In ABC’s new series Pan Am, Christina Ricci—the latest film star turned TV regular—plays flight attendant Maggie. To shoot the ’60s-set drama in New York, Ricci left her dogs, boyfriend and house in L.A. and returned to the city where she went to high school. (In NYC, it turns out, even a Hollywood A-lister needs a roomie; “it just made more financial sense to share with somebody,” Ricci says.) After a day of shooting in Brooklyn, the 31-year-old spoke in the car on the way to a fashion event in Lower Manhattan.
You’d been looking for a TV role for a while. Did film become less appealing or TV just more so?
Doing films as an actor, you spend maybe 40 percent of the year doing your chosen profession. If you are on a successful TV show, you spend 80 percent of your year doing the thing you love.
Both of the new ’60s shows, Pan Am and Playboy Club, depict women of the era as gaining independence through their work lives, but it comes through serving other people. Do you see that as ironic or just a reflection of the times?
If we’re going to make a show about the ’60s and we’re going to be historically accurate, then there is a certain level of what women’s situation was at the time. In the ’60s, there were limited jobs that lent themselves to women being self-sufficient, and this was one of them.
One question, though, is why that story line appeals to us now. Maureen Dowd wrote that, with shows like these, male TV execs are expressing nostalgia for a time when gender roles were clearer, when men clearly had the power. Any truth to that?
Oh, God, I don’t know and certainly hope not. That to me is just appalling.
The show’s EP, Nancy Ganis, who used to be a Pan Am stewardess, said that when gender lines got blurred in the sexual revolution, “I don’t think it liberated women; I think it gave men license to disrespect.”
I don’t think I am educated well enough or have enough information to really have a clear perspective on that. I don’t know enough about the sexual revolution, and Nancy certainly lived through that whole time, so I don’t really know.
One thing the pilot made me nostalgic for was a time when flying was enjoyable.
Yeah. [Laughs] [It was] a time when you could arrive ten minutes before your flight and just have fun on the plane, and all of that sounds absolutely fantastic.
That episode shows a little girl gazing at the stewardesses, clearly influenced by their sense of independence. Who were those role models for you as a girl?
When I was a little girl—well, like, a teenager—I wanted to be Sam Jackson. I always wanted to be men. [Laughs]
Black men in particular.
Yeah, I really did. Before that it was Richard Pryor. Sam Jackson—I was 14, Pulp Fiction came out, and I was just like, He’s the coolest motherfucker who’s ever lived. I want to be that man.
Have you shared this with him?
Oh, yeah, I told him when I did Black Snake Moan with him. He thought it was hilarious.
And now who do you aspire to be?
I’m merely trying to be something akin to a nice, kind, good actress. [Laughs]
Speaking of: Maggie is different from the darker, sarcastic characters you became known for with films like Addams Family and Opposite of Sex, but she still has that Christina Ricci rebellious thread.
Yeah, it was explained to me early on that [creator] Jack [Orman] would be spending quite a lot of time with us, and how it works in television is that your personality and what the writers observe of you ends up getting mixed in quite a bit. Things about you start being reflected in the story lines.
What things about you?
I have a bit of an authority problem, and I tend to be somebody who speaks before thinking about what they’re saying. And I tend to fight for what I think is right. I fix problems that aren’t necessarily my own.
You mean with family and friends?
No, I mean like at work and shit. I’ve gotten less impulsive with age, but it’s still something I just do.
A longtime theme in articles about you concerns body image: your early experience with anorexia, your weight gain and loss. Pan Am also looks at body image: the inspections of the stewardesses and their girdles.
It doesn’t have much to do with Maggie’s character. Maggie doesn’t wear a girdle because she doesn’t feel comfortable, not because she has any feelings about her body. And that was so long ago for me that it doesn’t really cross my mind very often.
Pan Am premieres September 25 at 9pm on ABC.