Christina Ricci Interviewed – ‘Black Snake Moan’

     March 1, 2007

Make no mistake Christina Ricci is all grown up. Any stereotype she used to have has been turned on its head as her performance in Black Snake Moan is the reason to see this film. She gave herself fully to the role and it shows on screen.

In the film Christina plays Rae and she’s been used by every guy in town to satisfy her insatiable needs asshe is addicted to sex. After her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) leaves town her needs take over and she gets herself into a bad situation as she’s left for dead on the side of the road. It’s there that Lazarus (Sam Jackson) finds her and decides to cure her wicked ways. That’s why you see the chain on the poster and in the commercials she tied to a radiator and can’t escape. As the film progresses we learn that each one has been damaged and only together can they save each another.

The interview with Christina Ricci was conducted two weeks ago in roundtable form – meaning a room of us were asking questions. That’s also why some of the questions are really good and some leave you wondering….

If you would like to listen to the interview instead of reading it click here. And if you want to check out the trailer you can watch it here.

I also did a roundtable with John Singleton and Stephanie Allain (the Producers) but didn’t transcribe the entire conversation. I did post an article on Iron Fist which had select comments from John, but click here to listen to the entire conversation.

Black Snake Moan arrives in theaters tomorrow.

Question: Sam mentioned that you insisted on using the real chain and I think that that’s a good example of how far you were willing to go for Rae. What was it about her that made you decide to go that far?

Christina Ricci: Well, I think there are millions of women like Rae out there and the link between childhood sexual abuse and promiscuity in women and low self worth and post traumatic stress and low self esteem. That link has been well established. And when I read the script, she was such an honest representation in a way without judgment on that kind of person and I thought, ‘oh, it’s so great to see someone who’s not sugar coated’ because that implies judgment. Then when I started doing more research about survivors of childhood sexual abuse and really understanding and reading testimonials and statistics and really understanding what she would be suffering from and the pain and fears and anxieties that were really her motivating emotions. I just felt so much compassion for her and felt really compelled to kind of protect her by playing her.

Was it comfortable playing a person like that?

Christina Ricci: Well, it’s not uncomfortable when you’re playing them. It’s uncomfortable to get into character because for me that’s somebody who expresses themselves and views the world in a polar opposite way than I do. But once I did all that research and I really understood where all these behaviors were coming from, those emotions are so strong that they’re kind of the easy ones to get lost in because they are so strong and overwhelming. So it was difficult to kind of get into that mode of always seeing everything through this anxiety and this fear. But then once I was in that place, all the mannerisms and everything were really motivated from all that emotion and then once I was there, it wasn’t that hard.

Sam also said that he got used to having you hanging around the set almost naked. Do you imagine that’s something people could get used to?

Christina Ricci: Well they had to. It was really necessary for the crew to be used to it because I was playing someone who has no sense of her body and places no value on her body. Her body has never done anything but cause harm and she has no regard for herself so she wouldn’t care if she were clothed or not. And as an actress, when you’re playing someone like that, I think it’s inappropriate for you to have any kind of vanity. And I needed to lose any sort of self consciousness because I feel sometimes you can see self consciousness in a performance when somebody is naked or in a nude scene and I really needed for that not to be there so to help me, I stayed the way I would be for the scene all the time in order to get the crew really used to seeing me that way so that I was comfortable — not only was I comfortable but I would look at anybody’s face and not see them uncomfortable — because if someone else is uncomfortable, it makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong.

What about the level of trust you and Sam had to have with each other? Was that easy to find? Did you take some time and talk about this?

Christina Ricci: No, it was pretty immediate. He and I, immediately once we were doing rehearsals, kind of realized that we were going to work really well together and that we could really trust each other. I was so flattered by that because I’ve loved him for so long and I was kind of intimidated and kind of felt like, ‘god, I hope he likes me (laughs) and I hope he thinks I’m a good actress.’ So when I realized that he trusted me and respected me and I, of course, already trusted and respected him, it was amazing and to be able to rely on each other like that and know that we were in each other’s hands and in really good hands and you can be really vulnerable with that person, it was such a great feeling. It’s rare to have a partner like that in those scenes where you can just lose yourself because you know you’re in someone’s hands who cares about you and will take care of you.

How easy was it for you to understand her journey when you read it on the page?

Christina Ricci: Well I recognized it, as I said, because I know a lot about… I have read over time and you see a lot about this occurrence, and this sort of phenomena of women being created this way unfortunately and having this be the response to sexual abuse. But then once I started reading about it… because the first thing I wanted to look at was this nymphomania idea and so I did research online and found out that nymphomania is basically a defunct word and any psychiatrist worth their salt will tell you that it basically means nothing now except that it’s a male fantasy. There is sex addiction but nymphomania is really not something that’s really widely used. It’s like calling someone crazy. It doesn’t mean anything really. But then I went back and looked at, okay, what is she probably suffering from? And what she would have been suffering from, what fits the description, post traumatic stress is the thing which best fits what she’s going through. And if you think about it, if she’s a child who everyday is being sexually abused, then everyday she’s living with this dread and fear knowing something’s coming, knowing it’s going to happen at some point. And ironically the only time that she experiences relief or calm is after the abuse has occurred because it’s when at least she can relax knowing it’s not going to happen again until the next day. So when someone’s suffering from post traumatic stress, they’re experiencing the same emotions long after the event has stopped. So it could be 40 years ago but you still feel that same kind of anxiety and stress of waiting for the abuse to occur. And if the only way she ever found relief before was from the abuse, now she’s an adult with this horrifying, crippling anxiety and fear. She’s got to then become almost her own abuser because no one’s ever taught her another way to get any kind of relief or release from her pain. So she creates these situations of degrading, anonymous, painful sex and that’s her way of abusing herself and creating at least momentary relief. And also, when I was reading tons of testimonials, there’s a lot you read expressed by many individuals that they’d rather die than ever be raped again. And so you can kind of understand her saying this is never going to happen to me again and it’s not going to happen to me again because I’m going to do it to myself first.

Isn’t it sort of ironic, I think the big change or the difference in the film is when she basically rapes Lincoln, when Rae just grabs him, which is an amazing scene but I thought that was different from what you’re describing.

Christina Ricci: No, that is a great example of why this cycle has to be broken. You know, the cycle of violence, the cycle of abuse at some point has to end and that is a great example of how she’s keeping it going by hurting herself and she’s keeping it going by hurting someone else. And then there’s the change after that where maybe that event in itself was enough for her to say, ‘now I’m hurting someone else. It’s got to change.’ But she is hurting him because she’s trying again to create another anonymous situation that relieves her anxiety. So it’s sort of like she’s not out to hurt him, but she does inadvertently. It’s really her trying to create another situation like she had in the motel room. So, I don’t know, I kind of got off track. (laughs)

Why doesn’t Lazarus put clothes on her immediately? It seems with what he has in mind for her that would be the first thing he would have done.

Christina Ricci: Well he goes to the store and gets her medicine for her pneumonia, right? And at the same time gets her dresses? Or is that a different trip?

That was later.

Christina Ricci: That was a little bit later? Well maybe he figures since she’s sick still and she’s still in bed and feverish… I mean she’s not getting up and walking around. It’s when she finally gets up and is going to walk around that he goes and gets her dresses.

How did you like working with Justin Timberlake and how did you like his acting?

Christina Ricci: I thought he was great and Justin is so much fun to be around. He’s really silly and goofy and we had a great time on set. And I was really, really impressed with his acting. He was great. He really connects with other actors in the scenes and he could do a lot of things that took me years to learn how to do. (laughs)

Justin’s a quick study. Can you share one of those funny stories really quick?

Christina Ricci: Well he used to make fun of me because I can’t dance and I asked him to teach me how to pop and lock and apparently popping and locking are two different things so that’s nonsense basically, popping and locking, and I was like, ‘oh, okay, well then never mind.’ (laughs) So I never got my dance lesson because popping and locking doesn’t mean anything. It’s nonsense.

How about that world of the South that the film takes place in? I mean you grew up here and I know that as an actor you can put yourself in another locale but did you spend some time there? Did you try to absorb what’s going on?

Christina Ricci: Well I think before I went down there I learned an accent as one does. My assistant at the time was born and raised in Memphis and her sister happens to be a linguist, so even for my audition she put all my dialogue on tape and I listened to it. And then when I got the part, she read the whole script onto a tape and I listened to the scenes before I’d go out and do them. But when you’re in that situation, when you’re down in the South and you’re surrounded by Southerners every day and working, you start to just act like and speak like and feel like a Southerner and there’s definitely a different kind of calm and [it’s] laid back. It’s just different. I don’t know how to express it really. I’m totally a Northerner through and through, but when I was down there and surrounded by people, I just sort of … It’s very infectious.

Can you tell us about Penelope?

Christina Ricci: Penelope is a great story. It’s got a lot of heart like this one does. It’s basically a really wonderful story for young girls. It’s a fairy tale in which my character is cursed, her family is cursed, and she is born with the face of a pig. She’s got a pig nose. The family believes… there’s this riddle of how to break the curse and the family believes that it is to find a man who will love her in spite of her nose, when really the moral of the story is that she had the power all the time, that all she needed to do was love and accept herself.

Is that a make-up job?

Christina Ricci: No, I grew a pig’s nose.

Q: Yeah. Obviously [inaudible] talk about that. I deserved that comment. (laughs) You’ve done make-up jobs before. Was this easier or harder?

Christina Ricci: (laughing) Yeah. It was a prosthetic but it wasn’t very hard. It was actually pretty easy. We got it down to an hour and a half in the morning and then a half hour of removal so it wasn’t that bad.

How would you describe the relationship between Rae and her mother? Do you think that’s the cause for her being how she is?

Christina Ricci: Well not only was she abused her whole life, but she was abandoned by the one person who was supposed to love her and that abandonment would have occurred when her mother allowed her stepfather to do what he did to her. And then to not be validated in what happened. That’s also extremely abusive to not validate somebody else’s painful, abusive experience. So that has a lot to do with her not ever having experienced any unconditional love and that’s really the thing, I think, that Lazarus gives her is this sort of unconditional love and respect and the basic respect that you just give another human being which she’s never really been given. And I think that’s what enables her to stop identifying herself with her past and sort of see a different person, see the person he sees.

Was it an easy decision to make this movie? Did you just decide, ‘I want to do this movie’?

Christina Ricci: Yeah, I did. I felt so strongly about Rae and about the experience that she and millions of others have survived and I felt a huge moral responsibility to do this and to do it right and to give it really the attention and the weight that it deserved. And also I wanted to give her the dignity that had been stripped from her. In reading testimonials, one of the biggest things that I read over and over again is that what these people felt as children was rage at this humiliation. All of a sudden their dignity was taken from them. And then the rage continues and how can you expect me to behave with any dignity when you’ve stripped me of it. So I really wanted to give that back to her in a way and protect her by playing her.

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Did you learn anything from Craig in regards to his vision of the South and the characters he’s had [inaudible]?

Christina Ricci: Well I know he’s very influenced by Tennessee Williams and I’ve always been a big Tennessee Williams fan so we talked about that and how that’s a big influence on the way he sees the South.

Was it hard to decompress from such a damaged character that you played?

Christina Ricci: It was harder to get into character. Once you’re coming out of the character, I think that’s something that just slowly happens the more you start to look like yourself again, the more you’re in your own home again. And it was kind of funny because, you know, I’m a prude and I do not like walking around naked and I was in my bathroom about two months after the movie finished and I was brushing my teeth and I was in my underwear and I looked down and it was like, ‘oh, god, put something on.’ And then I just stopped and thought, ‘oh my god, I was half naked for two months and my ass was on camera.’ So I called my sister and I was like, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe… Is it okay? I’m freaking out’ and she’s like, ‘no, no, it’s okay, you were playing a part.’ But it’s so interesting how when you come out of character and you become yourself again, you’re sort of like, ‘oh, wow, uh… I guess that’s okay.’ (laughs)

For a role like this and all the research and testimonials and everything, does it make you kind of count your blessings in a way?

Christina Ricci: Oh absolutely. I read some statistics about re-victimization that are just horrifying and so painful. Over the years I’ve done a lot of work with RAINN and ever since I got into the research and really understanding what happens to these victims, I’m starting to work ever more with them now because I feel like one of the things I would like for someone seeing this movie who maybe is a survivor of sexual assault is to see that it could be 40 years ago, but you still need to get counseling, you still need to get help. You don’t have to report the crime, but for your own ability to move on and have a life, you need to get help. And so that’s the thing that I got from this movie that I hope other people will get from this movie and the thing that I’m working with RAINN right now to try to get that message out there even more.

Are you concerned that some male viewers might watch you in that role and get kicks watching it when they should instead be feeling sorry for the character?

Christina Ricci: Yeah, I mean that is my concern but because those kinds of men exist, we have child rapists and rapists and those are the people who create this problem and so I have concerns about them even beyond how they react to this film.

On a slightly lighter note, did you do anything special to get in shape physically for this role because you look great in it?

Christina Ricci: Oh, thank you. I actually wanted her to look really unhealthy and like someone who didn’t take care of herself. The more you get into character, the easier it is to neglect yourself because she neglects herself. Someone mentioned something about looking like you’ve only been fed sugar your whole life so I started to eat only sugar and it kind of worked because I look really unhealthy in the movie. (laughs)

What kind of things did you eat?

Christina Ricci: Sugar. (laughs)

Ding Dongs or what?

Christina Ricci: Yeah, like basically nothing with nutritional value.

What’s the name of this organization that you’ve been working with?

Christina Ricci: RAINN.

RAINN? What does it stand for?

Christina Ricci: It’s Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network and they have a 24-hour hotline which is 1-800-656-HOPE. People can call and anonymously get referred to local counseling places and report crimes if they want to or just get the help they need.

What do people say to you about the poster and the kind of image that it portrays? It’s kind of interesting, in the office people were saying what they thought the movie would be about and somebody said it was probably sado-masochistic or something like that.

Christina Ricci: Well I feel like this movie has to be dissected from the inside out and at the very heart of this film is a story about two people who are in an incredible amount of pain who, by finding each other, manage to help each other heal. And then, as an actor, that’s how we look at it. And then the director comes and has a certain kind of style and vision that he wants to shoot the movie in. And then when it comes to advertising, they’re going to show the [inaudible-sounds like ‘thithing’]. That’s the most hellacious [thing] about the movie to get people into the theaters. And it also follows along the lines of… One of the themes for me making this movie — and I know I talked to Craig about it and he agreed – was this idea of the exploitation of women. And what I thought was so important about this film and what this film showed really well was how she’s been exploited her whole life to the point where she swallowed the exploitation and now as an adult she’s exploiting herself. And we used iconic images to sort of dress her in reference to these iconic, exploitive images. It’s showing how women are now regurgitating the exploitation that they are being put through. So that’s a lot of what that kind of thing in the film is about and I think that’s what the poster is about as well.

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