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Christina Ricci, 1997-1998 on Teenagers – Out of the Archives

Christina Ricci played Wednesday, the daughter of Anjelica Huston as Morticia and Raul Julia as Gomez, in The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. She has a supporting role in Wednesday, the 8-part television series directed by Tim Burton, also based on the cartoon series by Charles Addams.
We dipped into our extensive archives of historic HFPA interviews dating back to 1971 to report on the child actress’ transition to teenage roles in The Ice Storm (1997) by Ang Lee and The Opposite of Sex (1998), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a comedy. She talked to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press about teenagers and families, politics and homophobia.
In The Ice Storm Christina Ricci played the teenage daughter of Joan Allen and Kevin Kline, whose father was having an affair with a married neighbor (Sigourney Weaver). Having just moved out of her parents’ home at the age of 17, after graduating high school, the young actress related to this type of family: “I’d seen a lot of families like this. What this family is going through is not really that dissimilar from everything that other families have gone through, so I recognize that, and the basic emotions that the children go through are those that anyone who can still recall their childhood and adolescence will be able to relate to. As teenagers we do really well, because as children we have this ability to detach emotionally, that’s why when we grow up it all washes away; so, once kids become teenagers, they’re fine, they’re functional, but at the same time, if you have a screwed up family, it stays with you.”
The teenage actress was not sure how she felt about the problems of contemporary families in 1997: “I’m a little confused about it. I used to feel that family was actually an unnatural state that we had created, but I’m not so sure now. Every family is certainly imperfect, dysfunctional is our favorite term these days, because that is so ordinary and regular right now. One of the main problems we have in this country is the fact that our families don’t work, and then they lead to really screwed up children who grow up to be screwed up adults who have families that are screwed up, and it just continues. So I don’t really believe in our family system.”
Having first played Wednesday in the movie The Addams Family when she was a ten-year-old child, she did not feel that that family was dysfunctional: “I always felt that the Addams family was actually the most functional family I had ever seen, because at least they all loved each other, they were there supporting each other, saying ‘You’re okay, I’m okay, everything’s great.’ They accepted the fact that they were strange, but that didn’t matter, because they loved each other. So I always thought that they were a really functional family, no matter how weird they might have seemed on the outside.”
The Ice Storm was set in 1973 during the Nixon-Watergate scandal, which served as a backdrop to the so called “key parties” where married couples exchanged sexual partners. Ricci, who was born in 1980, had studied that era: “I knew all about Nixon and Watergate and everything that was going on politically at that time, because they teach us that in school in history class. But what I needed to go back to understand and ask Ang Lee about was the relationship of what was going on in the country with the whole Nixon thing to what was going on in the family. I had to find out and explore the idea that my character’s obsession with Nixon was the idea that here was the President, the ultimate father figure, betraying his country, which was his family, while she felt that her father was betraying their family.”
Ricci noted that the approach to sexuality was very different in the 1970s than in the 1990s: “I’ve always had a negative feeling about the seventies for some reason and I definitely don’t want to go back to that period. But one of the main things is that we’re certainly much more moralistic now, and not in a good way, than we were in the seventies. I mean, I’ve grown up with AIDS being the epidemic that it is and with safe sex being drilled into my head ever since I was really little, so, because I’ve been repressed for so long, it’s difficult for me to look back on a period where it was all about ‘sleep with whoever you want, anything goes, and the more degenerate you can get, the more power to you.’ It’s hard for me to look at a time period like that and want to be a part of it; it’s a little too scary.”
Not yet being eligible to vote at 17, Ricci was not that involved in politics in 1997, because she felt there was nothing she could do as a teenager: “Unfortunately, I’m not a political animal. There are certain issues that I’ll read or hear about in the news, then I start to feel really strongly about them, but it’s so frustrating to know that you can’t do anything about it. So I try not to do that to myself, to get too involved in what’s going on. Yes, in a year I can vote and voting is power in your hands to a certain extent, but there really isn’t that much that I can do as a citizen of this country, as a seventeen-year-old girl. And it’s frustrating when you have no control over it, so I protect myself from that sense of complete hopelessness by not allowing myself to care too much about what is going on, at least politically.”
In The Opposite of Sex (1998), written and directed by Don Roos, Ricci played a pregnant 16-year old who runs away from home, moves in with a gay teacher and his boyfriend, and makes fun of them, but she didn’t think her character was homophobic: “This is stuff she’s probably heard her entire life from her parents and she thinks it’s funny to repeat it, so she’s not really homophobic. She’s also heterophobic, she makes fun of heterosexual people too, and I don’t think you can be both, so she cancels herself out. I’m probably a bad judge of that since I grew up in suburban New Jersey where we had gay teachers, and we all knew they were gay, so there were jokes about them, but nobody really cared. Then I always lived in places that were fairly open to everything, like New York and L.A.; but when you watch those talk shows, like Sally Jessy Raphael, where people are talking about how much they hate gay people, it’s frightening to see how the middle of this country is still so incredibly homophobic.”
The actress believed that movies that dealt with these issues affecting teenagers in a humorous way would be helpful for her generation: “These kind of movies coming out now are really positive for future generations, because we finally accepted the fact that we’re not the happiest people on earth, that our families are not as wonderful as we thought, and now we’re talking about it, as opposed to hiding all our dirty little secrets. We’re making fun of it, laughing about it, because everything’s funny in retrospect, so we’re making it easier for kids to understand and feel relief knowing that these characters are going through the same things that they’re going through, but can’t even talk about it. So that’s a really good thing for my generation to see more movies about people who are having problems in their lives, who are unhappy, and to know that it’s normal, that they’re not freaks and not crazy.”