How the actress became "The Addam's Family" most valuable player
Oozing health from her flushed, heart-shaped face and Breck-perfect chestnut hair, Christina Ricci looks more like a candidate for a Gap ad than she does like Wednesday Addams, her ooky character in Addams Family Values. In fact, the 13-year-old actress is recognized by the security guard at Paramount Pictures’ Manhattan headquarters only because he’s expecting her, not because he’s seen the movie twice. Even so, he seems starstruck at meeting the Addams’ malevolent little darling. ”You have such a bee-yoo-ti-ful smile in that one scene,” he tells Ricci, whose previously expressionless character cracks a grimace, then a grin, at a crucial point in the film. ”How could you keep yourself from showing it off throughout the whole movie?”
”Well,” Ricci responds politely, in perfect Wednesday deadpan, ”we rehearsed the scenes so many times that by the time I said my lines, they weren’t funny.”
Maybe not to her, but Ricci’s second performance as Wednesday is a high point of the hit sequel (which took in $30 million in its first 10 days), and that’s no surprise to its director. ”After the first movie, we realized that Wednesday is gold,” says Barry Sonnenfeld, who also directed the first Addams film. According to Sonnenfeld, preview audiences for 1991’s $113 million-grossing Addams Family said that its highlights were ”literally anything with Wednesday.” As a result, Ricci’s character was given more screen time than any other in the sequel. As screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s designated scourge, she also gets to deliver lines cool enough to send the Good Son scurrying for his security blanket.
Wednesday’s self-assurance wasn’t hard for Ricci, a New Jersey ninth grader who has firm opinions on many topics, from the correctness of making script changes to please the cast to Michael Jackson’s innocence until proven guilty (”All this prejudging people isn’t right”) to her pot-smoking friends (”It’s not because they want to be cool — I hate when people say that. They smoke because it’s fun,” insists Ricci, who says she hasn’t yet toked herself).
Sonnenfeld got a taste of Ricci’s self-confidence early on. ”After a take of the first scene of the first Addams Family, I said to Christina — and remember, she’s 11 at the time — ‘That was very good, but I want you to look a little sadder in the next take.’ I started to walk away, and I heard this voice say, ‘Barry, I can’t be any sadder. Sadness is an emotion, and Wednesday has no emotions.’ So I thought quickly, and I said, ‘Okay, that’s a point. Well, why don’t we do another take where you are more morose?’ and she went, ‘Okay.’ To this day, I don’t know if she knew what morose meant, or if she decided morose is not an emotion. In any case, we did another take, she looked sadder, and everything was fine.”
For the sequel, the director’s challenge was keeping Ricci’s burgeoning teen tude out of her performance. ”The secret to Wednesday is she gets the best lines and she delivers them without attitude,” says Sonnenfeld, who guided his young star by repeating just two words: ”Slower, flatter.” ”Being 13,” he says, ”she was trying to race through things.”
Ricci has already raced through much of her childhood. She began making commercials at age 8, which led to substantial roles in 1990’s Mermaids and this year’s The Cemetery Club, as well as the Addams gigs. But her successes haven’t interfered with such teen duties as ending statements as if they were questions (”Red Hot Chili Peppers is my favorite group?”), correcting her mother, or embracing that friend of Butt-head’s (”People call me Beavis. They say I laugh like him,” she admits, letting slip a quiet heh-heh). The youngest of four children, Ricci lives at home with mom Sarah, a former model who stood in for Twiggy at fittings and who now fills two jobs: realtor and stage mother. ”She makes fun of me for being too dramatic,” says Christina, whose parents are separated (her father, Ralph, is a Manhattan lawyer), ”and I make fun of her clothes—she wears all black and tries to be 15.” For other fashion amusement, she tunes into Beverly Hills 90210, ”which is a good laugh because the next day at school there are, like, a few people who dress exactly like Brenda, and you’re like, ‘Wait, I’ve seen that outfit before. Oh my God! 90210!’ ”
Ricci’s discerning eye, however, is applied most forcefully to her own work: After seeing a finished print of Family Values for the first time a month ago, she was mortified by her performance — and after another viewing, she still thinks she goofed. ”I’m kind of upset with myself, because I can see I messed up so many lines,” she says, collapsing into her chair with a suddenly clouded face. Which lines? ”Almost every one. The first movie I did fine in, but the second one I didn’t do the same Wednesday,” she wails.
Sonnenfeld attributes Ricci’s dismay to her age — and her shock at realizing how much of the movie she carries. But he’s especially proud of that pivotal scene — the security guard’s favorite — in which Wednesday overcomes her facial rigor mortis. To fake out the pathologically cheery counselors of Camp Chippewa, where she and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) have been dispatched for a bummer summer, Wednesday finally decides to (gasp) smile. Sonnenfeld considered gilding the shot with the sound of an iceberg cracking apart. ”But the smile was so perfect by itself,” he says, ”that we didn’t want to fix it into a disaster.”
Although Ricci didn’t cringe at that particular scene (except to note, ”I could see a zit on my face”), her critical faculties saw plenty of use on the set. ”She has specific opinions, and not only about her character,” says Sonnenfeld. The script of The Addams Family originally called for Fester to be unmasked as an impostor.
”Raul [Julia] and Anjelica [Huston] were really upset,” recalls Sonnenfeld. ”In fact, everyone was upset except Christopher Lloyd [who plays Fester]. But the person who best articulated their concern was Christina.” In the end, Sonnenfeld changed the story line.
There’s a limit, however, to what she’ll talk about — like backbiting on the set. ”When I was little, I didn’t want to hear anything about the movie business being bad,” she says. ”And now I’ve seen, like, someone dumping on someone, and it’s sort of weird. I know it’s growing up, but still it’s kind of annoying.” No, she’s not naming names — the realities of the industry are slowly infiltrating Christina’s world.
Ricci is happier discussing her moviemaking role models, like Huston. ”In real life she is just as graceful and elegant as Morticia, and it’s good for me, because I trip all the time, especially walking up stairs and stuff.” She also says she was spoiled by working on Mermaids with Winona Ryder and Cher, who’s still a tight pal. ”When I’m in L.A., I spend weekends at Cher’s house. Last time we saw Like Water for Chocolate,” says Ricci, who can track her friend’s penchants by the birthday presents she sends. ”Cher’s in a cherub phase now, because everything is, like, angels.”
Now that she has entered a fairly typical teen phase, no schlepp into Manhattan is complete for Ricci without a trip to Tower Records, where on one recent outing she made a quick killing with a stack that included the Judgment Night soundtrack, Fishbone’s Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe, and Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love. Fittingly enough, her next role will be that of “just a normal girl” in Casper, the Steven Spielberg production based on the Harvey cartoon character. Playing the friend of the friendly ghost is a double thrill for Ricci—she was passed over for Jurassic Park and recalls E.T. as the first movie she ever saw.
After Casper, it’s back for more ninth grade in the real world, unless Paramount honcho Sherry Lansing listens to Sonnenfeld. “Sherry called me up and said, ‘Look, we’ve already hired Rudnick to write the third one, so you’re on board, right?'” says Sonnenfeld. “I told her I wouldn’t be on board but that she should call Christina to direct the third one.”
“Sherry thought I was kidding,” he adds, “but I wasn’t.”