Photography by Jeff Riedel. Photographed at the 11 Howard Hotel, New York. Styling by Karen Levitt. Hair: Matthew Monzon for Jed Root. Makeup: Gita Bass for Starworks. Jumpsuit by Agent Provocateur. Bracelet by Chanel. Dress by CD Greene.
Christina Ricci rushes into a Williamsburg brunch spot, a bit flushed and flustered, and apologizes for being late (which she is not). “I just got in from SoulCycle,” she says, “and I have to go pick up my kid in an hour!”
The former wild child of indie cinema — who once eye-rolled her way through interviews, shooting from the hip with incendiary statements such as suggesting incest is “natural” — is now a clock-conscious, multitasking mother of a 2-year-old, happily married and living in a Brooklyn brownstone. It might seem a world away from her various snarky, sinister personae (Wednesday Addams, Lizzie Borden, the home-wrecking teen tart Dedee Truitt, from 1998’s The Opposite of Sex), but Ricci, now 36, hasn’t lost her edge (or, for that matter, her cherubic looks — she looks a decade younger). She has, in fact, just wrapped one of the richest, most intriguing, and, it must be said, most naked roles of her career.
In the new Amazon series Z: The Beginning of Everything, Ricci plays Zelda Fitzgerald, wealthy flapper wife to The Great Gatsby author F. Scott, Jazz Age proto-feminist, and the original party girl. The couple wedded young, sparred often, and drank more. Ricci describes them as “two young arrogant narcissists who got in over their heads,” and as Zelda, and as Zelda, she is a saucy, coquettish Southern belle — half Blanche DuBois, half Blanche Devereaux. Anyone familiar with the Fitzgeralds’ story, though, knows Zelda’s dark fate: The free-spirited socialite and novelist spiraled into alcoholism and madness, literally driven insane by the restrictions placed on her by society and her husband. (She eventually died in a hospital fire.)
The performance would be a full meal for any actress, but Ricci produced the series, too, adapting it from a biography she discovered. “I feel like Zelda is the most realistic, well-rounded, fully fleshed-out, and fully explored person I’ve played,” says Ricci. “Also, I’ve never played a romantic lead — ever.” She continues, “Zelda was someone intelligent enough to see through facades. She didn’t have a lot of self-control and burst a lot of bubbles. She was a very self-aware young person, in the middle of this world, not from this world, who was able to judge it. Maybe she didn’t always have the best time, because she didn’t buy into the bullshit. She was smart enough to know when people were full of shit.”
For Ricci fans, this may sound familiar. “I related to it, so I was certainly able to put my perspective on things,” she says. “I think probably because I was a child in a very surreal world, I try to find the normalcy in everything in life, in every situation. Where’s the human thing amid the craziness?”
She specifically related to Zelda’s mental state. “When I was younger I thought that at a certain point I was going to have a nervous breakdown,” says Ricci. “I really thought that was part of life, because every woman I read about was put away at some point because they were too difficult to deal with. I was like, Oh, gosh, so at 40 I’m going to have to go away. Even my grandmother had nervous breakdowns and was put in asylums. I think it’s just how they dealt with difficult women back then.”
Early episodes of Z breeze through the Fitzgeralds’ courtship, then establish the tension in their marriage. They also feature Ricci’s first full-frontal nude scene. “It doesn’t really bother me,” she says. “I’d never worn a merkin before. I was sort of excited about that. There aren’t that manyfirsts for me anymore, so I was like, ‘This is exciting! How do we make this?’ In the old days they’d make you weara nude thong and your dresser would cut it. I once had a funny experience with an assistant in a bathroom:‘You’ve got to stick it in the middle of the crack!’”
There’s the old Ricci, that beloved renegade. And although she rues those impish interviews of her youth — “They were hilarious, but so ridiculous, and I paid a price for them” — she doesn’t regret her long-standing, almost genetic tendency to rock the boat. “I’ve always considered gay men to be my people,” she says. “I’m very upfront and unapologetic, and I find that’s what gay people respond to. I think that’s something that’s appealing for people who’ve had to fight really hard to be who they are. And I just can’t be any other way.”
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