Christina Ricci first became a household name when she was only a child. Aged just nine when she made her film debut in 1990’s Mermaids, Ricci’s featured role as Wednesday Addams in 1991’s The Addams Family and its 1993 sequel Addams Family Values brought her Hollywood fame while still a pre-teen. By her next film, however, Ricci already felt too old to be a child star.
Ricci was 13 when she made Casper, the family-friendly 1995 blockbuster based on the classic cartoon series. Though it won fans, the film embarrassed the teen Ricci, who at the time was struggling to move away from child roles and was already battling anorexia and body image issues brought on by Hollywood expectations.
The “glory days”
Born February 12, 1980, Christina Ricci was the youngest of four children in a somewhat eccentric family. Her mother, Sarah, was a former fit model for Twiggy and real estate agent, while her father, Ralph, ran a primal scream therapy business “with a bit of a cult following”. Ralph worked from the Ricci house’s basement, meaning that future gothic star Christina grew up with the sound of regular shrieks and howls.
Christina, who has since described herself as “very outgoing” as a kid, got to establishing her acting career from an early age: when she was eight years old, she starred in spoof commercials for Saturday Night Live. Not long after, Ricci landed a prominent role in the 1990 movie Mermaids, alongside Cher and Winona Ryder.
Ricci has praised her Mermaids co-star Cher as a positive influence, noting: “She was so open and so incredibly kind and generous. I learned a ton from her. I could ask her directly, ‘How do you do it? How do you make yourself cry?’ And she would try to help me learn how to do it. She was great.”
When she starred as the deadpan and macabre Wednesday Addams in the 1991 comedy The Addams Family, Ricci shot to new levels of fame. She has described the making of this film, along with sequel Addams Family Values, as her “glory days”.
“I loved working. I loved being a kid who had a talent,” Ricci has said. “I loved being good at something. I loved all that positive reinforcement I got every day. I loved getting to use my imagination in a way that really created things. It was incredible to be able to do that so young.”
Casper and beginning of difficult teen years
Ricci landed her first role as a leading lady in 1994, when she was cast as Kat Harvey in Casper. It was the first feature-length film to have an entirely CGI lead character, and when the film was released in 1995, it was a box office hit. To Ricci, however, the film and its making proved an annoyance.
“There was a lot going on in my life,” Ricci has said of that time. “Everything was very difficult. I was just always annoyed, and I just don’t think I tried very hard, to tell you the truth. Embarrassingly, I have to say, I don’t think I tried as hard as maybe I should have.”
Casper began shooting in January 1994 and ended in June the same year; cast in the film aged 12, Ricci turned 13 during the shoot. Now a teenager in what was a child-friendly movie, Ricci lacked the passion that she had had on the Addams Family movies.
In a 2022 interview with Marc Maron, Ricci recalled cringing as she rewatched Casper with her son many years later: “[Kat] is supposed to be an obnoxious teen, but I was showing my son and I remember thinking, ‘No, that was not a good line reading at all. No commitment.'”
(When asked to comment on Ricci’s self-criticism, her Casper co-star Devon Sawa had a diplomatic response: “[When] you’re a kid, you’ve got a lot to learn…She’s a powerhouse as an actress now.”)
“I never enjoyed those days”
There were many reasons why Ricci was distracted during the making of Casper. Around that time, filmmakers had begun insisting that Ricci’s costumes were adapted to disguise her teenage body. “When I was 12 or 13 and started to have boobs, they would talk about how to make me look less womanly,” she has said. “It made me really uncomfortable. I did not enjoy that.”
The new body scrutiny put Ricci in an extremely uncomfortable position. “People would basically all get together and look at you and decide how to fix everything that was wrong with you,” she noted. “And I never enjoyed those days of everybody talking about my flaws.”
“The production – the movie being made – is more important than any individual’s feelings,” she elaborated. “So they didn’t have to consider my feelings. That can be a big problem when you’re a kid.” Ricci began to struggle with anorexia during this period.
Making things more complicated, while Ricci was filming Casper her parents – who had already separated before Christina turned 13 – went through a divorce. Ricci has since called this a relief to the family rather than a stress: “They were divorced when I was 13, although I was thrilled, we were all thrilled…It was one of those situations.”
Move into teen roles: “It was just gross”
Ricci had always enjoyed a work-life separation as a child, with her schoolmates ignoring her other life as a film star. However, this ended when she joined high school after Casper reached cinemas, and it soon became “very difficult” to blend in with her peers.
In fact, when Ricci was offered the chance to reprise her role for a Casper sequel, she turned the film down, saying in a 1995 interview: “It was fun, but I want to move away from the whole Casper thing.”
Following one more family-friendly film in 1997’s That Darn Cat, Ricci moved on to more mature roles in films including The Ice Storm (1997), The Opposite of Sex (1998), Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Monster (2003).
Still, teen roles brought a new set of stresses to Ricci’s life. “The sexual aspects of all those roles were not something I liked,” Ricci has recalled. “For me, those kinds of things are just necessary evils… But I hated the whole ‘sexy’ thing, and people talking about my boobs. It was just gross to me. Totally gross.”
Growing up and looking back: “I think I lashed out”
Today, Ricci is married to hairdresser Mark Hampton and has two children. She recently received an Emmy nomination for her role in the TV show Yellowjackets. Though she loved acting as a child, she has expressed concerns about what childhood fame does to a person.
“I was twisting in the wind, I was like a bug under a magnifying glass in the sun,” Ricci has said of her child and teen stardom. “People are asking you questions and you have to provide an answer, no matter how uncomfortable you are. I think I lashed out.”