The Amazon original series Z: The Beginning of Everything is a fictionalized telling of the life of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (played flawlessly by Christina Ricci), a brilliantly talented Southern Belle who became an icon of the Jazz Age in the 1920s. Under-valued and under-appreciated by her own family, Zelda found herself instantly attracted to and intrigued by writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (David Hoflin) when they met, and their turbulent marriage turned them into the celebrity couple of their time while she also fought to establish her own identity as an artist, never wanting to live in someone else’s shadow.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Christina Ricci (who is also an executive producer on the series) talked about how much fun she had playing this complex and unpredictable woman, humanizing such mythical people, why she wanted to work with Amazon, being a binge-watcher, why Zelda was a woman before her time, not judging the relationship between Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the unusual nature of making a half-hour drama, and why she feels more at home with cable and streaming TV versus network television.
Collider: How was it to have the opportunity to inhabit somebody like this, who has every level of emotion, and sometimes all at once?
CHRISTINA RICCI: It’s really fun to play a complicated, complex, unpredictable, undefinable woman because I feel like that’s real. That’s what human beings are. So, this part was just so much fun. There was so much freedom within playing her because she did have so many complexities.
How did this come about, and did you have any hesitation about taking on this role?
RICCI: This show is based on a book, called Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler. It is a fictionalized, first-person account of their marriage, based on letters. So, when I read the book, I was so struck by her. The book lays out this intimidating, legendary world, and she created this voice, coming from the center of it, but it was very relatable and human. That was my way into this interesting world. It humanized these mythical people.
It took people a little while to catch on to the kind of programming that Amazon offers, but they’ve had some real success now with their TV series. When did you realize that doing a streaming series was a viable option?
RICCI: A couple years ago. I read the book, and then I found out the option was available, so I took the book to Pam Koffler and Christine Vachon at Killer Films. Pam and I brought it to Amazon three years ago because we loved what they were doing and we thought it was so exciting. Also, there’s a lot of artistic freedom and integrity with Amazon. That was something we wanted to be a part of.
When you watch TV, are you a binge-watcher, or do you prefer to savor episodes?
RICCI: I like to binge-watch, a lot. I don’t have that kind of self-control.
When this pilot was posted on Amazon, did you ever look at the customer feedback to see how people were responding to it, or do you steer clear of that sort of thing?
RICCI: In that situation, I did. With that whole thing where you post it, and then people react to it, and then based on whatever their formula is, Amazon looks at all of the information gathered and makes a decision, so we were at home biting our nails, waiting to see. We would read the customer reviews and try to ascertain whether they were going to pick the show up, and if they did pick it up, maybe some of the comments were worth listening to. I did actually listen to the audience because a lot of the comments were about the accent. So, when we went to do the series, I took another look at the accent and make sure it was easier for a modern day audience to believe.
Did you have a moment where you felt like you really got who Zelda was and you understood her?
RICCI: Yeah. I still don’t think I absolutely know who she is, but I certainly developed an instinct for how she should react and who the character was, in terms of behavior and reactions to things.
Do you see her as a woman who was before her time?
RICCI: Yeah, I really think that she was out of place, and I think that that’s a lot of why, all of a sudden, people are interested in her. Society, or the world, in general, or maybe it’s the zeitgeist, had to evolve and develop to a point where women could see themselves in other’s behavior and in her personality. Now, all of a sudden, she’s relatable and believable because we are the way she was, back in the ‘20s. I think it’s very important to understand how much the time that she was in had to do with what happened to her. That period of time is a character in our story.
Do you think there was an instant intrigue and attraction for Zelda, when it came to F. Scott Fitzgerald?
RICCI: I think she was immediately intrigued. She liked how aggressive he was. She liked how confident he was. She also liked that he was not Southern. She was very much a Southern Belle, who was meant to be married off to one of these Southern gentlemen she grew up with. She eschewed anything that was a part of her childhood because she saw that her mother had really big dreams that she wasn’t able to pursue. I think Zelda was terrified of becoming her mother, so she wanted someone outside of that world. So, she was instantly attracted to all of those things about him, as well as his ambition. And she did want to be famous. She wanted to see the world. She had a huge appetite and she recognized, in him, the same thing. She was also somebody who really loved to be worshipped, and he absolutely worshipped her. I don’t think she realized what the consequences of that were. It’s a very common, immature thing to love somebody just because they want you, or to want to be with the person who wants you to love them, and that’s what she acted on.
Zelda was undervalued by her own family, which tends to stifle people and make them withdrawn, but it seemed to have made her want to be even bigger with her personality. She also didn’t want to just be known as Mrs. Fitzgerald. Why do you think it was that her own identity and her own voice was really so important to her?
RICCI: She wasn’t someone who ever wanted to be in anyone else’s shadow. She was very, very famous, in her small world of Montgomery. She was a big fish in a small pond. She wanted to stand on her own two feet and be admired for her. I don’t think she’d ever experienced being over-shadowed before she went to New York. She always thought that they would both be famous artists. I don’t think she realized that the whole point was for him to be a famous artist and for her to be his wife.
Do you think life would have been very different for Zelda, if she had never met F. Scott Fitzgerald?
RICCI: Yeah, it would have been very different for her. Absolutely! I don’t know how, on earth, any of us could know what would have actually happened, but yes, she would have had a very different life, if she had married one of the Montgomery boys and lived safely.
How do you view the relationship between Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald? Do you think they were destined to be together?
RICCI: I don’t know. I’m not somebody who really has a theory like that. I don’t know if I believe in fate. I don’t know if I believe in anything. I also don’t think that we can judge other people’s definitions of love. Love means so many different things to different people, and who am I to say what love is and what love isn’t. I think they were very immature, very selfish and very arrogant. I don’t know if, on their own, they would have destroyed themselves, but I do think that they loved each other and, in certain ways, worshipped each other’s talent. After everything else was gone, I think they both had such incredible admiration for each other, in terms of the talent that they had.
This show is just so beautiful to look at, visually and cinematically.
RICCI: Thank you!
When you shot this, did you approach it as episodes, or did you tackle it as one long movie?
RICCI: We weren’t sure. Half-hour drama is really something very new. We felt it was very new for us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another half-hour drama. That was something we were figuring out, as we went along. Do we do a full episode arc, every episode? Is there even time for an episode arc, if it’s 28 minutes? It was something that we really found. Ultimately, in editing, we decided to make it feel less like each episode had an arc to it ‘cause there’s just not enough time.
You’ve done network TV, in the past, but cable and streaming have such fewer restrictions, in the amount of episodes, the length of the episodes, the language, and not having to write to commercial breaks. Do you think you’d ever consider returning to network TV, or is cable and streaming a more attractive and more appealing place for you?
RICCI: I think that cable and streaming are a better home for me. I don’t think network television would particularly want me, and I don’t know that I particularly want it. I think this is a better match. I’m not very good at knowing what the body politic wants to see. I don’t necessarily have a great history for picking super mainstream things.
Z: The Beginning of Everything is available to stream at Amazon Prime on January 27th.