Photos of Christina attending New York Fashion Week have been added to the gallery.
Christina Ricci is on a roll when it comes to playing historical characters. She played Lizzie Borden in Lifetime’s The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, Zelda Fitzgerald in Prime Video’s Z: The Beginning of Everything, and now she stars as 19th century pioneering journalist Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, who published under the name of Nellie Bly, in Lifetime’s Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story.
“I always try to find the most interesting material and the most interesting parts, and truth being stranger than fiction, a lot of times, historical figures are more interesting than anything someone could create,” Ricci tells Parade.com in this exclusive interview.
Bly was an American journalist (1864-1922), who is credited with being a pioneer in her field as she helped launch what we now call investigative journalism. In 1887, she approached Joseph Pulitzer and asked him for a chance to do an exposé on the deplorable conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island for his newspaper the New York World — and he said yes.
Unlike her knowledge of Lizzie Borden or Zelda Fitzgerald, Ricci had no idea who Nellie Bly was before she received the script. So, she read as much as she could about her, she also read stories written by Bly, and then she also researched the society of the time in order to get a feel for both Bly and what other women of the era would have had to deal with.
“I felt that it was very important to understand the society she was a product of and her conditioning, because I feel like it was important in the asylum that she was very clearly of a different set than some of the other women,” she says. “And even if you forgot your name, who you were, and any memory, you would still have your conditioning. I felt that that was very important. At the time, they would’ve been raised as ladies. So, to have the composure to fall back on at the time, I think, is interesting.”
The one connection Ricci did feel to Bly through her research was that they both have the desire to contribute good things to the world, society, and culture, and, hopefully, have some effect on people that is positive, but there were also differences.
“I don’t feel the need to do exposés,” Ricci points out. “I don’t feel the need to put myself in danger, I guess, and maybe I am a less noble individual than she is. I also think that I might be less naïve than she was going into this.”
Bly actually only spent 10 days at the asylum, which she later wrote about in a book entitled Ten Days in a Mad-House, but the conditions were so deplorable, it seemed like much longer and she needed to be rescued but she went in with no exit plan.
“Nellie is so unaware of the situation she’s getting into, and even Pulitzer must be unaware, because if they had any idea of what she was getting into and the real state and conditions of the place, there would’ve been a plan to get her out, and she probably wouldn’t have gone to begin with,” Ricci says. “So that really speaks to what a division there was between the upper class and lower class, even just in terms of them knowing what went on with the lower class, and it speaks volumes.”
Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story also stars Judith Light as Matron Grady, the head nurse who tortured her patients into submission, and Josh Bowman as Dr. Josiah, who is not all he seems to be.
“The way Judith plays this part is very important because Matron Grady is a tortured child who grows up to torture others,” Ricci says. “In most cases, villains are created, and Judith, through everything she does in this character, she always wears that abuse and that hurt child, and I think that’s so important, because as an audience, we really need to remember that when you abuse children, they grow up to be monsters a lot of times, you know? We need to be protective of our kids. If we care so much about the future of this world, then we need to protect our children.”
Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story premieres on Saturday, January 19 at 8 pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
Photos of Christina attending Christian Dior at Paris Fashion Week have been added to the gallery.
Christina Ricci knows people judge her. She grew up in the public eye as the Goth girl, the alternative chick, the youthful indie darling. For her, those tacit critiques just provide the excuse to execute another hard turn.
“I’m a natural contrarian. So anytime someone tries to tell me what I am, I immediately change and I’m something else,” she said. “I can’t help it; I’m a total asshole in that respect. I never give people that. Sometimes it’s terrible and I should really just allow people to view me the way they want to, but I have a real desire and drive to define myself and to not be defined by others.”
As a child star, she was best known for her role as the malevolent Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family.” In her teen years, she demonstrated a fondness for outrageous comments about subjects like death or incest; in her private life, she faced an eating disorder and other self-destructive behaviors.
“I had a very hard time with fame as a child, being interviewed and being asked about my life,” she said. “I think that the way that I answered questions and the things I said earlier on were just, it was like somebody twisting in the wind. I was very reactive and aggressive and I acted out. No child should be held up for adults to criticize, question, interview, weigh in on. It’s the reason we don’t have pictures of our children up online. It’s the same thing.”
Ricci attributes some of those difficulties to tumbling head-first into Hollywood. After being discovered in a school play, a few commercials followed, and then she landed her first major gig as Cher’s daughter and Winona Ryder’s sister in “Mermaids.” From there, it was years before she slowed down or even thought about the path that was chosen for her.
“I just auditioned and took things. For a very long time, because this wasn’t a career that I pursued, I didn’t have any personal passion, I didn’t really have a lot of understanding,” she said. “It took a very long time for me to have enough real meaning in my life to apply any meaning to the work I did.”
Nevertheless, she found inspiration and an anchor in movies as a fan. “I loved ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and I just loved [Glenn Close’s] performance. It’s so beautiful at the very end to see all the pain,” she said. “I also looked up to a lot of men when I was younger. John Malkovich [in ‘Dangerous Liaisons’] meant so much to me, and this idea that maybe I could be something like that one day was really important. I was actually also really obsessed with Richard Pryor. There was something about Richard Pryor that made me hopeful about my own success, which is strange because I couldn’t be further from Richard Pryor.”
During that difficult time through her 20s, Ricci still delivered acclaimed performances in films like “The Ice Storm,” “Buffalo ’66,” “The Opposite of Sex,” “Prozac Nation,” “Black Snake Moan,” and “Monster” opposite Charlize Theron. She also dabbled in television, making occasional guest appearances on shows like “Ally McBeal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” the latter which earned her an Emmy nomination. She made a more deliberate shift to TV in 2011 with the short-lived ABC series “Pan Am.”
Lately, Ricci has taken on a string of notorious figures from history. In 2014, she portrayed the titular Victorian-era murder suspect in Lifetime’s TV movie “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,” and reprised the role for the network’s miniseries “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” a year later. In 2017, she produced Amazon’s Zelda Fitzgerald bio drama “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” which also allowed her to portray the Jazz Age muse.
Now, Ricci stars in another Lifetime TV movie set in the Victorian era. In “Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story,” she plays the pioneering investigative journalist who famously faked insanity to discover the deplorable conditions in a women’s asylum and then published a harrowing account of her experience.
“There’s nothing low stakes about a Lifetime movie,” she said. “It’s all just the most intense, dramatic thing that’s happened in anyone’s life. They’re usually exciting.”
Brave, smart, and a progressive thinker, Bly was also a woman of privilege who had no idea of what she was getting herself into. “She’s somebody who is clearly sheltered. She wouldn’t have gotten into the situation she got into if she had been aware of the danger, of the extent to which she would be trapped,” said Ricci. “To be somebody who’s morally outraged in a place where moral outrage just has no place, in an insane asylum where people are being tortured.”
Emmy and Tony winner Judith Light plays Bly’s chief torturer, head nurse Matron Grady who has been warped by an abusive childhood. “It’s important for people to understand that abused people abuse others,” said Ricci. “If we want to have this world where everything’s just, then we need to protect our kids. That should be what our focus is on these days — the welfare of our children.”
Protecting and empowering children is a recurring theme for Ricci, stemming back to when she was a teenager. Now, she’s a mother to her four-year-old son Freddie. “Just recently have I actually started thinking, ‘What do I really want to contribute? Who am I? What means something to me?’” she said. “I deserve to do work that I feel good about. I want to contribute to the world, I don’t want to just take from it. I want to do things that I’m proud of instead of being exploited, as I feel I was when I was a child. I am now more in charge of myself and doing things because I understand more fully what life is supposed to be about.”
Producing her own projects is a start, but she’s also open to directing. “There are filmmakers that I absolutely love. My favorite filmmaker who’s not alive anymore is Bob Fosse,” she said. “The way he took well-known constructs and disassembled them throughout his films, it is very similar to the kind of thing that I would like to do.”
True to her contrarian form, she’s drawn to the unusual and unexpected. “My favorite movie recently is ‘The Favourite.’ Olivia Colman’s performance in that, the character [Queen Anne] couldn’t be a better example of what I’m talking about. Somebody who is on the surface so laughable or dismissible, but really so complex and tortured and interesting and powerful in their own way. I don’t like stereotypes, I like individuals.”
”Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story” premieres on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.
Photos of Christina attending the Lifetime Winter Movies Mixer have been added to the gallery.