Friday 19 July 2019

Christina takes a French lesson

Christina Ricci talks to Paul Byrne about getting older, her Irish roots and her hopes for a second Pan Am season

IT's very important, of course, to be proud of where you're from. Not just the history, the myths and the beautiful landscapes but the everyday people who are the heart and soul of the country.

For me, one of the most embarrassing moments to be Irish was at a London press conference for the 1995 children's film Casper. There were 30 or 40 journalists, all there to talk to leading teen lady, Christina Ricci, and the man playing her father in the film, Bill Pullman. And the very first question came from an Irish journalist who had spoken to me about his question on the flight over. I had told him that he should, under no circumstances, ask such a question.


Nonetheless, he put his hand up. And then he asked Christina Ricci if, during the scenes that she shared with friendly ghost Casper in her bed, she had felt any "sexual tension".

Christina Ricci was 15 at the time. There was silence in the room. A silence finally broken by Bill Pullman when he leaned into his mic and said, "Can we see both your hands when you ask that question?"

"Oh, wow, I'm glad to say I've blocked that one from my memory," smiles Ricci today, 17 years later, and once again in a London hotel.

"Every now and then, when I was young, you'd get a question like that.

"I'm sure he was harmless, and I'm sure he meant well, but, you know, Casper was purely computer generated. So, it doesn't even make sense ... "

Christina Ricci has come a long way in those intervening 17 years, moving on from the kooky little girl roles in the likes of Mermaids (1990) and The Addams Family (1991) that made her name, through growing pain outings such as The Ice Storm (1997), The Opposite Of Sex, and Buffalo '66 (both 1998), and on to more mature matters in the likes of Monster (2003) and current TV hit Pan Am. And if Ricci still has a tendency to get naked a little too often just to prove that she's no longer a little girl (2006's Black Snake Moan with Samuel L Jackson's fervent preacher verging on soft porn), the 32 year old has proven herself to be a formidable actor.

She's certainly just about the best thing about Bel Ami, yet another big-screen adaptation of the 1885 French novel about a dashing young cad who tries to sleep his way to the top of polite society.

Ricci plays Clotilde de Marelle, the most consistent, and understanding, lover of the cad in question, Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson), accepting of his other dalliances, and his opportunistic marriage to the wealthy Madeleine Forestier (Uma Thurman). Rounding out an impressive trio of women is Kristin Scott Thomas as the unhappy wife of Georges' cruel boss (a huffing and cigar-puffing Colm Meaney).

With Ricci's character having been played on screen before by the likes of Hilde Hildebrand in 1937 and Angela Lansbury in 1947, I ask her if she felt the need to go exploring previous interpretations of Clotilde.

"No, I didn't, actually," she says, "because I read the book, and was a big fan. And then, reading the script, I knew they changed my character quite a bit from the original story. So, I just went off of what the director wanted for her in this particular film."

Directing was actually handled by a duo, Declan Donnellan and Nick Omerod, better known as underground theatre gods Cheek By Jowl. The fact that their only other screen credit was a 1992 short plainly wasn't about to put off Christina Ricci.

"Well, I was definitely attracted to working with them," she states. "They have quite a reputation, as theatre directors, and I was also really excited to work with Rob, and Kristin Scott Thomas, and Uma Thurman. And this character I was really attracted to; the challenges playing someone like this would bring."

With swingin' '60s TV series Pan Am steadily building a following on both sides of the Atlantic, an announcement last November that this new offering was being cancelled was quickly met with a flat denial of any such plans by its studio, ABC. Having just wrapped up that first season in the US, are Ricci and co now any the wiser as to a possible season two? It would seem not.

"Like most shows -- like all shows -- we won't find out if we're getting a second season until May," says Ricci. And then, she leaves it at that.

I remind Ricci of an early quote she made; "I don't think I'll be reformed until I'm well into my fifties". Having just turned 32 on February 12, does she feel all grown up and reformed yet?


"I feel like an adult, yeah," she smiles. "I still feel like a kid in a lot of ways, but I don't feel any need to rebel, or to be obnoxious, or to piss people off for no reason. I feel pretty content and happy, and I just want things to be nice."

Finally, another great quote, this one about her bloodline: "There's an Italian four or five generations back who married an Irish woman, and they had all sons. So, they married more Irish women, there were more sons, and more Irish women". Sounds like we can claim Christina Ricci as one of our own. "I'm half Scots-Irish," she laughs, "and half Italian. But I feel pretty Irish most of the time, so, yeah, I'm happy to plant my flag there ... "

Bel Ami hits Irish cinemas on March 9

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