From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
One by one, the contents of Christina Ricci's purse drop onto the table next to her breakfast: A sewing kit. A stain-erasing pen. Her passport. Earplugs. "Just in case," she explains, rummaging for the Krazy Glue she knows is hiding in her roomy black Louis Vuitton bag. The impromptu demonstration—over oatmeal and Diet Coke at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant—speaks volumes about the 28-year-old actress. She doesn't shy from a challenge (ask her to empty her purse and she'll happily do it), and she likes to be prepared. "I can't wait for when one day there's a true emergency," she says, her voice dropping conspiratorially as she ponders treating a deep wound with Krazy Glue and stitching it up with needle and thread. "That's terrible—nobody wants an emergency. But I'm so ready."

After 21 years in show business—she made her movie debut at 9 in Mermaids with Cher and Winona Ryder—Ricci is also poised to take her career to a whole new level. This month she hits the multiplex in Speed Racer, a glossy popcorn flick based on the Japanese cartoon series. And, after navigating a rocky adolescence in the spotlight, she's enjoying grown-up stardom. "I've been able to just enjoy being myself in a way I never did," she says of her life today. "It's been a gradual process."

One that included a well-publicized struggle with anorexia at 14. "I was starting to become a teenager, and I'd gotten a little bit pudgy—I took my dieting too far," says Ricci. "I always wanted to do everything right, so I just became totally focused on it." Loved ones stepped in, and she got professional help. Today Ricci maintains her thin frame with weight training, indulges her sweet tooth with regular chocolate fixes and allows herself just "five minutes a day to be insecure" about her appearance. "Going through the day being self-conscious," she says, "is just not fun."

One of four "very verbal" kids raised in Montclair, N.J., by Sarah Murdoch, a former model, and Ralph Ricci, a therapist (the couple split when she was a preteen), Ricci started modeling at 7. After Mermaids, she landed roles in family fare like The Addams Family before starring in a series of independent films that highlighted her acerbic wit. "She's tried different kinds of roles over the years," says her pal Don Roos, who directed her in the 1998 cult hit The Opposite of Sex. "You make those choices when you're finding your voice."

She's also found a groove in her personal life. Ricci, who dated actor Adam Goldberg for several years, won't talk about a rumored romance with her Speed costar Kick Gurry. "I checked the 'single' box on my taxes," she says with a grin. Even if her new movie is a monster hit, the industry veteran has no plans to go Hollywood. "I'm totally happy," says Ricci, who'd rather have pals over to watch Lost than go out clubbing. "I love the life I've set up for myself."