Ricci grows up

The former child star is probably best remembered for her kiddie characters in the movies Mermaids, The Addams Family and Casper.

But growing up under the spotlight has moulded US actress Christina Ricci, 31, into a restrained, guarded adult.

Over the phone from New York for an interview to promote her new TV show, Pan Am, she sounded reticent at times, giving mostly short, clipped answers.

She told The New Paper: "I've been under a lot of media scrutiny almost my entire life.

"When I was younger, I gave a lot of stupid quotes. I felt I was very misquoted and misunderstood, and I've learnt my lesson."

Ricci, whose acting career has been largely confined to the big screen, said that landing the lead role of Maggie Ryan in Pan Am was no accident. The show premieres on AXN Beyond (StarHub Ch 525) on Feb 11 at 9.50pm.

She said: "I've been wanting to do a TV series for a long time, but either the material wasn't right for me or there was a scheduling conflict.

"As you grow up, roles age with you. I used to be a girl playing girl roles, and now I'm finally an adult with an adult role."

The new series focuses on the pilots and stewardesses of the iconic airline in 1963, at the start of the golden age of jet passenger travel.

Ryan is the chief flight attendant, or purser, on board Pan Am's newest airliner, the Clipper Majestic. Having worked hard to land the position, she is determined not to fail.

Ricci said: "Maggie acts as an antagonistic presence on the show. She's a really energetic person who's straightforward and has a razor-sharp wit.

"She's not afraid to stand up for her rights and the rights of the people she cares about."

As spokesman for America's Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, Ricci is particularly incensed when it comes to sexual violence.

In the second episode of Pam An, a drunk passenger makes sexual advances towards Ryan in the airplane galley and ends up being stabbed with a fork by her in self-defence.

Ricci said: "Sexual abuse is usually dealt with poorly in society. It was a challenge to film that episode.

"We wanted to get across the seriousness of sexual harassment of air stewardesses. At the same time, we didn't want to cross the line in sensationalising that scene."

She added: "Pan Am is an escapist show, just like fantasy or science fiction. It is set in the 1960s, a time when misogyny was not only socially acceptable, it was rampant.

"The show is not meant to teach the audience specific life lessons. Rather, it demonstrates that women can be empowered when it comes to their career and enjoying themselves.

Respect for women

"It's easier to get this message across now, when there's a lot more empathy and respect for women in general."

Nevertheless, Ricci claims that filming Pan Am was not all work and no play.

She said: "There's a very good rhythm that the female leads have on the show. Karine (Vanasse) and I always crack each other up on the set, while Kelli (Garner) has a more serious sense of humour."

She admitted: "I'm a terrible stewardess. I'm such a huge klutz, I injure myself regularly on the set.

"I've many bumps and bruises from bumping into somebody or something while filming. I even tripped over someone while trying to serve coffee on set."

Besides being busy with Pan Am, Ricci has finished filming the movie Bel Ami, which is based on French author Guy de Maupassant's 1885 novel of the same name. Opening here on March 29, it also stars Uma Thurman, Robert Pattinson and Kristin Scott Thomas.

About Pattinson, Ricci would say only that the Twilight heart-throb, who plays the corrupt protagonist Georges Duroy, was an "amazing" guy to work with.

She was more open about whether she's looking for meatier roles on TV or film.

She said: "The most important lesson I've learnt in Hollywood is that, at the end of the day, acting is just a job. If you want to be happy, you must have a personal life that's fulfilling."

This article was first published in The New Paper.