CHRISTINA Ricci, star of the licentious costume drama Bel Ami, talks to Vicky Roach about stage fright, Robert Pattinson’s human qualities, and the bracing effect of a good corset.
Butterfl ies and bodice- rippers
Q: As a young actor, you suffered from stage fright. A: Even when I was asked to present an award, my legs would shake, my knees would knock and my voice would quake. It was crippling. Q: Having just played Hermia in an off- Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I presume you eventually found a way to conquer that fear.
A: I still get nervous, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing because it makes you really focused. Sometimes in previews, if I get too comfortable, I’ll get a bit lackadaisical. I won’t be as sharp as I need to be.
Q: It would be fair to say, then, that you went out on a limb with your Broadway debut in Time Stands Still in 2010.
A: At the time it came up, I almost forgot I had stage fright. It had been so long since anyone had proposed the idea. I remember just saying: ‘ Oh yeah, that sounds amazing. I would love to audition’. It wasn’t until after I had got the part that I went: ‘ Oh God, wait, I have terrible stage fright’. But I realised I wasn’t quite so insecure and nervous as I had been in my early twenties.
Q: You got great reviews for your performance. You must have felt a real sense of achievement.
A: The biggest thing I took from that experience was that I could trust myself. No matter how scared I was, and no matter how many times I would have a panic attack on stage, I could trust my muscle memory from rehearsals to carry me through. You get so much strength from knowing you can rely on yourself in that way.
Q: Many of the characters you have played have been somewhat troubled ( Monster, Black Snake Moan, The Opposite of Sex). Bel Ami’s Clotilde shows you in quite a different light.
A: It’s difficult for me to say. I don’t have that sort of objectivity about myself. I’m probably much more multi- dimensional to myself than I am to others.
Q: Even Wednesday Addams is more cynical than Clotilde.
A: It is interesting to play someone that you imagine has never known a day of angst. The first time she goes through heartache is during the course of the film. That was something I was very interested in because, of course, I had never done that.
Q: She’s certainly very different to the woman [ author] Guy de Maupassant envisioned.
A: In the book, she and [ Robert Pattinson’s character] Georges [ an opportunistic cad set on seducing wealthy women] are meant to be two of a kind, both gluttonous and out for themselves.
Q: Apart from Sleepy Hollow, with Johnny Depp, you haven’t done a lot of costume drama.
A: I haven’t done too many of them, but they are so much fun to do. And I love a corset.
Q: Most actors tend to talk about how constricting they are.
A: They are not the most terribly comfortable of undergarments, but there is something about the discipline of wearing them that I really like. I like the way those sorts of dresses change the way you walk and change the way you sit and even the way you breathe. I like how much it dictates your character.
Q: Your onscreen relationship with Robert Pattinson, who plays the title character, is somewhat volatile. How did you get along behind the scenes.
A: He’s lovely. He’s sweet, funny and charming. We would just be silly together and laugh a lot and make fun of each other. He’s got sisters, so he is very comfortable in the company of women. And just a lot of fun to be around.
Q: The observations de Maupassant makes about the nature of fame and celebrity can hardly have been lost on the cast.
A: They say the tabloid was created during the Victorian era. It doesn’t seem like much has changed.
Q: And yet you have managed to keep your own private life pretty private.
A: Mmmhmm. I do ( long pause). I don’t do anything very gossip-worthy I guess.
Q: The future of Pan Am [ the ‘ 60s- inspired TV series in which
Ricci plays a flight attendant] has yet to be decided, but I notice you recently put your Hollywood home up for rent. Does that decision signal a shift in focus?
A: I don’t want to talk about that.
Q: That would be how you keep your private life private?
Q: How did you find your first extended foray into television.
A: I had a really great time. I really loved being [ on] Pan Am. The cast was great. The crew was great. I loved having that kind of long- term job where you get to explore a new character for months and maybe even years. Q: A musical adaptation of The
Addams Family will premiere on stage in Sydney next year. Your
Midsummer Night’s Dream costar Babe Neuwirth originated the
role of Morticia on Broadway. Any thoughts of following suit?
A: I don’t really like musicals to tell you the truth.
Q: So we’re unlikely to see you belting out a ghoulish showtune any time soon?
A: Never say never.
Q: But it would be fair to say that a much more immediate prospect would be Sarah Spillane’s upcoming film Around
the Block, set around the 2004 Redfern riots, to which I understand you are already attached?
A: Nothing is finalised so it would be premature for me to comment.