Christina Ricci is all grown up -- The former child star shocks in ''The Opposite of Sex'' and ''Pecker''

It’s been nearly a decade since a 10-year-old Christina Ricci first opened her huge, knowing peepers on screen as Winona Ryder’s little sister in Mermaids. But this year, it was our turn to be wide-eyed. The girl went and grew up. And her transformation — startling for both its audacity and its speed — still has us reeling.

Provocative as it was, Ricci’s role as a sexually curious high schooler in last year’s The Ice Storm was just a peek at what was to come. In May, Ricci graduated once and for all from the Caspers and That Darn Cats of her early career, delivering a performance so heartless and cunning, she could give Linda Tripp a few pointers. Here’s how The Opposite of Sex opens: Ricci’s 16-year-old Dedee Truitt throws a cigarette into the fresh grave of her stepfather…and oh, what a roller coaster of rage follows. Thanks to Ricci’s unblinking contempt, boyfriend-stealing, murdering, just-plain-bad-to-the-bone Dedee is the year’s blackest comic gem. ”I really cannot imagine anybody else in that role,” says the film’s director, Don Roos. ”But before she auditioned I didn’t even know she was old enough for it.”

In age, perhaps, but Ricci has always seemed shrewder than her years should allow. Her patented world-weariness began ripening as Wednesday in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. ”She’s done a lot of racy things, but it hasn’t seemed like a total shock because she always played these mature, cynical kids,” says her Sex costar Lisa Kudrow.

The difference, of course, is in the blossoming of other charms: Full-figured Ricci stands as a refreshing antidote to the cookie-cutter hardbodies Hollywood tends to favor. More critically, she’s developed a fearless instinct for off-center parts. Most of her films this year — Sex, Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66, Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and John Waters’ Pecker — have benefited not only from her idiosyncratic beauty but also from her ability to humanize and believably embody the truly eccentric.

No wonder she’s stolen the indie It Girl crown from Parker Posey. And no wonder it’s so easy to forget that she’s a proven mainstream star. Yet despite half a life spent in Hollywood, Ricci has turned out to be both admirably unaffected and curiously, well, 18. ”It came out that she’s a fan of Friends and wanted to come visit the set,” remembers Kudrow. ”That surprised me. I was expecting this girl who was too cool for TV.”

That kind of youthful excitability is a trait Ricci rarely shows the press. Asked whether she’s overjoyed by her heightened popularity, Ricci insists she’s actually daunted. ”I think it’s just made me more confused. In the past, I sort of did my thing and nobody paid that much attention. Now it’s like every decision apparently is very important,” she says, before flying off to London to play Johnny Depp’s love interest in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.

Maybe she’s a little happier than she lets on? ”She met Johnny Depp when she did Mermaids and he was Winona Ryder’s boyfriend,” says Roos. ”So she’s sort of grown into [getting] her older sister’s boyfriend. She’s thrilled.”

Buffalo '66
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