An interview with “Pan Am” Star Christina Ricci

 
 

It’s hard not to be a little intrigued by Christina Ricci. Getting her start as a
child actor in the 1990 with The Addams Family and coming-of-age film Mermaids opposite Cher and Winona Ryder, she later transformed into a teen idol for rebels and
outsiders with films like Buffalo ’66,
The
Opposite of Sex
, and John
Waters
Pecker.

Indeed, it’s
been nothing if not an unconventional career trajectory for the now-31-year-old
actress, which is why I was curious to hear that she’d be starring in a series
regular role on the new ABC show Pan Am, which follows the lives of a
group of young stewardesses in the early 1960s.

And yet true to
her image as one of the industry’s more thoughtful and articulate young
actresses, the show clearly illuminates issues Ricci feels very strongly about.

“The show
involves women navigating a blatantly misogynistic society,” said Ricci, who
plays the role of Pan Am stewardess Maggie,
when I stopped to speak with her at the network’s post-panel TCA party. “I am a
woman navigating a thinly-veiled
misogynistic society. So to be honest, there are just as many things that are
misogynistic, and checkpoints and standards that I have to measure up to that aren’t necessarily written down, or
rules that are spoken about.”

Nevertheless,
while the female stewardesses of the time were forced to undergo a litany of
horribly sexist “grooming inspections” and “girdle checks” prior to beginning a
shift, Ricci insisted they were ultimately empowered by the jobs that they
held.

“They were
flying all around the world, on their own, with other women their age, learning
to navigate in cultures, in worlds that most American men hadn’t seen,” she said. “And they were in the highest pay grade
amongst women and men in America
at that time. So in a way, they kind of were playing the system.”

Again, while a major broadcast network may seem like an odd
home for a performer who has repeatedly demonstrated her tendency to go against
the Hollywood grain, Maggie will ultimately
serve to reflect Ricci’s own somewhat rebellious attitudes.

“Jack spent a lot
of time with all of us girls on the pilot,” she said. “He would sit around and
talk to us and listen to our stories. So I found that the episodes that were
written subsequently reflected a lot of our personalities. The first episode I
read I was like, ‘Uh-huh, she says things she shouldn’t, and she’s got an
authority problem — wow. Got to know me kinda quickly!’”

Still, despite
being the biggest-name actor in the cast and the series’ obvious linchpin,
Ricci admitted she doesn’t exercise any real control over the show’s plotlines.

“I don’t really
have that much [creative input],” she said. “I’m trying to just do what I do. I
mean, it’s my first TV show, I’ve never done this before, and I kind of was
just like, ‘I wanna learn what it means to be an actor on a TV show.’ So I’m
just doing what everyone else does.”

With or without
her input, Ricci seemed pleased with the show’s emphasis on showcasing healthy
female relationships – a rarity when you consider the catty undercurrents of
most female-centric TV series.

“One of the
things that’s so powerful that [executive-producer] Nancy Hult Ganis said to us — she used to be a flight attendant at
[that] time — she was saying it was so hard to become a Pan Am stewardess that
once you became [one], you’d made it,” she said.

“There was no
reason to be a rival with your fellow stewardess. There was no infighting over
men — none of that craziness! It was just like women together traveling the
world, looking out for each other, working together, and that’s something that’s
so empowering, I think.”

Of course, given that the series begins in 1963 – the start of
one of the most tumultuous time periods in American history – the show will
also attempt to incorporate a broader view of the radical
events that defined the decade.

“We’re gonna
delve into quite a lot of historical things that happened, and I think that
they’ll probably use each character to reflect a different point of view from
the time,” said Ricci.

So does that
mean we can expect a gay character in the show’s future?

“I think
probably,” she told me. “I would imagine so. I think probably the first thing
we’ll deal with is stuff having to do with the civil rights movement. I would
imagine that would be the first kind of social issue that we deal with.”

That’s OK,
Christina; we’re willing to be patient. 

Pan Am airs
Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on ABC. Read our recaps here.

 
 

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