Christina Ricci Talks About "Black Snake Moan"

Paramount Vantage and Time Out New York Co-Host a Premiere of
Christina Ricci during Paramount Vantage and Time Out New York Co-Host a Premiere of 'Black Snake Moan' - Inside Arrivals at Chelsea West Cinemas at 333 West 23rd Street in New York City, New York, United States. Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Christina Ricci did a lot of research to prepare herself for her starring role in Craig Brewer's movie, Black Snake Moan. In the film Ricci plays Rae, the victim of abuse who suffers from intense anxiety. Samuel L Jackson co-stars as the man who uses unusual methods to help Rae overcome her troubles.

The Appeal of Playing Rae: “I think there are millions of women like Rae out there. The link between childhood sexual abuse and promiscuity in women and low self-worth and post-traumatic stress and low self-esteem, that link has been well established.

And when I read the script, she was such an honest representation in a way without judgment on that kind of person. I thought, ‘Oh, it’s so great to see someone who’s not sugar coated,’ because that implies judgment.

Then when I started doing more research about survivors of childhood sexual abuse and really understanding and reading testimonials and statistics, and really understanding what she would be suffering from and the pain and fears and anxieties that were really her motivating emotions, I just felt so much compassion for her. I felt really compelled to kind of protect her by playing her.”

Asked if it was uncomfortable playing this type of character, Ricci replied, “Well, it’s not uncomfortable when you’re playing them. It’s uncomfortable to get into character because for me that’s somebody who expresses themselves and views the world in a polar opposite way than I do. But once I did all that research and I really understood where all these behaviors were coming from, those emotions are so strong that they’re kind of the easy ones to get lost in because they are so strong and overwhelming.

It was difficult to kind of get into that mode of always seeing everything through this anxiety and this fear. But then once I was in that place, all the mannerisms and everything were really motivated from all that emotion. Once I was there, it wasn’t that hard.”

Decompressing Wasn’t as Difficult as Getting Into Rae: “Once you’re coming out of the character, I think that’s something that just slowly happens the more you start to look like yourself again, the more you’re in your own home again.

And it was kind of funny because, you know, I’m a prude and I do not like walking around naked. I was in my bathroom about two months after the movie finished and I was brushing my teeth and I was in my underwear. I looked down and it was like, ‘Oh, god, put something on.’ And then I just stopped and thought, ‘Oh my god, I was half naked for two months and my ass was on camera.’

I called my sister and I was like, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe… Is it okay? I’m freaking out.’ She’s like, ‘No, no, it’s okay, you were playing a part.’ But it’s so interesting how when you come out of character and you become yourself again, you’re sort of like, ‘Oh, wow, uh… I guess that’s okay.’”

On the Necessity of Being on the Set Almost Naked: Ricci said it was important for her as an actress that the cast and crew develop some comfort level with her near naked appearance on the set. “It was really necessary for the crew to be used to it because I was playing someone who has no sense of her body and places no value on her body,” explained Ricci. “Her body has never done anything but cause harm. She has no regard for herself so she wouldn’t care if she were clothed or not. And as an actress, when you’re playing someone like that, I think it’s inappropriate for you to have any kind of vanity.

I needed to lose any sort of self-consciousness because I feel sometimes you can see self-consciousness in a performance when somebody is naked or in a nude scene. I really needed for that not to be there so to help me, I stayed the way I would be for the scene all the time - in order to get the crew really used to seeing me that way so that I was comfortable. Not only was I comfortable, but I would look at anybody’s face and not see them uncomfortable. Because if someone else is uncomfortable, it makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong.”

Developing a Level of Trust with Samuel L Jackson: “It was pretty immediate. He and I immediately, once we were doing rehearsals, kind of realized that we were going to work really well together and that we could really trust each other. I was so flattered by that because I’ve loved him for so long.

I was kind of intimidated and kind of felt like, ‘God, I hope he likes me (laughs) and I hope he thinks I’m a good actress.’ So when I realized that he trusted me and respected me and I, of course, already trusted and respected him, it was amazing. To be able to rely on each other like that and know that we were in each other’s hands and in really good hands and you can be really vulnerable with that person, it was such a great feeling. It’s rare to have a partner like that in those scenes where you can just lose yourself, because you know you’re in someone’s hands who cares about you and will take care of you.”

Page 2: Christina Ricci on Her Character, Justin Timberlake, and Penelope

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Understanding Her Character’s Journey: It didn’t take long for Christina Ricci to understand her character’s motivations. “I have read over time and you see a lot about this occurrence, and this sort of phenomena of women being created this way unfortunately, and having this be the response to sexual abuse,” explained Ricci. “But then once I started reading about it… Because the first thing I wanted to look at was this nymphomania idea.

I did research online and found out that nymphomania is basically a defunct word and any psychiatrist worth their salt will tell you that it basically means nothing now except that it’s a male fantasy. There is sex addiction, but nymphomania is really not something that’s really widely used. It’s like calling someone crazy. It doesn’t mean anything, really. But then I went back and looked at, ‘Okay, what is she probably suffering from?’ And what she would have been suffering from, what fits the description, post-traumatic stress is the thing which best fits what she’s going through.

If you think about it, if she’s a child who everyday is being sexually abused, then everyday she’s living with this dread and fear knowing something’s coming, knowing it’s going to happen at some point. And ironically the only time that she experiences relief or calm is after the abuse has occurred, because it’s when at least she can relax knowing it’s not going to happen again until the next day.

So when someone’s suffering from post-traumatic stress, they’re experiencing the same emotions long after the event has stopped. It could be 40 years ago but you still feel that same kind of anxiety and stress of waiting for the abuse to occur. And if the only way she ever found relief before was from the abuse, now she’s an adult with this horrifying, crippling anxiety and fear.

She’s got to then become almost her own abuser, because no one’s ever taught her another way to get any kind of relief or release from her pain. She creates these situations of degrading, anonymous, painful sex and that’s her way of abusing herself and creating at least momentary relief.

When I was reading tons of testimonials, there’s a lot you read expressed by many individuals that they’d rather die than ever be raped again. And so you can kind of understand her saying, ‘This is never going to happen to me again and it’s not going to happen to me again, because I’m going to do it to myself first.’”

A role like this really made Ricci count her blessings. “Oh absolutely. I read some statistics about re-victimization that are just horrifying and so painful. Over the years I’ve done a lot of work with RAINN and ever since I got into the research and really understanding what happens to these victims, I’m starting to work even more with them now. I feel like one of the things I would like for someone seeing this movie who maybe is a survivor of sexual assault, is to see that it could be 40 years ago, but you still need to get counseling. You still need to get help. You don’t have to report the crime, but for your own ability to move on and have a life, you need to get help.

That’s the thing that I got from this movie that I hope other people will get from this movie. I’m working with RAINN right now to try to get that message out there even more.”

Rating Justin Timberlake’s Acting Skills: Timberlake’s recently added 'film actor' to his lengthy resume. How did big screen veteran Ricci think the pop star did in Black Snake Moan? “I thought he was great. Justin is so much fun to be around. He’s really silly and goofy, and we had a great time on set. I was really, really impressed with his acting. He was great. He really connects with other actors in the scenes and he could do a lot of things that took me years to learn how to do.”

Up Next – Penelope:Penelope is a great story. It’s got a lot of heart, like this one does. It’s basically a really wonderful story for young girls.

It’s a fairy tale in which my character is cursed, her family is cursed, and she is born with the face of a pig. She’s got a pig nose. There’s this riddle of how to break the curse and the family believes that it is to find a man who will love her in spite of her nose, when really the moral of the story is that she had the power all the time, that all she needed to do was love and accept herself.”