brought up. “You’re not supposed to notice”, she says, amidst an embarrassing laugh. “I just think that sometimes I see people acting in a silly way and I think that I’m not a very patient person.” Ricci adds that “In some ways, like with life, I’m incredibly patient, but with people sometimes I’m a little impatient and I’ve attempted to correct situations so, I think a lot of times I’ve tried not to do it because I don’t want to embarrass anyone or want people to feel uncomfortable.”

She gets annoyed at press junkets, she admits, when confronted by a large of journalists at a round table situation, “where are tons of people, so you kind of feel like, ‘ok well you need to be managed because you’re out of control,’ so sometimes I think I do that.” Yet on a film set, Ricci says she behaves for the good of the project. “On a film-set, people usually know what they’re supposed to be doing, but if I see someone acting in a way that affects other people I’ll generally tell them. I know how to speak to people in a film set in a way that’s just like ‘you know, what you’re doing, right now is affecting everyone.’ “

Mature beyond her years, Ricci has starred in some forty films, since her debut in Mermaids 13 years ago. An extraordinary veteran at such a young age, the movies have been her life, yet she refuses to look back on it with any degree of surprise to see to what extent the former child star has transformed herself. “I don’t think about myself that much.” For Christina, the work she did as a child remains so far removed from who she is today, that it’s like another life. “Well, it seems like a long, long time ago.” Nor is she especially surprised about any aspects of her career. “I don’t think I had any preconceptions about how my life was going to go, so I don’t think that I’m surprised by anything because I always think that I have been open to whatever happens.”

Ricci recalls that she initially got into acting at age 5, when her mother gently nudged her to do a TV commercial. Accident or not, it wasn’t until she was 13, that Ricci finally fell in love with acting. “I loved the day-to-day aspects of it, loved being on sets, loved what I was doing, the people I was around and I just liked the life style of it all.” As a teenager, Ricci drifted from roles as varied to the kooky Wednesday in the Addams Family movies, through to the moire bland likes of Casper and That Darn Cat, to Bastard out of Carolina and The Ice Storm, the film that made critics pay attention to her depth. Ricci was able to subtly transform herself from a teenage star to a sexually mature and precocious young adult, cemented by a trio of acclaimed performances in 1998’s Buffalo ’66 and The Opposite of Sex.

In transitioning herself to an adult actress, Ricci gravitated towards the more anarchic world of independent films, because for her, that was the arena where the best parts were. “There weren’t that many parts available when I was a teenager. It used to be that you’d have to stop acting when you were 13 because there were parts for kids but there weren’t parts for teenagers and then you could start again back at square one when you were an adult. I think when I was coming up that’s just when there started to be more parts for young girls and at the same time, the independent market became a lot bigger.” Ricci acknowledges that the growth of the independent film movement was responsible for her success as a young adult actress. “I think that’s how I ended up with the parts I did, is because it was becoming bigger and they were trying to make more independent films which just opened up a whole lot more for me.”

Ricci doesn’t shy away totally from mainstream Hollywood, as the actress recognises that the bigger films afford her the opportunity to work on smaller, character-based films, such as Monster. “You’ve got to take a money job every year, so that your name means enough that you can help get these independents get financed, because you have to have a certain amount of marketability. Therefore you have to have done a movie that made a ton of money to be a name that is big enough to carry a small picture.” As to how selective she is when choosing potential money makers, such as the Wes Craven-directed Cursed, Ricci has a simple philosophy. “You want to not do something that’s completely stupid, nor do something that’s offensive,” Ricci candidly says. “However, there aren’t that many good big budget films so you kind of just make the ones that seem the least harmless, that seem the most mainstream that are going to make money.”

In Monster, Ricci plays real-life Selby Wall, the manipulative girlfriend of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. While an unrecognizable Theron plays Wuornos, Ricci elected to have the least showy, supportive role here, which in many ways was a freeing experience, “because I was playing a supporting role to somebody whose demands are much higher in the film. I mean what was asked of Charlize was so much more intense than what was asked of me, so in a way it’s a much more comfortable position to be in because you can be the one who’s there to help. And when you’re the one who is there to help you don’t feel the pressure of being the one who’s there to perform, which I think in that way is a nice position to be in.”

While Theron had access to a lot of research and archival material, Ricci had none to speak of and based her interpretation of the character on the script. “I think that she is a very weak person and someone who wasn’t intentionally cruel. I don’t think she was malicious but had such a strong desire to have a better life and to be happy that she couldn’t see long term how sticking by someone and caring about someone else as much as she cared about herself would provide that.” Ricci says she found it difficult to relate to Selby, but that didn’t hinder her from playing the role effectively. “I don’t think you have to have gone through the same things as the character or necessarily need to even see yourself in the character but I think you need to be able to empathize with them and understand where they are coming from. So if you can just say ‘Ok, this person is motivated by fear’ and if I was fearful all the time, what would that bring out in me? And maybe it wouldn’t really bring out the best things. And if you were someone who had never been shown how to handle your fears, maybe I would go to the wrong thing first.”

While critics are eagerly embracing Monster, they won’t be seeing two other Ricci films any time soon: the much-delayed Prozac Nation and Miranda, both due to be released by Miramax, but not any time soon, if at all. “The only reaction you can have to those things is to remain philosophical, because you don’t have enough power to actually do anything about it.” Ricci was also producer of Prozac Nation, and says that at least that was a learning experience in itself. “It’s clear that you can also learn from experiences, look at track records and make your decisions in the future based on the past experiences.”