Christina Ricci Interview – PENELOPE

     February 25, 2008

Opening this Friday is “Penelope,” a modern day fairy tale that stars Christina Ricci as a woman born with a pig nose. When you first read that one liner… I’m sure you’re wondering about the movie. But don’t worry, the film is really well done and it’s about figuring out who you are and loving yourself no matter what. Here’s the official synopsis:

Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), born to wealthy socialites (Catherine O’Hara and Robert E. Grant), is afflicted by the Wilhern spell that can only be broken when she finds love. Hidden away in her family’s estate, the lonely girl meets a string of suitors in her parent’s futile attempt to break the curse. Each eligible bachelor is enamored with Penelope and her sizable dowry … until her curse is revealed.

Lemon (Peter Dinklage), a mischievous and eager tabloid reporter wants a photograph of the mysterious Penelope and hires Max (James McAvoy) to pose as a prospective suitor to get the shot. The handsome down-on-his luck gambler finds himself falling for Penelope, but not wanting to disappoint her or to expose his surreptitious ways, he decides to disappear.

Fed up by his latest betrayal and determined to live life on her own terms, Penelope breaks free from her family and ventures into the world alone. She finds adventure and Annie, her first friend (Reese Witherspoon) and becomes the person she was meant to be.

Anyway, awhile back they held a press day and I was able to participate in a roundtable interview with Christina. She talked about making the movie, the prosthetics, why the role was important to her, and of course we talked about “Speed Racer.”

As usual, if you’d like to hear the audio from the interview, you can click here for the MP3. And if you want to know more on “Penelope,” here are some movie clips and the trailer. Again, “Penelope” opens this Friday.

Question: When did you go blond?

Christina Ricci: A month or two ago? They cut it for Speed Racer into like a big stream bob then dyed it black. Then I thought it would be a little bit easier to grow out if it wasn’t black. When it was like that it was Louise Brooks. It was a little intense. I don’t need to see this much of my face, ever.

Q: The film finally to be coming out?

Christina Ricci:
It’s great. It’s great. I really have loved this movie from the beginning and I just thought it’s a really valuable movie to have out there in the marketplace for people to see and sort of get the message of.

Q Why did the date keep sliding?

CR: I don’t know.

Q: Why do people judge each other for the way they look?

CR: Physical attraction? I don’t know. Don’t they say it’s some kind of biological imperative kind of thing? I’ve heard you are looking for the immune system that will fill in the blanks in yours. There is some other biological one I’ve heard somewhere. I’m not sure. Also, you are supposed to be attracted to your parents. That happens. Somebody finds a father figure or a mother figure.

Q: Behind the mirror though?

CR: Well, I think she does have a big nose. It is an abnormality and I think that it would be something you would definitely have to get past. So I don’t blame them for their initial reaction being a bit shocked or startled. I don’t think they have to run screaming, but I definitely think it’s proven with James’ character that once he does talk to her and he does get to know her and they do click, they do respond to each other on an emotional level. But then when he sees her it is something he’s taken aback by, but literally sees her and see what she’s probably had to deal with for her whole life and all that stuff, and you can tell in that scene, which is beautifully played by James because you get the feeling what he’s thinking about, oh god, she’s had to deal with this forever, and thinking about who she is in spite of it and all that stuff. But I mean, we are all very superficial.

Q: Did you wear the nose off set?

CR: I would go in my trailer and sometimes I’d be about to walk out to the Sock Shop and then realize that I had my nose on and I wasn’t allowed to leave.

Q: How did you like wearing it?

CR: I got used to it, but I had this rule that I couldn’t touch it or acknowledge it until 4 in the afternoon or 3 hours before wrap because if I started at the beginning of the day I would just be irritated by it all day, but if I waited until then it was only 3 hours of me being like, oh, get this thing off of me!

Q: The makeup process?

CR: Initially they did a face cast. And then Scott, who did the prosthetic, he’s just started building and working on the noses and prosthetics and had to make them look the most seamless. And he does that work while I’m not around, and I just come to set and they do one. They just glue it on your face. I fell asleep a lot. We had a couple different noses that they tested at one point. Mark and Scott had this really hideous, awfully unattractive snout that they wanted. And then there was this really cute Miss Piggy snout. All the girls were like, oh no, we should have that one. And so we ended up meeting somewhere in the middle.

Q: The most important message in the film?

CR: I think for me the most important message is to not allow your insecurities and the criticism that other people put on you to cripple you and to keep you from living your life. Penelope is literally trapped in a house because she’s ugly. And what better metaphor for people not going out and enjoying life or seeing amazing things or going to the beach because you think you are fat or something. People are not experiencing life because they are so insecure that they are literally crippled and trapped. So for me I think that’s a huge message in it that I think people need to learn a little bit earlier. That would be a great thing to teach your children. And also, the message in the movie in the end is self-acceptance. And she ends up loving herself. She ends up appreciating all the qualities that make her who she is, and not attaching anything negative to, it is what it is. And it only has to be negative if you let it be.

Q: What does this teach you about love?

CR: I think it’s the first time she’s really liked anyone who’s been in there. I think he’s very soulful and she hasn’t seen a lot of men like that and mostly they are superficial, and he’s mysterious to her. And I think in the end she doesn’t understand that his look is, not sympathetic, because he doesn’t feel sorry for her, but more empathetic. And when he won’t marry her, he has honesty. That love is honest.

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Q: Working with James?

CR: James is great. He’s amazing. He’s such a good actor and very dedicated. When you work with a really great actor you sort of have this feeling of being like partners in crime, and he certainly gave that sense of trust and teammateness. Yes, it’s so funny. We block all those things immediately. I don’t think anyone realizes it. I can’t remember a sex scene. I can’t remember making out with any specific people. It’s all just hitting your mark, not blocking the other person’s light, that kind of stuff.

Q: Can you talk about working with Catherine?

CR: It was great. I really love her. I’ve always been a huge fan of hers and she was always everybody’s first choice in this movie. And she’s just hysterical. And finally one day, Simon and I got up the courage to sort of gush and tell her everything we loved about her. And she is such a lovely person so she was just very gracious about it. And then I asked her, how do you do your drunk? Because your drunk is the best drunk I’ve ever seen, like in Waiting for Guffman. I saw that movie 4 times in the theater, and that opening scene in the Chinese restaurant, it’s a wide shot. It’s all four of them, but you are like, in one second, immediately it cuts to it. And you are like, what’s wrong with Catherine O’Hara? And then you realize she’s drunk. But even from far away, she just gives off like, she’s not doing anything! And you can tell! It’s just sort of a quality and she just encouraged us to be more spontaneous and not worry about getting yelled at if we ad-lib or make something up. And she taught us how she had put her own drunk together and how we needed to do the same. I was like, alright, it’s cool.

Q: Reese Witherspoon as producer?

CR: She was very hands-on. She was there all the time because it was in the middle of awards seasons and it’s when she won her Academy Award and everything. So she was not there the whole time, but she was very involved. She saw dailies every day and she sent notes to set and all that stuff. And then when she came we had a good time. We were just running around the streets of London doing stupid things.

Q: Favorite stories?

CR: It was pretty funny at one point. We were on the process trailer on the Vespa and she’s riding through London and she’s just won the Academy Award and everyone is just like screaming at her, yelling, that’s Reese Witherspoon! And I was like, yeah, two days ago, you were in a gown accepting the Academy Award. And now you are freezing cold in a ridiculous looking motorcycle helmet on a Vespa in the middle of London looking as twee as possible, both of us.

Collider: I wanted to switch to another subject and just ask you what your experiences were like in Berlin.

Christina Ricci: Really good. We had—I always say we because the cast was together all the time and you know it was very ensemble but I had the most…I had a great time making that movie. I love those directors so much. They’re just amazing. And the cast was great and everything we got to do was so much fun, you know. I think we were like little action figures.

Collider: What was your reaction to seeing the trailer for the first time and was that your first time seeing footage?

Christina Ricci: No, at the end of the film the Wachowski’s had like a little…not a gift really…but a little moral booster for everybody, they edited together 15 minutes with some scenes that had shot—scenes that had been completed with effects and some without effects but just so that we could really get a feeling of the movie and we were just—I was just so excited. I couldn’t really express my excitement properly so I just pogoed Andy and it’s just like nothing I’ve seen before and it’s so much fun and exciting and the car chase stuff is just like crazy and sort of like on the edge of your seat stuff but then there’s a story to it that’s really touching and really moving. There were boys crying after 15 minutes. I had to tell you if I had a heart…

Collider: What was the most surprising thing about working with the Wachowski Brothers?

Christina Ricci: Surprising? I guess I’m just at a point where I don’t go into situations with any preconceptions because I’ve been in so many different situations. Like they told me Woody Allen would never speak to me and I walked on-set and he was like why aren’t you talking to me? So, at this point I don’t really put any expectations on things but I have gotten to know them as wonderful human beings and as people who really sort of care about our world and are very…they’re just lovely and smart and kind and like true. Truly great, real people. And there were so many nights that were just sort of fun in Berlin and they’ve definitely created a family for themselves with the people they work with all the time, the same crew. And you understand that they do that because they’re really caring, great guys.

Q: How do you prepare for a role like this?

CR: I think to play somebody really well you should fully understand them, who they are, and what’s happening to them. And I think, really for me, it was this idea that your insecurities being blown so far out of proportion that you might as well have a deformity. Because there is a certain age when that happens, then you won’t leave the house because you have a pimple, but it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in your life. Or you get a bad haircut and it’s so blown out of proportion that you really have emotionally turned it into something that you hate about yourself. So I kind of took that and I just sort of used that, her situation as a metaphor, and you kind of slip in how you felt then. And really, this movie for me, it’s all about people and their insecurities stand in the way of them having a wonderful, fulfilled life.

Q: A situation in your life you could relate to this?

CR: No, just generally the idea of you choose to be happy. The whole idea of what the kids says, it’s not the curse, it’s the power you give the curse. It’s sort of like, if you choose to be criticized and to feel that criticism and to then carry it with you, then you are going to be miserably unhappy and insecure. But if you choose to lose that self-consciousness and the importance you place on the physical appearance, then you’ll actually get to be present in the situations and see the world and enjoy yourself.

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