Two decades after making her film debut as Cher’s youngest daughter in Mermaids, Christina Ricci takes her first Broadway bow opposite Laura Linney as naive event planner Mandy — a role Alicia Silverstone played earlier this year — in Donald Margulies’s Iraq war–themed drama Time Stands Still, which reopens October 7 at the Cort Theatre. At the risk of alienating the gay fans she attracted with her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos’s lover in Monster and her Golden Globe–nominated performance as a devious teen in Don Roos’s The Opposite of Sex, the 30-year-old actress explains why she’d never revisit Wednesday in the Addams Family musical.
Then maybe I shouldn’t mention that it’s the 20th anniversary of Mermaids.
The Advocate: Christina Ricci is replacing Alicia Silverstone in a Broadway play. I never thought I’d hear myself say those words.
Christina Ricci: I know it sounds weird because you don’t think of she and I playing the same roles, but those who know me personally can understand it. I am the one who, like this character, gets very intimidated by really artistic, respected people and ends up saying silly things. People sometimes think of me as very dark and without levity, but I am the person who’s always cutting out heart shapes and trying to put glitter on shit.
Was Broadway always part of your plan?
No, I had terrible stage fright, so people eventually stopped bringing it up. But when I was coming back from making Bel Ami with Robert Pattinson, my agent, who also represents Laura Linney, asked me if I wanted to read for Time Stands Still, and I completely forgot I had stage fright. Literally, walking home from the audition, I was like, Oh, shit, I just remembered I hate acting in front of people. So now I’m sort of ignoring it.
I love how casually you just namedropped R-Patz. Are you a Twilight fan?
OK, first of all, publicists train you to say your credits along with your costars. You can’t be shy about self-promotion; it’s like Kathy Griffin or something. [Laughs] I’m a very lazy pop culture fan — if it involves leaving my living room, I’m pretty clueless — so I’ve never seen a single Twilight movie, and I guess I missed it when it was on Starz. But Rob’s a lovely individual.
Do you two share a love scene in Bel Ami?
We do. But he’s like your best friend’s little brother, so we would just laugh and make fun of each other the entire time. He thought it was outrageous how comfortable I was being naked. I was like, “That’s because I’m 20 years older than you.” Seriously, I’ve never felt so old in my entire life.
Wait, it wasn’t that long ago, was it? That was 1990, so — oh, yeah, I guess you’re right. Oh, my God, that’s really sad. [Laughs] And great.
When was the last time you and Cher got coffee?
I used to go sleep at her house, but I don’t think I’ve seen her since I was 13 or 14. It’s sad because I love her, and I loved spending time with her. She was so great to me.
To which of your films do gay fans seem to respond most vocally?
I get a lot of The Opposite of Sex, but I also hear The Addams Family almost every day. I feel good about that because I love Wednesday. I wish I could play her now.
Well, The Addams Family musical is also on Broadway, and they’ve significantly aged Wednesday.
You know what’s really awful about me — and this probably isn’t going to win me any more gay fans — I really don’t like musicals. It’s one of the great shames of my life. The closest I can come to liking musicals is the documentary for Company. I do like to sing, but nobody’s going to put me in a musical. It would have to be some sort of strange, indie rock musical, because that’s the only way to make sense of my brand of singing talent.
Are you particularly conscious of your gay fan base?
Yes. I’ve always been especially appreciative of my gay male fans because it’s meant I’ve had a lot of men around to love and protect me. That’s good when you’re a five-foot-tall lady.
Do you credit that connection to the types of roles you’ve taken, or does it say something about you as a person?
I’ve always had a lot of gay male friends, so that really set the tone. Actually, my best friend from the time I was 14 is gay. In fact, we didn’t talk for a long time because I was the one who told him he was gay when we were 17; he got really mad at me for five months, but he finally came back to me and was like, “You know what? You’re right. I am gay.” He’s my gay husband, and I love him. But doing The Opposite of Sex when I was 17 also had a huge effect on who I became as a person, and I probably got that part because of who I was at the time. Straight boys didn’t really like me that much, so I was hugely affected by gay men and by my experiences in New York as a teenager. Because a lot of the encouragement I got was from the gay community, I was encouraged to be as different, as funny, and as outspoken as I wanted to be. Don Roos, who wrote and directed The Opposite of Sex, took advantage of that fact and nurtured that side of me.
You also won female gay fans when you played lesbians in Monster and HBO’s The Laramie Project. Let’s discuss Monster first. You delivered an amazing performance as Selby, Aileen Wuornos’s young lover, but most of the buzz surrounding the film focused on Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Wuornos. Theron even called you the “unsung hero of this film” in her Oscar acceptance speech. Why do you think you didn’t get as much attention or as many awards as your costar? Was your physical transformation not dramatic enough?
I like to think I also made a dramatic physical transformation, so it would hurt me a little bit when people said that. I knew all about Aileen Wuornos, I loved the story, I loved the script, and I loved that we were making the movie, but from the very beginning I understood it was Charlize’s passion project. I took the part of Selby knowing that I was going to be a supporting part of that experience, so it never seemed weird to me at the time. Only later, when people would bring up to me what you’re talking about right now, did I think about it. But my character didn’t do as many crazy things. She was one of those quiet, understated people where you have no idea what’s really going on in her head. Sometimes when an audience can’t read that or relate to what’s going on in someone’s mind, they don’t feel as close to the character, and they don’t feel the need to champion that character as much.
Talk to me about playing lesbian activist Romaine Patterson in The Laramie Project. What attracted you to that project?
I had seen and loved The Laramie Project when it was off-Broadway, so when I heard they were making it into movie, I called and asked to be a part of it. The only way I know how to say this is kind of retarded, but I’m very childlike in my morals, so I can’t stand anything where any group of people gets hurt or held back. When I see the Matthew Shepard story, the facts of his death, and why he died, it just makes me sick. That’s why it meant a lot to me to be involved with that film.
How did the sexuality of those two characters inform your performances?
I know what you’re asking, but I’m not sure how to answer that. I don’t think I approach gay characters any differently than I approach straight characters. To me, it’s like, this is who you’re attracted to, this is what you’ll wear, and this is what you’ll do in the movie. I wish I had a better answer, but I just do what I feel is appropriate for the character.
I’ve read that Roberta, your character in Now and Then who tapes down her breasts, was originally intended to be a lesbian as well. Did you play her as gay?
The character is based on somebody who did grow up to be a lesbian, but I was just told to play the shame any teenage girl has when discovering that she’s becoming a sexual being.
Though you played a younger version of her character, it’s worth noting that you’ve grown up to look nothing like Rosie O’Donnell.
I appreciate that, I understand you, and in the nicest way possible, I agree.
You’ve actually become something of a fashion icon in recent years. Do we have a gay stylist to thank for that?
No. My mother gave me a lot of fashion rules when I was younger that I hated, but now I’m basically becoming my mother. So if there’s anyone to thank, it’s my mom. At the same time, I constantly feel unworthy of that kind of attention. I always feel so silly when I’m overly girly. When it comes to what I’m wearing, I’m probably one of the most insecure people you’ll ever meet.
Tila Tequila once told Extra that she fell in love with you when she saw Black Snake Moan. She said, "She’s really hot and I think she looks kind of odd like me.” More than anything, I’m just curious if you know who Tila Tequila is.
I do know who she is. I think it’s strange to say you’re attracted to someone because they look like you. I guess it’s honest and it’s definitely very revealing, but it’s still strange. There’s not a lot of self-reflection going on there.
Do you have a girl-crush?
Yes, my girl-crush is Eva Mendes. She’s just gorgeous.
Have you ever hooked up with a gay guy like Dede in The Opposite of Sex?
I had a brief affair with someone I thought was gay from the beginning. I remember asking, “Wait a second. Are you gay?” And he said, “I’m not sure” — which pretty much means he’s gay. But he was really beautiful, so I was like, “That’s OK, I don’t really care.”