‘Yellowjackets’ Christina Ricci embracing her strangeness after years of missing out on rom-coms roles
One of the stars of the recent hit series ‘Yellowjackets’, Christina Ricci has said that she often felt the kind of roles she wanted to play just didn’t exist for women like her. Thank God that’s all changed.
Yellowjackets; it’s the series that’s taken the internet by storm. Part survival epic, part psychological horror story and part coming-of-age drama (according to IMDb), the show was largely influenced by real events (the Donner Party and the 1972 Andes flight disaster) and tells the tale of four teenagers who were involved in a plane crash in 1996. Part of their local New Jersey high school soccer team, the squad is en route to a national tournament in Seattle when their plane crashes… and those who remain are left to survive deep in the wilderness for 19 months.
It’s all very Lord of the Flies… just, you know, with girls.
Chronicling their attempts to sustain themselves back then, while also tracking their current lives in 2021, Christina Ricci is amongst one of the core members to lend her talents to the project. Cast as the adult version of Misty Quigley, her character can only be described as “delightfully unhinged”. She’s an anti-hero with a God complex, who Ricci actually modelled on real-life serial killer Ed Kemper.
“When we first got up there to shoot the season, I was watching a lot of Mindhunter,” Ricci told W Magazine. “There’s one serial killer, [Ed Kemper], who is so terrifying because he tries to be so normal, safe, and childlike. At the same time, this character really wants to be liked and needed. [Mindhunter] was free of all camp and was also scary, but in a completely non-obvious way. Another reference was Kathy Bates from Misery, along with that Netflix documentary about the [Rajneeshee] cult, Wild Wild Country.”
Rising to fame in the 90s for appearances in family classics such as The Addams Family and Casper, Ricci has garnered herself a reputation for playing unconventional characters with a dark edge. Those roles weren’t always easy to come by though and the actress recently admitted that she often felt she needed to change herself to fit the mold. “There was definitely a period of time when I didn’t fit into anything that was being made. I was constantly being asked or having to go and audition for rom-coms and the things that were available for actresses in my age range, and I didn’t fit into any of them because, I don’t know, I’m just a different kind of actress. It was a very tough period of time.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind that young women have right now. I tried very hard to change myself and make myself so that I would fit into those kinds of parts and movies, and it just never worked.” Things have changed greatly since then, but two decades ago, saying no wasn’t really an option. “We’re very aware that we’re getting to play more and more interesting characters because of the time where we are,” Ricci noted. “We [she and her co-stars] have discussed the way that things have changed just in terms of being an actress – what you’re allowed to request for yourself.
“A lot of the younger girls on this show are very much able to stand up for themselves and say, ‘No, I won’t do that. I don’t want to do that. I don’t like how I’m being treated.’ And to witness that, having been their age on film sets, was sort of like, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing. So are we all allowed to do this?’ It’s so fun not to be hampered by all the traditional requirements that there used to be for female characters … in terms of what you are allowed to express as a working actress that would not throw you into the realm of ‘difficult’.”
Misty is a prime example of this and Ricci stood her ground when it came to how far she was willing to go to make her “relatable”. “Misty is a character who expresses herself in a way that people are unfamiliar with,” she said in an interview with The LA Times. “Sometimes people would feel that what I was doing would not be recognisable because it wasn’t traditional. ‘How do we know she’s angry if she’s smiling?’ There would be discussions about making her more relatable, but I felt like, we’re in a time and place now where you don’t have to see yourself in the character to be interested or even sympathise. It was tough for me because I like to be bold, to make very strong choices, and kind of ride the edge.
“Sometimes maybe it’s too much. Finding that balance where people felt that she was still ‘relatable’, while still being true to the character that I wanted to play, was difficult.” She made it work though and Ricci has generated quite a buzz with her performance since the show first debuted last November. As with any series about teenage girls, there are plenty of tropes, but the characters are not stereotypes, Ricci assures us. “These are real individual characters, people that remind me of girls I went to school with. Fully formed, whole characters instead of caricatures.” Far from the rom-com clichés she tried so hard to avoid.
Women in Hollywood are finally being offered more complex roles. They’re being given the chance to show their grit, and their characters – though not always relatable or even likeable for that matter – have storylines that flesh out and develop over time. Two-dimensional doesn’t cut it anymore and it’s largely thanks to actresses such as Ricci for showing that what’s rare is wonderful. “These could be male characters, in a lot of ways. And it feels very real to me, like something that we don’t really see that often with film and television. If a woman is brutal, the entire show is about how brutal she is and not just another aspect of her character. I also loved the character I was playing. As an actress, I’m always looking for something that I haven’t seen a lot of in Hollywood.”