Having worked as an actress since she was 8 years old, Christina Ricci has had her share of breakout moments.
Like as a tiny backup singer and dancer behind Cher in the music video of “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss),” from the soundtrack of her film debut, the 1990 movie Mermaids. Or as disgruntled camper Wednesday Addams torturing camp counselor Christine Baranski in Addams Family Values—camp being the operative word here. As the steadfast lover to Charlize Theron’s serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film Monster. As a nymphomaniac chained to a radiator in 2006’s controversial Black Snake Moan. As 19th-century ax murderer Lizzie Borden in The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, which earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination in 2016.
And it just so happens that Ricci is breaking out again, this time in the hit series Yellowjackets, which returns to Showtime this spring. She plays Misty Quigley, a nurse whose behavior tends more sociopathic than empathetic. (She moonlights as an armchair internet sleuth.) Misty becomes caught up in a mystery related to her past, when her high school soccer team was involved in a deadly plane crash.
Critics have gone wild for Ricci’s performance. Just some of the headlines include “Misty Quigley Is Terrifying and Fascinating,” “In Defense of Misty Quigley, Yellowjackets’ Unsung Heroine” and “How Misty Quigley Became Yellowjackets’ Best Character.”
The Yellowjackets producers “came to me with this part,” says Ricci, who didn’t know much about Misty except for a short, poppy scene in the pilot. “But I read it and was super, super excited.”
“We can’t imagine anyone else in this role,” say series creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson. “We always knew that Misty needed to be played by an actress with both amazing comedic timing and incredible depth and humanity. It would have been all too easy for her to become a caricature, as opposed to a flesh-and-blood human for whom we can feel empathy, even as she says and does wild, unthinkable things. Luckily, Christina has an incredible ability to find the truth in even the most heightened circumstances.”
Another actress might be insulted by being recruited to play a psychopath. Not Ricci.
“It’s flattering. I’m very intrigued by people’s behavior who seem to be on the fringe, who don’t react like the norm,” Ricci says. “When someone comes to you and says, ‘This is a really strange character. Nobody seems to get her. Can you use your insight and intelligence to figure her out?’ I think it means I have an understanding of humanity and an observational ability. I’m proud of that. I enjoy playing characters that if you didn’t have a sideways way into it, you wouldn’t be able to do it.”
If you met her in real life, “you’d stay as far away from Misty as possible,” Ricci continues. She believes audiences have responded so positively to the character because “she’s so socially inept, and I think that’s funny to people.” Also, because she’s just a character in a television series, “we don’t really have to deal with her in person.”
Ricci also appears in the Netflix hit Wednesday, a contemporary spin on the character she so memorably played in the early 1990s. Jenna Ortega now plays Wednesday, while Ricci stars as her “normie” teacher, Marilyn Thornhill, who may not be exactly who she claims to be.
Ricci joined the series when there were only four episodes left to shoot. “I wasn’t hesitant at all. It was fun to be a part of the next generation of Wednesday Addams,” she explains. “And I love Tim [Burton] so much.” (Burton is an executive producer on Wednesday and directed four of the episodes. He and Ricci worked together on the 1999 movie Sleepy Hollow.)
Ricci thinks that people respond to her and Ortega’s Wednesday because they both have “so much integrity and are unwilling to bend to societal pressures. That’s really wonderful, especially in a little girl.” Audiences can live vicariously, she says, “and truly be themselves.”
Playing Wednesday Addams in her childhood was particularly important for Ricci, she says. “It made me aware that I could play characters I wouldn’t have to sacrifice myself for. I never liked the typical family fare. I never liked the kid who had to smile constantly and be fake and phony. To know that there was an option for me filled me with hope. I think a lot of people have felt like they were outsiders in different parts of their lives. They’ve felt lonely, like nobody understands them.”
Now 43 and the mom of two kids, Ricci does admit, “I’m not a typical person.”
“I can’t join groups,” she says. “I never agree. I have specific interests and feelings. My take will always be different. I’m very comfortable with it. I don’t need people to agree with me to be friends with them.”
Ricci continues, “I’ll always be the one that doesn’t like the person everyone else likes.” People tend not to ask her feelings about new movies and television shows. “They know I won’t give my opinion, because it’s always the opposite. My tastes differ. Usually it’s me not liking other things that people like.”
It just so happens that Ricci, who has about an hour a day to watch television, is currently enjoying HBO’s The Last of Us, which most people do, generally, seem to like. “OK, sometimes I do love things that everybody else likes,” she says.
As for the group thing, Ricci says she’s more of a “one-on-one friend. Most of my friends don’t know each other.” When I ask if she’s in a book club—Ricci starred as Zelda Fitzgerald in Amazon Prime’s Z: The Beginning of Everything, which she also produced—she responds quickly, “God, no.” (Recent favorite reads, though, include Circe by Madeline Miller and a collection of Shirley Jackson stories.)
That said, Ricci has found great camaraderie in her Yellowjackets cast, which also includes Hollywood lifers Juliette Lewis and Melanie Lynskey.
“This has been a great on-set experience. We all really, really love each other a lot,” Ricci says. “I’ve never been so close with people I’ve worked with. We’ve all been through similar things. We all share stories between set-ups. We bullshit. It’s great.”
Ricci thinks the closeness comes from being older “and not in our confusing, emotion-filled twenties. When you’re older, you settle a bit.”
“We’re all friends working on projects. We all support each other. We really want the best for the show,” she continues. “We’ve all been through similar things. A lot of us have kids.”
The support has been especially important because shooting season two in Vancouver, far from her family in Los Angeles, wasn’t the easiest. Ricci has an 8-year-old son, Freddie, from her first marriage, and a 14-month-old daughter, Cleopatra, from her second, to Los Angeles hairstylist Mark Hampton.
“I’m glad I waited,” says Ricci of choosing to have a second child. “I would feel so much guilt if I wasn’t fully attentive to her. When [Freddie] was younger, I gave him full attention. He got to have that special babyhood and childhood, and now he’s able to help with his sister. There’s not a lot of jealousy. He loves her.”
Freddie is now around the age Ricci was when her star began to rise, and he has a little bit of the acting bug. “Yes, he’s interested in acting, and I’m a believer that if a kid really wants to do it, and they’re being supported instead of being pushed, then they should be able to,” Ricci explains. “I see a lot of how I was in him. I know that he would be totally capable of being a child actor, but I’ve told him that there’s no one to take him. You have to take your child to auditions. You have to take them to set. I can’t do that.”
For now, Freddie has made due with watching his mom’s past performances, including as the original Wednesday and on Wednesday. “He loved it so much,” Ricci says. “He’s really proud of me. He always asks, ‘How did they do this scene?’ and ‘How did they do that sort of thing?’ I think it’s funny.”
The first time Freddie visited her on the Yellowjackets set, he wanted to watch the first season of the show, which has its share of gore and thrills. “I fast-forwarded through all the inappropriate parts,” Ricci laughs. “He has a lot of questions. He always needs me to tell him what happens, and he peppers me with nonstop—what do they call them?—fan theories.”
Most of the questions, of course, Ricci doesn’t know the answers to. “I suggested he go sit down with one of the writers and ask them,” she says.
The truth is, sometimes Ricci only reads the Yellowjackets scenes that involve the present-day characters and skims the rest. She doesn’t get to see a lot of the show being shot, and she likes to watch the episodes and be surprised. “I do enjoy watching it as an audience member. It’s really fun,” Ricci says. “Though my son tells me not to skim.”
Ricci is not surprised that, after more than 30 years, she continues to work steadily in film and television. “There’s always work to be found,” she says. “It’s my job. I’ve always supported myself and my family, and it feels more like my job than ‘I get to do a special project and then go back to my life.’”
That said, the success of Yellowjackets and our cultural obsession with Misty wasn’t something she had in her sightlines.
“I never would have predicted this,” Ricci says. “But I also never try to guess.”
Hair: Anh Co Tran at The Wall Group
Makeup: Allan Avendano at A-Frame Agency
Manicure: Zola Ganzorigt at The Wall Group
Producer: Aiden Tyler Lee
Styling Assistants: Cherry Wang, Gilbert Villa, Alexis Kossel
Shot on location in Bel Air, Los Angeles, at 1859 Bel Air Road