Christina Ricci is used to small indie films, a world within her comfort zone, but she may have got more than she bargained for as the female lead in the all green screen visual extravaganza, Speed Racer. Paul Fischer reports.
Question: What attracted you to this?
Ricci: I loved the idea of working with the Wachowskis. I've wanted to work with them for a while and then Speed Racer was actually always something that people had mentioned to me like 'oh, you know they're gonna make Speed Racer. You'd be a good Trixie', blah, blah, blah.
Question: Were you familiar with her?
Ricci: I was familiar with her from all the hipster paraphernalia and the Geico commercial but I'd never seen the cartoons. So then, they sent me the script and I had to go in and audition very quickly afterwards.
Question: What was the biggest challenge about playing her?
Ricci: There really weren't any challenges. I didn't enjoy my haircut but that's really the only challenge.
Question: But it looked good on you.
Ricci: I know, but when you have long hair and then, all of a sudden, you get a really drastic haircut, you know, us ladies, we cry. But, other than that, she was a great character to play. She was amazing and fun and they dressed me up like a doll every day but then I got to do all this actiony stuff and had a really good time.
Question: When she got to race, I was a little disappointed that she didn't get to finish the race and was replaced by the Rain character.
Ricci: Well, he recovered from his poison and I couldn't show up at the end and cut out because then I'd be cheating. We were cheating a little bit by having me in there.
Question: You have said you pick characters who are afraid and a little ashamed of who they are and disgusted and they go to extremes because of it and this character seems completely opposite...
Ricci: I don't think I like characters who are afraid and ashamed of who they are. I think I like complex characters and, for drama, the people who do the most dramatic things are the people who have personal problems. Recently I have grown up and become a little less afraid of sincerity and I have a real vested interest in women's issues and the next generation of girls and also, just looking around a little bit more and seeing all of the negative images that are out there for young girls. It's like what are they supposed to grow up into if the only images they have out there are like the brats? It's crazy. So, I really like the fact that she, to me, is the ultimate feminist character. She's as girlie as she wants to be but then she does everything the boys do and there's no commentary on 'ooo, it's a girl doing that. Oooo, it's a girl flying a helicopter'. And the brothers are very much responsible for that kind of thing because they have a very strong sense of equality and an interest in leaving the world a better place than they found it. So, I was really excited about that.
Question: How was it working with them?
Ricci: They're great. They're so much fun and they're just wonderful people and they're so smart and just like, at a party, they're the most interesting people to talk to. But, working with them was great because they want to have a good time and they want everyone to be happy so, on a set, it's just everyone hanging out, having fun, laughing at what's happening, just having a good time.
Question: What's it like working with green screen. John [Goodman] compared it to working in really, really low budget theater where there's no props, no sets.
Ricci: I liked it because it immediately created a bond amongst all the actors and a lot of our stuff, especially at the beginning of shooting was all family stuff so it was all ensemble, all of us together. Immediately, you walk into this big green room and you look at everyone else dressed in various hilarious costumes and you just say, 'Yeah, okay. What are we doing today?' Then, they like, 'it's snowing', 'oh, Susan, did you know it's snowing right now'? We're laughing and kind of like it's ridiculous but we're committing to it. We don't know what's around us but we're gonna do what they tell us to. It creates a bond that is really wonderful.
Question: Did you watch the cartoons for research before filming?
Ricci: No. I saw it but it didn't tell me much.
Question: I heard the script was quite long. Were there any scenes of yours that didn't make the final cut?
Ricci: No. The script was quite long but only because all of the action in the races was described. You know what I mean? Like 'he turns left and jumps over and double, triple jumps.. nah, na, na, na na'. Half of that stuff I didn't read [laughter]. I'm like [running her finger across imaginary script pages] 'race, race, race, race, he wins'. Okay, 'race, race, race, race, something evil happens. Oh, a little sabotage, okay, good'. But, other than that, I read all the stuff that wasn't descriptive racing stuff.
Question: Was there any time to have fun off set in Berlin?
Ricci: Yeah. We had a great time. The brothers threw a lot of parties and people on the crew threw parties, a lot of the actors went out and socialized among themselves and we were all staying at the same hotel so we spent evening together. It was just really fun. It was summer in Berlin which didn't necessarily make it warm but there were some warm days that we went out and had a good time outside.
Question: Everything was inside on the sound stages?
Ricci: Everything, yeah.
Question: No location work?
Question: Did you get to do some of the more physical stuff like ride the gimbal for the race scenes? How was that?
Ricci: It was fun. So much fun. I love doing that stuff and I love getting little battle injuries and stuff like that, battle scars.
Question: Did you get hurt?
Ricci: I did get a little hurt. You get banged around in the gimbal thing so much and you end up with bruises. At one point, I had to get out and throw up and then get back in because it's a lot of shaking and craziness but it was just really fun. I had a good time.
Question: Was there anything the cars did that you thought "I wish my car could do that?"
Ricci: I'd like to be able to jump over people; jump over other cars. That would be pretty good. Also, that whole changing the tire thing by leaping up in the air, that would be great. I just learned how to change a tire myself but it would be so much easier if I could just leap up and press "D."
Question: I read that you were nervous at your interview for this. You had on black Converse sneakers and so did the brothers. Tell that story.
Ricci: Oh, I thought I gave a horrible audition but, at one point, I caught Andy's eye and Andy looked at my sneakers and I looked at his and looked back up at him and sort of smiled. I was like 'maybe the Chuck Taylors will work'. [laughter] But, I thought I gave a horrible audition.
Question: Are you a good driver?
Ricci: I like to believe I am.
Question: What do you drive?
Ricci: I don't want to talk about that. I'm stuck in a lease. Now, I saw the Al Gore movie after I signed my lease.
Question: What would you have if you could?
Ricci: I want a Mini-Cooper because it's fuel efficient, emissions efficient and all that stuff. It's small and better for the environment. I think that will be my next car.
Question: Right now you have a Navigator?
Ricci: No. It's not that bad.
Question: What did you think of the visual style of the movie. Did it look like you imagined it as you went along?
Ricci: I don't think any of us could have known what was in their heads completely. What they have managed to create is so much bigger, much more beautiful and engaging than anything I thought was going to be up there. It's really incredible. It's like nothing I've ever seen before so it's kind of hard for me to explain it. I can't wait to see a lot of other people's reactions to it.
Question: Doesn't it take a lot of trust to say "okay, I'll stand here in front of this [green] screen?"
Ricci: Oh yeah. That's the thing about these two directors is that they inspire such confidence and such trust because you can tell they have this complete vision in their heads and you would be doing yourself a huge disservice to not trust them and just do what they tell you to because how are you possibly going to know if what you do matches what's in their heads unless they tell you?
Question: Do they contextualize it for you or say 'this is what's happening?'
Ricci: Oh completely and you can know as much about the production design and the effects as you want to. The art department was always open for us to go in and they gave us storyboards and images. You could know as much as you wanted to or as little as you wanted to. Still though, it's their vision and their touch and who they are that makes the movie ultimately look the way it does.
Question: Did you get to keep any of the costumes?
Ricci: No. I didn't.
Question: Did you have input going in?
Ricci: Yeah you can always go in and you're like 'I don't like the way it looks on me' blah, blah, but I was really into all of the designs and very excited about it and I loved it. Kym Barrett's our Wardrobe Designer and I loved all her stuff so much that it became really fun.
Question: Can you talk about working with Emile? You seemed to have good chemistry.
Ricci: Yeah, he's really a sweet, sweet kid. We had such a good time together from the very first. When I read, he already had the part and he was reading with me and he was just so helpful and really nice. I've read with a lot of people who are not necessarily so giving. Like they've already got the part so what do they care? And those people are not nice. Emile was just really helpful and really wonderful. Then, working on the set with him was really fun. The whole cast had such a good time. Everyone was laughing and making fun of each other. It was fun.
Question: If there is a sequel, any idea what you would like to see your character do?
Ricci: I would like her to do more actiony things because I had fun being out there. That was fun stuff.
Question: How many sequels are you signed up for?
Ricci: I don't know. You don't have to sign up for them. It's more like if this movie does well, they'll make another one. But, I'm not really sure. I don't pay attention to that stuff.
Question: What's next for you?
Ricci: I'm doing a smaller drama at the end of May. I can't actually talk about it yet because the deal's not closed.
Question: Do you like doing a big movie then a smaller one; mixing it up?
Ricci: It's not intentional at all. It's just what happened.
Question: Are you a fan of Anime or Manga comics?
Ricci: I think they're pretty.
Question: Since you are interested in promoting girl power and feminist issues, is there a particular character from history that you would like to one day portray?
Ricci: That's an interesting question. I don't know. I've always been obsessed with Eleanor of Aquitaine but I don't know if that's because of any feminist feelings I have. I'd like to go back and revisit that story.
Question: Did you get the sense that the brothers were still passionate at the end, that they had more stories to tell in this universe?
Ricci: Oh yeah. Larry and Andy created a world that they love and created characters that they loved and are attached to. When we were all leaving, we were like 'write the sequel!' 'We want to come back'. And they were like 'I know. I know. We're going to. Don't worry'. They were as sad for it to be over as we were.
Question: Do you think they'd be willing to hop right back in?
Ricci: Yeah, definitely. [Laughter - note: another journalist (Gerri) whispers 'Yes you do!'] Yes, that's definitely the impression I got.
Question: Do you enjoy the audition process or is it just for bigger movies like this that you would still have to audition?
Ricci: I actually don't mind auditioning but you do have to audition for movies like this. There's a lot of money at stake and a lot of people have input.