Photographed by Gregory Harris
Interview by Jason Crombie
Christina Ricci can currently be seen in the new show PAN AM (one of my fresh favourites of this past TV year). ‘The series focuses on the pilots and stewardesses of the airline as it operated in the early 1960s at the beginning of the commercial jet age’. Ricci plays Maggie…a witty, gutsy, rule-breaking and politically active air stewardess for Pan American World Airways. The cast are awesome and the story-lines imaginative, and to be honest the show has helped to fill the Mad-Men shaped hole in my heart… There are only a couple of episodes left in the first season, but it’s been GREAT, so fingers crossed that it gets renewed.
Read Christina’s interview with Crombie below…
I was kind of looking forward to interviewing Christina Ricci in person, because — like many people with too much time on their hands — I’m obsessed with the physical size of celebrities. Ricci is notoriously small, but just how small? The plan was to meet her, get her drunk, and then see if I could lift her over my head — and, if I could, how long could I keep her up there? Pure science. Instead, we ended up talking on the phone, and she told me some interesting things about her work and her life -— and about being able to fit inside the overhead bin on an airplane, which was sort of helpful to my research…
Jason Crombie: How sick of talking about airplanes are you?
Christina Ricci: [Laughs] Not very.
How much of Pan Am is shot on an airplane set? Half?
Yeah. I think probably we spend about 60 percent of our time on a stage we call ‘the hangar’. There’s a plane that was built inside the hangar and we shoot all the plane interiors there.
Do you fly to locations for the show as well?
No, no. We shoot all in the tri-state area, and we use digital effects to make it look like wherever it is we’re supposed to be going.
OK. Do you fly a lot anyway? What I’m getting at is that you must be OD-ing on airplanes.
I actually like flying!
So you must love doing the show?
I love doing the show. The times that are most fun are when we’re in the hangar and we’re all stuck in such close proximity that we come up with fun games…
And silly things. ’Cause we’re there for, like, 17 hours, and you can’t leave the set.
Seventeen hours at a time?
Yeah. Well, our day is 17 hours. The crew can only work 14 hours, but we get there three hours early for hair and make-up.
Seventeen hours. Wow.
It’s a 17-hour day. That’s when most of the fun stuff happens, when you’re on the plane… And being in those costumes you really feel silly anyway, so I started a photo series called ‘Dead Stewardess’, where I will randomly throw myself into different positions in different parts of the plane and pretend I’m dead, and my dresser takes pictures.
My greatest accomplishment last week was [that] the set decorator allowed me to get into the overhead compartment.
[Laughs] Are you serious?
So, I got up into the overhead compartment, as though I had been murdered and just shoved in there, and pictures were taken. That’s the latest in the series.
My God, what’s wrong with you? Wait — how small are you that you can fit in the overhead bin of an airplane?
Oh, I’m really small. I’m, like, five-foot-one.
And how did you get up there?
I climbed up on the seat.
I made Margot [Robbie, who plays Laura on Pan Am] do another one with me. I made her get into the closet where we hang our coats, and she’s like, “It hurts, Frank, it hurts!” — ’cause she calls me Frank. And she’s like, “I don’t fit in here! I’m not as small as you!” And I’m like, “One second! One second!” And I closed the door and she’s like, “Ow, ow, ow!”
Wait, why does she call you Frank?
I don’t know. She just does. She’s Australian; she likes nicknames.
And you’re both squashed in the closet?
Yeah. So then we took a picture with the door closed — it’s a two-part series, a two-part reveal — and then we opened the door and fell out backwards like we were two dead stewardesses that had been shoved in there. It was amazing.
That’s really macabre.
And there’s another one of me dead in the cockpit…
So, in your spare time on set, you stick out your tongue, roll your eyes and pretend to be dead?
No — I actually look really dead. When we’re in the costumes and we have all that make-up on and everything, we look so much like dolls — like Barbie dolls, or something. So then, if you pose dead, it doesn’t look real, anyway. It looks… morbid. They’re kind of hilarious.
You should turn them into a coffee-table book when you’re done.
Originally I was going to do a calendar for the crew, but I’ve been working on it for so long, people are saying I might have a fabulous art series.
You should totally do that!
I could have a show!
What’s the farthest you’ve ever flown?
Like, to Australia or Japan. I don’t know which one’s longer.
It’s Australia. What’s your standard routine for a long flight?
I like to buy a book and try to read it from cover-to-cover on the flight.
Do you wear sweatpants?
I usually just wear my normal clothes, and if it’s a long flight they’ll provide you with the sweat clothes that you can change into.
You get pyjamas in first class?
Yeah, so I always change into the free PJs.
What books do you like to read?
When I fly, I go to the airport bookstore and buy, like, some cheesy crime-book or thriller or mystery book or something.
You were on Broadway for the first time last year with a play called Time Stands Still.
Was that scary?
It was totally scary!
I’ve got so much respect for anyone who can walk out on to a stage and not become catatonic. If it were me on Broadway, I’d probably just start vomiting.
Oh, when I even have to speak publicly, my knees shake!
How did you do Broadway, then?
I was just like, “I’m gonna do this — I’m not sure how — but somehow I will learn to do this.” And it worked out OK, but it was really scary, and I basically lived in crisis mode for the entire three months that I was doing it.
It never got easier?
No. I never lost that feeling of ‘uuuuurgh’ anxiety, that, “Oh God, here we go.”
See, I just wouldn’t turn up to work after three days of that.
Oh no, you have to! It’s like, “The train is leaving the station. I gotta go.” And then we’re leaving, I’m on it, we’re going.
So, once you get out there you’re fine.
Well, no, actually. A few times I had panic attacks while on stage.
Like, proper panic attacks?
Yeah — proper ones. I’d come off stage and have to take something.
Yeah. And in the first act of the show I was supposed to be really nervous, and my body would register me acting and feeling nervous, and then it would just run wild.
[Laughs] Oh my God.
I’m not really a Method actor, I don’t think, but I think I’ve trained myself in a weird way to take physical cues and run with them. Like, if I make myself cry, my whole body will take over with the feeling of deep sadness, and then it’ll get worse, and worse, and worse. So, I think acting nervous triggered panic attacks. And Eric Bogosian — who was my fiancé in the play — he would be holding my hand and he would feel my hand start to sweat, and he would feel my heart beat like crazy. And he would just hold my hand tighter, and tighter, and tighter, until the moment I could walk off stage.
Holy ****. Imagine if you just freaked out!
I know! It’s crazy. A couple of times it was really insane, and I’d walk off and have, like, a minute-and-a-half offstage, and one of the stagehands would run upstairs and get my medication that I take for panic attacks.
I used to have panic attacks, and they made my hands feel like paper.
Yes! Yes! I get that! And my hands go numb.
It’s a horrible feeling.
Yeah, it’s awful. It’s the worst.
Now, you mentioned Method acting — you said you weren’t much of a Method actor — however, I read that in Black Snake Moan you deliberately ate really crappy food to make yourself look unwell.
Well, if you want to look the part you kinda have to do the things that will make you look that way.
So, what were you eating? Twizzlers and stuff?
I ate a lot of crap [laughs]. Just sugar; junk food.
Can’t have been good for you, but it must’ve been awesome at the same time.
Yeah, it was actually really enjoyable.
That was a really good movie, by the way. I remember seeing the trailer for it and thinking, “This can’t be good!” But it was! It was great!
[Laughs] Well, I’m glad you liked it.
Can I ask you something?
You seem pretty grounded and normal, and yet you’ve been in the public eye since Mermaids came out, and that was, like, 20 years ago.
Yeah, that was a long time ago.
But you’ve been a famous person since you were a little girl. I guess I want to know how you managed to turn out OK under those circumstances.
Well, in some ways it’s actually been helpful. I mean, I’ve never known anything else. There was never any big change that would have been shocking, or difficult to adjust to, or traumatic in any way.
What do you mean?
If your life has always been one way, there’s never a period of time where you’re blown away by things changing, and having to adjust or be bothered by any of the changes, you know what I mean?
Yeah, this is just the way it’s always been for you.
Yeah, and I know that seems very odd, but if it’s the only thing you’ve ever known, then… that’s just how life is. You don’t really have to question it so much, or be bothered by it.
Right. Well, here’s a question: you were discovered by an agent who just happened to be in the audience of your school play when you were, like, five.
What would you be doing now if, say, that guy got a flat tyre and didn’t see you?
[Laughs] I don’t know!
That’s a bad question.
I have no idea.
Do you ever think about what you would have liked to be if you hadn’t become an actress?
I do sometimes, but then I’m always like, “Thank God it happened!” Because I really love the life that I lead, you know? I really love doing what I do. I’m just really grateful that it did happen.