Christina Ricci wouldn’t want to know Misty Quigley in real life, but she has a protective soft spot for her “Yellowjackets” character. In this episode of “The Envelope,” Ricci delves into why she enjoys playing the impulsive outcast and what she values about the series’ unconventional exploration of trauma.
Ricci also reflects on her enduring connection to Wednesday Addams, recalls the two auditions that changed her life even though she didn’t land either part, and talks about how her acting career began as an escape from her unhappy childhood. Plus, if you want reading recommendations? She’s got you covered. Listen now wherever you get your podcasts.
Mark Olsen: Hello and welcome to another episode of “The Envelope” podcast, where we bring you revealing and distinctive conversations with the creative talents behind some of your favorite shows and movies. I’m one of your hosts, Mark Olsen.
Yvonne Villareal: And I’m your other host, Yvonne Villarreal. And I have to say, as a kid of the ’90s, I speak with authority when I say the early work of this week’s guest provided seminal moments to my generation. Mark, why don’t you fill our listeners in on who you’re talking to this week?
Olsen: I spoke with one of the stars of the breakout hit “Yellowjackets,” which just wrapped up its second season. And indeed, Christina Ricci has been a star since she was a child in the 1990s. From her debut in “Mermaids” to “The Addams Family” and “Now and Then” to “The Ice Storm,” “The Opposite of Sex” and “Buffalo 66,” she very much has grown up in front of audiences, moving on to movies like “Monster” and “Speed Racer.”
“Yellowjackets” is both a psychological horror story and a coming-of-age drama as it follows the saga of a girls’ soccer team stranded in the wilderness for nearly a year after a plane crash in the ’90s. Christina plays one of the survivors in the present day, alongside co-stars that include Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress, Lauren Ambrose and Elijah Wood.
Villareal: Christina is so good in capturing how Misty is both painfully endearing and also totally unhinged. And with her dry humor and eccentric energy, I can’t think of anyone better suited to play the adult Misty. It’s a casting that really plays off the pop culture nostalgia of her earlier roles.
Olsen: She had more than a few things to say about that, Yvonne, as well as the new series “Wednesday” that revives one of her signature roles. So let’s get to the conversation.
Mark Olsen: Christina, thank you so much for joining us today.
Christina Ricci: Oh, thank you for having me.
Olsen: I'm fresh off watching the season finale of “Yellowjackets,” where you star as Misty Quigley 25 years after surviving a plane crash as a teenager. There's something just so engaging about the way that you play Misty. She's got this spunky kind of grownup Nancy Drew appeal that also makes it really easy to forget that she's clearly a psychopath with a pretty high body count. Is that division something that appealed to you about the character?
Ricci: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, what really appealed to me about the show and about all the characters in the adult storyline is this idea of — the show's really about trauma and how trauma affects people. We come up against this all the time these days and this expectation of victims of trauma to be perfect, and we almost discount what people have gone through if they don't come out a version of a victim that we expect or recognize. And I loved the variety of reaction and evolution that the young survivors had in becoming the adults. What we end up with, the different characters we end up with as adults from people who have gone through the same trauma, I think is really appealing.
And I, like, Misty — I think what you're talking about, the qualities that you're describing, are really her ability as a survivor to create happiness and interest and joy in her life on a daily basis to fight and counteract her real, deep, innate pain and misery that exists inside of her. I also understand why people like Misty and I'm glad people like Misty. I like Misty, you know?
Olsen: Is that something that's important to you, to like a character? To hear you say that you like Misty is something I find really endearing.
Ricci: Yeah, it's not important to me that I like a character. I find her entertaining. I like watching her. She's not someone I would want to know in real life. I feel like I understand her, and I think once you understand a person, all their behavior is justified. I'm not an actor who feels that I have to like the character I'm playing in order to play them. I've never really played anyone truly awful, though, or evil, so I'm not sure. I actually have never faced that issue. Oh, you know what? The character in “Monster,” I really didn't respect or like, but I played her anyway.
Olsen: Now, why is that? What was it that you didn't like or respect —
Ricci: She was a coward. She was a coward who was so afraid and — you know what I mean? But again, I really don't like judging people in general.
Ricci: I didn't like the way she behaved or the things that she did in that story because I found them to be cowardly and I couldn't respect those choices. And I also found her to be a bit of a user. But again, I really don't like judging or dismissing or condemning people, so I feel like she probably was that way because of what she had experienced in life. But we don't know very much about that character before she shows up, so I could only go by her actions.
Olsen: As “Yellowjackets” was coming together and you learned that the cast was also going to include Juliette Lewis and Melanie Lynskey, and the show was going to play off the fact that the three of you were known as ’90s actors, was that meaningful to you? Was that a conversation that the three of you ever had?
Ricci: Well, no, that's not really something that anyone said to us. I thought they were just getting really great actresses in their 40s. It never occurred to me that it was a casting gimmick until we started doing press. And I think when you're part of a gimmick but you consider yourself to be a serious actress, you tend to not realize that that's happening to you until later.
Olsen: Well, I would say, I wouldn't categorize it as a gimmick. I think it just adds a layer to the story.
Ricci: Well, it helps with the marketing of the show, which I totally understand.
Olsen: With the two timelines in the show, the teenaged Misty, played by Samantha Hanratty — the two of you more than any of the other characters seem like you're really in sync. You can see the connection between the teen Misty and the adult Misty more than some of the other characters. Did the two of you collaborate on that? Or how did that come to be?
Ricci: We had one meeting, one lunch, before we started shooting Season 1, and we talked about all the different notes that each of us had been given by the EPs [executive producers]. We just sort of traded notes. She's very different personality-wise than I am, and it was interesting to hear the different notes they'd given her based on her real-life personality and what they wanted to sort of counteract, and what they'd given me based on my real-life personality that they wanted to counteract. And comparing those, I think we both got a much clearer idea of what they wanted.
Because there was a lot of questions in the beginning. When we did the pilot, there was a decision made that she was to be more clearly a sociopath and maybe more clinically follow that sort of diagnosis. But then once we got to Season 1, understandably, the idea of pigeonholing this character into that — I think it limits what you can do with her later on. So there was a decision to not have her be that anymore and certainly not to label her that way. So we were coming from a place, I think both of us, of a little bit — we were a little unclear exactly what we should be doing. So by trading notes in that way, I think we were really able to figure it out.
Olsen: I'm so taken with the fact that you, yourself, grew up in New Jersey; in the ’90s you played on a girls' soccer team; and now here you are on this television show that's based around a girls' soccer team in New Jersey in the ’90s. Do you feel like that gives you any extra insights into the authenticity of that younger storyline? Have the producers ever drawn on your experiences?
Ricci: I tried to give, I was in the makeup trailer once with a couple of the first-season cast, of the younger cast, and they were complaining about having to hide, cover up tattoos with their uniforms. And I was like, “Well, you know, what we used to do with our uniforms?” And I tried to actually really give some advice having been a girl their age playing soccer in New Jersey. And nobody really wanted to hear it. So I tend to just keep my experience from that time to myself.
Olsen: It's funny, in a number of other interviews, I've seen people asking you if you have any specific music choices, needle drops, that you'd like to hear in the show. And I'm wondering, have they used any of the songs that you've suggested?
Ricci: I have very specific music memories and attitudes about music that were very normal in 1996 but now are not very normal. So I don't think anyone wants to hear from me. And I'm like that person that they choose a song and I'm like, “Oh my God, this song? Do you know how much I made fun of anybody who liked this song in 1996?” So people tend to not ask me, and I've learned to stay quiet.
Although I just want to say, because I don't want that to be the last thing I say about it: There are so many great musical cues on the show that I really do love. I love Smashing Pumpkins, which they've used. I love — Radiohead, I was a huge fan of. Obviously I love Nirvana. So I love a lot of the music that they've chosen.
Olsen: But now, to me, what I was about to say was that one of the things thematically that I think really works about the structure of the show is that it explores whether or not people change. You see people in their younger selves and then, as you were saying, how they've kind of gone through this trauma, come out the other side and the way that they are or are not changed. How do you approach that with Misty? Do you think that Misty has changed, or is she still very much her teen self?
Ricci: Well, I don't really know that I believe that anybody changes that much over time. I think who you are, fundamentally, I think stays the same. I think obviously you change in small ways that affect your life and affect you, but older Misty and young Misty have the same personality.
It's just that there are different coping mechanisms. There are different perspectives on the world based on what she's gone through. I think there's a hypervigilance in older Misty that you don't see in younger Misty, and that hypervigilance is probably the effect of not wanting to feel bad about anything that's happened to her in her life, and a lot of that would be stuff that happened during this incident in 1996. But I think she's still the same person.
Olsen: I think one of the things that people really enjoy about her is the fact that she's this kind of little schemer and she's this conniving caregiver. Some people describe her as the nurse from hell. In the second season there was a scene with younger Misty where they bring back up the fact that she had destroyed the black box recorder of the airplane, and that's the whole reason why they're stuck and no one could find them. And I have to admit, I had forgotten that fact. I'm wondering, for you, are there things about Misty that, like the black box, that you have to kind of remind yourself of the sort of deep mythology that the character has now?
Ricci: Yeah, I think there is a lot of mythology around her, but I think that in being the person who plays her, I have to take anything that could seem mythical and boil it down to something very mundane and human, you know? In your youth, people — and I did this, I would make mistakes, I would do something impulsively because of something I wanted, not realizing the consequences of those actions. And sometimes I’d really make horrible mistakes that had very negative effects.
In that moment when they show her before she destroys the black box and what leads up to it, you get that this is a very childish, selfish, “I finally have something I want and I don't want to lose it” moment that is a mistake. It's probably not a mistake she'd make as an adult. But part of Misty's personality/mythology is acting on her childish impulses. So it's informative for me for the character because it is one of the things that keeps her shunned from groups, keeps her from being able to truly make connections and make friends. She makes sort of disastrous choices impulsively based on her needs because her needs have never been freely met by anybody.
Olsen: Is that fun for you, to play someone — I mean, it's striking that, yes, even as an adult, even as cautious and careful as she can be, there is something still really impulsive and at times very reckless?
Ricci: Yeah, but it is really fun to play somebody who's so emotionally stunted. It's basically like playing a child in an adult body, and that to me is really fun. It certainly makes me feel a little protective of her at certain times, which is interesting. And it makes me a little worried for her. She absolutely — I think she has very little self-awareness, which is also incredibly freeing because I think, as an actor, that's sort of the first question you have to ask about the character you're playing: How self-aware is this person? Because that question is at the base of your performance, I think.
Olsen: One of the great additions in the second season is Elijah Wood coming on as a character who becomes sort of a co-conspirator and a colleague with Misty. What was it like for you simply reuniting with Elijah as a performer? The two of you, of course, starred together in “The Ice Storm” back in 1997 when you were both much younger. What was it like reuniting with Elijah?
Ricci: It was great working with him. When we worked together, I think we were both 15 and we didn't really hang out that much. We had separate tutors. He was great to work with even at that time, so professional, so talented. Now, I think now that we're both adults, we're able to socialize more or get to know each other more as peers. And we had a really great time this season working together. I think we make a really good team. We work in very similar ways, and he's just so wonderful and smart and so good. He's just great to work with.
[Clip from “Yellowjackets”: MISTY: You think I’m capable of murder? WALTER: Sure. You’re charming and impulsive, which are traits of most serial killers. Only, you pull it off. Look, my grandmother was convicted of killing my Grandpa Joe. Even though she got 30 years, she never failed to send me a birthday card. She was thoughtful like that. Like you! Look, all I’m trying to say is I like you, regardless of your extracurricular activities.]
Olsen: There's a really fun “will they, won't they” vibe between your characters, between Misty and Walter, and at one point, Misty refers to him as her boyfriend but it's not clear if that's just her being kind of delusional. How do you feel about the romantic prospects between the two of them?
Ricci: Well, I mean, I don't know. She seems so much like a little girl and child, like I said, I can't, I don't know. It's hard to imagine her in an adult relationship. And up until this point in her life, she's never had one. I personally don't know where all of it's going with Walter and Misty. I love seeing them together on screen. I think their dynamic is so fun, really entertaining and endearing. I don't know what's going to go on, and I don't really want to say anything because I'm not the writers. And anytime I do say anything, I'm always wrong. So I'm just going to hold my tongue and say I don't know. I find them really entertaining.
Olsen: I’m wondering — the show is centered around this group of women and really explores female friendship, both in the younger storyline and in the adult storyline. And part way through the season, there's a scene where young Misty pushes her friend off of a cliff. It really is a shocking moment in the show, even with everything that we already know about Misty.
[Clip from “Yellowjackets”: MISTY: Come on, bestie, you don’t actually think I’d do something like that, do you? CRYSTAL: You’re not, you’re not my best friend. You’re a psycho. MISTY: Wait, no, no, no, Crystal, Crystal, stop. Stop. OK? You can’t tell anyone. I mean it. OK? I’ll do whatever you want. I will flush the toilet for you and I’ll do all your chores, OK, you just, you cannot tell anybody. Please. CRYSTAL: Or what, you’ll poison me? MISTY: No. I’ll f—ing kill you. CRYSTAL: (screams)]
Olsen: When you're reading a script and you come across a scene like that, what do you make of it? How does that impact how you are performing your adult Misty?
Ricci: Well, again, to me it's like the black box thing. It's a very impulsive, immature, not-thought-out, spur-of-the-moment reaction if she did indeed push her off the cliff. I believe, the way it was shot — to me, I was like, “Did she push her or did —?” Because there's a feeling that ultimately what happens to her has something to do with the wilderness, quote unquote. But, you know, she did push. She pushed her. It's like the same kind of mistake she keeps making.
Olsen: What did you make of the moment at the end of the season where Misty accidentally kills her adult best friend, Juliette Lewis’ Natalie?
Ricci: Well, yeah, it's — again, it's just, it's really tragic. Tragic because she can't handle these crazy needs and feelings and she's so emotionally stunted and ends up again causing herself really horrible loss.
Olsen: But also with Natalie, it was not her intention. She wasn't trying to hurt Natalie.
Ricci: Yeah, no, she's trying to kill the other one because she thinks that she's going to shoot Natalie, and it results again in a disastrous outcome.
Olsen: I know that you said you don't like to make predictions for what's going to happen next. I won't ask you for your thoughts on Season 3, but —
Ricci: It's just a trap. It's a trap to say what you think might happen, especially when it hasn't been written yet. You know what I mean?
Olsen: Mm-hmm. But now, as far as you know, what is the status of Season 3 with the writers strike that's happening now? I imagine it's on pause. Do you have any idea of what's going be happening?
Ricci: You know, I don't. I know that, justifiably, they will not be writing until there is a deal in place for the WGA [Writers Guild of America] in which all the writers are properly protected and compensated. And I think as a cast and as a crew, we all completely support our writers and the WGA striking. I don't know how the strike will affect the timing of Season 3. I guess that'll depend on how long it goes on.
Olsen: Christina, aside from “Yellowjackets” touching on some ’90s nostalgia, you’re also in Netflix’s series “Wednesday,” a huge hit that welcomes you back in this Addams Family world but as a new character. What was that experience like for you?
Ricci: I played Wednesday as a young person. This character, I never stop answering questions about. In every interview I’ve done since I’ve played that character, I’ve spoken about Wednesday the character. To have played someone who really, every day, is brought up to me really makes you have a certain sentimentality about that character and that time in your life and all those things. So it was really meaningful to me to be asked to be a part of the new iteration of that character. That really meant something to me and I was very grateful for that.
Olsen: What was it like with this character that you're so well known for — that in some ways has become so tied to you in your life — what was it like to watch someone else play that part? Did you have any sort of conversations with Jenna Ortega about the character, about playing that part?
Ricci: I came on to the project two months before they were totally wrapped, and they shot for like nine months. So she'd been playing that character for about seven months before I showed up on set. So I did not speak to her about the character beforehand. And she's such a capable, amazing actress. If anything, it was just fun to see her play that character with such dignity and self-respect and intelligence. She's just perfect for the role, in my humble opinion.
Olsen: I've heard you say how for you, the character of Wednesday is someone that you see as kind of inspiring for children in that she's someone who's very true to her own self. And I'm wondering, as you yourself have grown and especially now that you're a mother of two yourself, has your opinion on Wednesday as an inspiration for children changed at all?
Ricci: No, I feel very much the same way. And especially when you watch — I have an 8-year-old now, and watching him deal with peer pressure or trends or any of those things just makes me want to show him that character every day. I think that people in general wish that they had more of that self-possession that Wednesday has, and that refusal to let anybody else's opinions change her or make her feel bad. That idea of just being a complete individual, not needing to belong to any groups or categories or look like anyone else, I think that is really important and I wish that it existed more.
Olsen: Do you think when you were playing Wednesday, did you feel really connected to that character? Did it feel important to you at the time?
Ricci: No, I mean, I was 10 and then I was 12, so nothing really felt important to me at the time. But I will say that I was relieved. I remember feeling a lot of relief to be playing a character like that instead of what, mostly as a little girl actor, people tried to make me do. I was sick of being told to smile and be more excited, enthusiastic.
Olsen: I'd read in another interview where prior to “Yellowjackets,” that you'd been sort of not taking as many acting roles, and in part you'd been going to a lot of fan conventions, and I would imagine that you're confronted very strongly with what people think of you and what roles resonate with people from those conventions. What were those experiences like? Did you learn anything about your fandom or what people think of your roles from going to those conventions?
Ricci: Yeah, you know, it wasn't that I wasn't taking acting roles. It's that I wasn't being cast in things very much. And I was the sole supporter of my family, and so something that came out of necessity for me ended up being something really lovely in that I already knew how much Wednesday meant to people. I already knew because I've spoken about her in every single interview I've ever done in my career since playing her, and I played her when I was 10, so it's been a real long time talking about her.
But it's not also just Wednesday, I have to say. Having gone to those conventions and stuff, it's really interesting how, people being people, find very specific and particular things that can really get them through hard times and get them through their lives and they identify with. It's been really incredible to me as an actor to see all the different characters I've played that people hold really close to them. And really, what it made me feel more than feeling like, yes, Wednesday is very meaningful to a lot of people; she's somebody that it makes so much sense that she'd be held up as a hero, as an icon, as all these things. But what those conventions really did for me more was help me to really value the work that we do as actors, as writers, as filmmakers and content creators.
Olsen: Do you even recall, still, even before “Wednesday,” before “Mermaids,” what it was that appealed to you about acting? What got you started so young?
Ricci: So, I always joke that I identify as a party pooper and a contrarian. As I'm sure you've noticed in interviewing me, I always have a contrary thought to anything that's suggested. But here's the party pooper part of this interview: I was in a very, very abusive house when I was a child. I was a very unhappy little kid, and I was searching for a way out of my everyday life. And the second that I realized that there was this thing that I was good at that might lift me out of this situation, it became very important to me that I use it to get out. And so this career for me, it was a refuge and an escape from what was a very unpleasant childhood.
Olsen: It's astonishing for you to have recognized that at that age.
Ricci: Yeah. Ugh, you know, maybe it's a reflection of how bad things were.
Olsen: And do you feel like it did that for you?
Ricci: Yes, absolutely. It absolutely did. I was taken out of my reality for six to nine months at a time on location making movies. Even the audition process, you know, my mother and I would get to leave our house in the afternoons and spend from after school until maybe 8 p.m. traveling to New York, auditioning and coming back. So it definitely lessened the intensity of what was going on in my home life as a child. And then, once I was actually booking movies and traveling, like being exposed to the world often does for people, ways out become apparent.
Olsen: That does not make you a party pooper at all, Christina.
Ricci: I just mean, like, “Here comes the downer moment.”
Olsen: No, but I appreciate your candor in speaking about that.
Ricci: Well, it's hard for me to pretend it's anything else. I didn't really care that much about acting aside from that reason until I was much older and didn't have that much to escape from. Do you know what I mean?
Olsen: Mm-hmm. And do you remember that moment when you realized, “Oh, I actually like this?”
Ricci: Yeah. It was when I started doing a lot of independent film. The reason I got “The Opposite of Sex,” which was one of the first independent films I did in the ’90s that kind of helped me have an adult career, I was cast because I was different. I was cast because I wasn't being winky or cute about the material. And so, again, I think what I loved about independent film is that the people making the movies, the directors, the writers actually appreciated how different I was. And then once I realized I was being given that opportunity, I tried to return the favor by really committing and really learning about acting and understanding it on an emotional level.
This is a funny thing, but I've had two auditions in my life that were with really incredible actors. And the first one was with Kathy Bates for “Dolores Claiborne.” So, in this audition, I'm reading the lines. I think I had always had to fake emotion before as a child actor. And it was the first time that, reading the lines with Kathy Bates, I just became completely overwhelmed by the emotion of the scene. And that had never happened to me before. Kathy Bates, being so incredible, we got through the scene and she walked outside in the hallway with me and held me and said, “That's acting.” And it really changed the way I thought about the art form. So that was the first time.
And then I had another audition when I was older with Daniel Day-Lewis for “The Crucible.” And again, in doing that scene with this incredible actor, the emotion of the scene so took over my body. My skin burned. I felt such rage. It's something I don't think I'd ever really allowed myself to feel in real life, and it was just connected to the words I was saying. And that again completely changed the way I viewed the art form.
Olsen: Wow, that's incredible.
Ricci: Yeah, those two experiences were really, really amazing to me.
Olsen: It's funny, you always hear people with these horror stories of auditions, like how hard they are.
Ricci: I've had lots of really terrible auditions too, but the terrible ones didn't change my life.
Olsen: And now if I can, I want to ask just one question about “Mermaids,” your very first film. That movie has just such an amazing cast with Cher, Winona Ryder, yourself, Bob Hoskins. Is that the kind of thing where in retrospect, you realize probably what an amazing experience that was and what an incredible cast that was?
Ricci: Well, no, again. On the contrary, I had a family that was obsessed with movies, obsessed with film. My mother showed me all of Hitchcock's movies before I was 10. My dad was obsessed with Scorsese. My brothers happened to be in love with Winona Ryder and we watched all of Winona Ryder's films beforehand. My mother, the second she heard I was auditioning for “Mermaids,” she had a Cher movie fest, a little film festival for me, where we even watched “Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” which is a fairly obscure film of hers. Yeah, I knew all of these people, and I was really excited to be there and working with them.
Olsen: And your career now, you've been in independent films, studio films. You've been on Broadway. You've acted on TV. You've done producing. Do you have any further ambitions? What do you see for yourself moving forward?
Ricci: Well, I'm definitely going to be producing more. And I hope to direct something in the near future. And I just, as an actor, I just want to play really interesting characters.
Olsen: The last thing I want to ask you: I've heard that you are a very voracious reader, and I'm curious what you've been reading recently, if anything, that you've really enjoyed?
Ricci: I just read “Don't Call Me Home” by Alex Auder. It really is such an incredible memoir. I couldn't put this book down. It's just beautifully written. There's no actual magical realism in it, but it has that feeling. It's just such a beautiful, beautiful story, dealing a lot with a mother-daughter relationship but also this very specific time and place and childhood. So I really love that. I've been reading different things. I read this book called “Trust,” which was interesting. I went back and I read those two books, “Circe” and then “The Song of Achilles” [by Madeline Miller]. I liked those very much.
Olsen: Do you read stuff as a sort of an escape from your work? Or especially when you have producer brain, are you thinking, “Oh, maybe I could make that”?
Ricci: Sometimes both. I mean, I tend to find I've been more successful with optioning IP [intellectual property] from articles than from novels. A lot of times, by the time I read a novel it was optioned when it was a galley, in galley form, you know what I mean?
Ricci: But I have found articles that had led to some interesting books and some true crime stuff, and some true crime novels that are out of print and stuff like that. So it's a combination. I tend to really like to read in airports and airplanes, and I do a lot of traveling. So if I happen to come across something that I think would make a really interesting project, then bonus.
Olsen: Well, Christina Ricci, thank you so much for your time today. This has been such a wonderful conversation, and I really appreciate you making time for us.
Ricci: Thank you. I really appreciate you talking to me and giving me this platform. So thank you.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.