Film Critic Mike Massie recently had a chance to interview Christina Ricci, the star of the new romantic fantasy/comedy “Penelope,” which features a young woman cursed with the face of a pig, who must seek out her true love.
Mike Massie: What makes Penelope such a fresh take on the fairy-tale film?
Christina Ricci: The writer was smart to use a fairy-tale format to inject this powerful surprise and to make a statement that isn’t patronizing.
MM: How do you think young people will react to the film?
CR: I’m hoping young people will really like the movie. I think there’s a lot in the movie that’s extremely entertaining. It’s a funny movie. When I was a teenager Catherine O’Hara was my favorite actress, and she’s hilarious. There are a lot of really romantic parts to the film that I didn’t know would be so rewardingly romantic. We’ve been getting a really warm response to our movie that promotes the value of being an individual and self acceptance, and that vanity is a silly thing.
MM: The film was shot in 2006. Do you know what delayed its release?
CR: I don’t know the specifics in this case, because I wasn’t involved in any of the post production details, but with independent films they’re made without a distributor attached. It went to festivals where it was quickly picked up by a company that ended up going out of business or something, so Penelope was then bought by a different company. They had a whole new take on the ad campaigns and how the film should be presented.
MM: How closely do you relate to Penelope?
CR: That’s one of the thing’s that is really great about this movie. It’s universal and it’s not just women who have insecurities. A lot of this movie is metaphor. Her having something as extreme as a pig nose translates to someone being shy – which is actually my problem. I have insecurities about my personality, which has been very daunting at times.
MM: What was it like working with Reese Witherspoon?
CR: It was wonderful. Initially the script was submitted to me by Reese. I’ve known Reese for years, and she and I have always talked about women’s issues and ever since she’s had a daughter she’s been telling me that once you have children, you really start to see the negative images out there in the world, especially for little girls. I was really excited to get involved. Catherine O’Hara is just as much fun to work with as she is to watch, and James McAvoy is an incredible actor, so I had a lot of fun with everybody on the movie.
MM: When and where was Penelope shot?
CR: We shot this movie in January 2006 in London and we filmed for about two and a half months. It was a lower budget film, so we didn’t have as many days for shooting.
MM: How do you choose your roles, and what attracted you to Penelope?
CR: The message that it had. I’m so sick of all the negative imagery that is out there for women right now. So many things are aimed at children that are exploitive, so when I read the script and realized that this was such an individualist film, I thought that this was awesome. It’s not preachy or patronizing. Kids really absorb messages in films and I really wanted to be a part of this. It depends – if Scorsese offered me a role, I probably wouldn’t even read the script.
MM: Penelope gets her share of fame in the film. Do you like being in the limelight?
CR: I love being an actress and I love everything that goes along with it. I know it’s probably tragically uncool to say, but I do like having my picture taken, and photoshoots and being recognized.
MM: With recent serious dramatic performances in Monster, Home of the Brave and Black Snake Moan, do you find yourself trying to balance it out with a more lighthearted role?
CR: I think it’s a natural thing. When I finished Black Snake Moan, I was all cried out. I had a really hard time producing tears after that film. I’d better do something where I don’t have to cry. I’m so lucky to be involved with so many different styles of acting and roles.
MM: What kind of message can guys get from watching Penelope?
CR: I don’t know if men have paid attention as much to the traditional fairy tale messages as women have. I’m not so sure if they know what kind of impact the themes have – such as waiting for your knight in shining armor – but this movie has a great message on the value of individuality. The director is a man, and he identified with the lead character.
MM: Did any funny or crazy things happen on set, and did you ever leave the set with the pig nose still on?
CR: I never left the set with the nose on. Sometimes I did forget that it was on and I’d want to go to a Starbucks around the corner, and halfway out the door I’d realize I had this thing on my face. We had a great cast and I can’t say enough how hysterical Catherine O’Hara was. When Simon Woods and I finally sat down with her and both admitted how much we loved her, we gushed. Her “drunk” is the best I’ve ever seen. She was gracious enough that she walked us through how she created her “drunk” and taught us how to be more improvisational. After that, Simon and I tried to be a little more daring and worked on our “drunks” and that was a great memory. Not a lot of actors are like that.
MM: You were quoted as saying that you always wanted to play a psycho killer in a film. What kind would you be?
CR: You’ll probably find this disappointing, but that was something I said to a journalist when I was 15 or 16, and when I was a teenager I was a little obnoxious. I never liked to give the journalists the answers I knew they wanted. I regret it, because that quote does not go away.
MM: What was it like wearing the pig snout?
CR: I got lucky and didn’t have to wear it as much as you’d think. Every time I have a scarf on, I don’t have the pig nose. I did get to a point where I was sick of it though. It took about an hour and a half to put the nose on and then hair and makeup would put traditional beauty makeup over the pig nose. I had a rule that I couldn’t think about how irritating the pig nose was until four hours before we wrapped, because I knew that if I acknowledged it early on, it would drive me crazy. It’s never that comfortable to have something glued to your face.