LOS ANGELES — The way Christina Ricci has selected acting roles over the past four years is a lot different than the way she had been before. Her perspective changed when her son was born in 2014.
“Now that I have a child, it is very important to me that the legacy I leave for him is one that he can be proud of. That is the big influence my child has had on me,” Ricci says. “I understand what I do really matters and that I should face every choice knowing that it will matter.”
Along those lines, Ricci is starring in the Lifetime movie “Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story." The film is based on the true story of how Nellie Bly went undercover at the notorious Women’s Lunatic Asylum at the end of the 19th century to expose the abuse of patients. Much of Bly’s misery in the film comes at the hands of the head matron, played by Judith Light.
Bly’s actions as a trailblazing investigative journalist resulted in massive reforms. Ricci knew little about Bly before being offered the role but had a little understanding of the conditions of asylums. Out of respect for Bly, Ricci dove into research to get a better understanding of the person and the period. One of the things Ricci respected about Bly was her intelligence.
“It’s kind of incredible that she put herself in this situation, which means she probably had no concept of how bad the situation actually was going to be,” Ricci says. “There’s no plan to get her out, which means nobody else had any idea how bad the situation was going to be either.
“There’s an extreme naiveté to her, but she survives this whole thing. She has to be smart or she would not have survived.”
The other reason Ricci was convinced this was the kind of project on which to build a legacy comes from the larger theme of the movie. It shows the mistakes made in dealing with people who had emotional and psychological conditions at the time, and it’s important to learn from that history to keep it from happening again.
Ricci loves that the movie stresses a truth that is timeless: It is always important to fight for your fellow man. If there is someone in pain, it’s important to reach out and offer help. It’s not surprising this is a message she’s teaching her son.
The main focus for Ricci now is how her career will impact her son. The influence acting has had on Ricci came from a different direction as her exposure was from starting to work when she was only 10 years old, starring in “Mermaids” with Cher. Before the California native was old enough to vote, she had already appeared in 19 feature films, including starring roles in “Casper” and “The Addams Family.”
Ricci is proud of a lot of the work she has done over the years, but she looks back at those experiences in a different way. She finds it interesting to see the kind of work that could be done by a person who really had no idea what life was all about.
It took Ricci a long time to come to terms with what was being asked of her.
“It wasn’t until I found love and had my child that I was able to understand the basic things that life is supposed to be all about,” Ricci says. “I didn’t feel like I had any meaning in my life because I was a child and this fame thing was put on me. The importance of fame in this business is so overwhelming that when you put that on a child’s brain they really do believe that is the meaning of life.
“I grew up to believe life was so empty and meaningless because fame is so empty and meaningless. It wasn’t until I really understood life was about love and the meaning of having a child that I started to heal. What I decided was that what I had was a talent and a skill and that should be the focus.”
As for how she will handle it if her son shows an interest in acting at an early age, Ricci knows exactly what she will say.
“When it is time for him to have a career, he can have any career he wants,” Ricci says. She pauses and then adds, “But he is to be a child until his 18th birthday.”