Christina Ricci plays the title role in the modern-day fairy tale Penelope, a new film about a girl born with a pig snout as a result of a family curse.
Why did you decide to do Penelope?
I really decided to do it because I was so struck by its message, which really needs to be reiterated, given the negative images and messages out there for young women. This is a message that can be told again and again and again. I liked the way that it was couched. I feel like it was so smart of the writer to use a fairy tale structure, which we all feel like we've seen so many times, and we know what's coming next. To use that to lull you into the storyit's entertaining, funny, and you think know what's happening nextand then all of a sudden, Penelope flips the story on its head. When I saw that I could be part of something that I think is so important, but in a way that people wouldn't snicker at and dismiss, I thought, This is genius, I really want to do this.
Penelope was self-conscious, but also confident in a way. How were you able to relate to her?
The pig nose is definitely a metaphor, as are most things in fairy tales. We all have insecurities, and the thing that makes them crippling is that we all have the ability to blow them up into such huge issues in our minds, that we might as well have a facial deformity. It keeps us from really going out there and living our lives, and forgetting about hating yourself and just experiencing the world around you. I know exactly what that's like, to blow an insecurity so out of proportion that you feel like you can't function.
In the movie, the paparazzi want to get a picture of Penelope's nose, and go to great lengths to do so. Do you see the film as a fairy tale version of real-life paparazzi culture?
I think it does have something to say about thatbut it's funny because in the movie the paparazzi embrace her. So in a way it's saying that we do live in a culture that does embrace individuals. We might all be so afraid to be who we are, but in the end, it's really you're individual, unique qualities that make you attractive to people. So I think it has a more positive view of the paparazzi than is what is popular right now.
Penelope is one of Reese Witherspoon's Type A films. What was it like working with her?
It was great. I have so much respect for Reese. Her standards are so high, so I was very flattered when they offered me this role. I've talked to her over the years about women's issues, and she's spoken to me about how once you actually have a daughter, you start to notice how much negativity there is out there toward women, and what a lack there is of great role models for young girls. The fact that she has decided to take on this issue is something that I couldn't have more respect for. And she was great to have as a producer, because you just knew Reese was always going to make sure the movie stayed on course and stayed true to its initial intention.
Penelope's not your only film this yearyou star as Trixie in Speed Racer, which is supposed to be one of the hottest movies of the year. Did you enjoy working on that?
I had the best time ever. I keep reading these quotes of me saying that, and it sort of disgusts me a little bit to see myself talking that way [Laughs], but the truth is that it was more fun than I've had in a very long time. We spent days immersed in our imagination, wearing really fun, funny costumes. Trixie is a great role model for girls, because she doesn't have any self-doubt. She does everything the boys do. But at the same time, she is like the girliest girl, but a complete tomboy at the same time. That's something that we're not told very often as women, that you can be both things. You know, you can live in Manolos, but also want to be a stunt person.
You grew up on movie sets. Do you regret not having a more typical childhood?
This life that I've led has been really well suited for me. I think that some people need more as children. Movies for me were very much a safe place. Being on movie sets, there was always a really positive place, a place where I was validated as having talent, I was told that I was smart, I was taken care of really well, I learned a lot of responsibility and I learned to really appreciate a lot of qualities that served me very well as an adult. I felt very safe as a child on movie sets, and I don't feel like they've set anything negative for me.
Not every child star is successful as an adult. What's your advice for young stars growing up in today's tabloid culture?
It's very different right now, because when I was going through my late teens and early 20s making mistakes with late nights out, there wasn't this tabloid culture. It really has come up very fast. Had people always been documenting every night that I screwed up or every time I did something stupid, I would have kept doing stupid things, because the pressure is so intense. You're not really allowed the space to reflect, go through it, and they say, I'm done with that. I would say if nothing's really happening in your career right now, go take a break, go live on a great horse ranch or something [laughs], get yourself to a place where you can actually grow up. It's important that you can give yourself the space and time to go through all the same human mistakes that everyone else makes. Those are the things that lead you to becoming a mature adult. That'd be my advice, but what do I know?
You've done some behind-the-camera work. Do you enjoy that and are you planning on doing more of it?
I love being an actor, I really, really do. There isn't much about being an actress that I don't enjoy. But I also love being on film sets, and I'm incredibly bossy. So being a producer is pretty good for me to. I like to fix thingsI'm a problem-solver. So if you get to be on a film set, which is my dream place to be, and are also fixing things and solving problems and supporting somebody, to me that's also a gratifying thing to do.
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