Giving Up the Ghost

updated 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

CHECK OUT THE DEEP PURPLE nail polish: Christina Ricci may no longer be the little girl from the Addams Family movies, but she hasn't exactly settled into adulthood either. Consider, for example, her take on her character in the new movie Now and Then—a kid she can't quite believe in. "I can't imagine being that naive when I was 12," she says. "They'd just found out about sex. I found out about it when I was like 5. Imagine if someone my age was that naive—it would be crazy!"

She is sitting now in a midtown Manhattan deli, sipping alternately from cans of Diet Coke and diet cream soda, and talking about school, dating and Now and Then, a coming-of-age story in which she plays, improbably, the adolescent incarnation of an adult character played by Rosie O'Donnell. Ricci, 15, is by all accounts smart, obligingly polite and not easily impressed. How did she feel about her onscreen kiss with Now and Then costar Devon Sawa? Ricci shrugs. "I kissed the same guy in Casper," she says wearily, "so it didn't matter. We were both like, 'All right, this again.' " If Ricci (pronounced Ree-chee) sounds like an actress somewhere in mid-career, that's because, by some measures, she is. Besides appearing in Casper and both Addams Family movies, she had a prominent role in 1990's Mermaids, with Cher and Winona Ryder, and she also stars in November's Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain.

Ricci has been acting for as long as her family can remember. Born in Santa Monica, Calif., she entertained her three siblings (Rafael, now 24, an aspiring writer and director; Dante, 21, and Pia, 19, both college students) with jokes and funny faces. "She lives for making her brothers and sister laugh," says her mother, Sarah, 52, a former Ford model. When she was 7, Ricci's father, Ralph, a lawyer, moved the family to suburban Montclair, N.J., where Ricci soon got her first big break—in a grade-school pageant. After the show, a local movie critic whose son was also in the play told Sarah that her daughter was a natural and recommended an agent. All concerned are now glad she did. "Christina would have been a disciplinary problem in school," her mother says. "When she started working, that was the end of any problems." Christina certainly wasn't complaining: "I thought, 'School is boring. This sounds like fun.' "

Ricci began getting work in commercials, and the next year landed her Mermaids role. "We're kind of kindred spirits," says Cher. "She's me in a very small body. We had slumber parties at my apartment. She still stays over sometimes when she's in L.A." In 1990, director Barry Sonnenfeld picked Ricci to play Wednesday in The Addams Family—and found her precociously wise. One day he told her she needed to look sadder for her next take. "I hear a little voice say, 'Barry, I can't act sadder because sadness is an emotion, and Wednesday has no emotions,' " he says. "I looked at her and said, 'You're absolutely right.' "

Ricci says she finds most roles for teenagers "so stereotypical it makes me sick" and some directors "very condescending towards kids. They talk to you like you're 5." What kind of movies does she like? "I love violent films," she enthuses. "To try and shove violence in the corner is ridiculous when we can bring it out and make it something that doesn't hurt as much." But gore alone, Ricci says, does not a great movie make. She found Interview with the Vampire "lame" in its inability to "portray all the characters' inner emotions."

Ricci had to contend with some emotional matters herself during the last three years as her parents separated and she moved with her mother to an apartment in New York City. Ricci is now an 11th grader at Manhattan's Professional Children's School, where one of her classmates is Macaulay Culkin. The two are friends, she says, and insists that a report of her insulting Culkin last month was unfounded. Some of the particulars of her life, she admits, are glamorous: she spent a month last summer with her mother in Ireland shooting Last of the High Kings, costarring Gabriel Byrne. Basically, though, she claims to be a regular teenager, not dating anyone—"We just hang around in groups." Her big complaint right now is that she has to be home each night when Mom decrees. "My curfew is a little early," she says wistfully. "But what are you going to do?"

DAN JEWEL
TOBY KAHN in Manhattan

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