How Christina Ricci's 'Really Specific Vision' Brought Zelda Fitzgerald to Life
It's a role Christina Ricci thought suited her to a Z.
For nearly a century, Zelda Fitzgerald has been a subject of enduring fascination, as the ultimate muse of the Jazz Age, a woman whose high living and high spirits fueled the much revered writings of her novelist husband F. Scott Fitzgerald and who danced with spilling champagne flutes upon café society tabletops at home and abroad as the living incarnation of the American flapper.
Though she would not live to see 50, Zelda Fitzgerald's life, gin-soaked antics, and turbulent marriage would gradually be elevated to legendary status, symbolic of both spirited excess and proto-feminist defiance, until she emerged as a bona fide 20th century icon.
Now Ricci, who, as a popular actress since her childhood years, is no stranger to living life in the public eye -- though not with nearly Zelda's level of wild abandon -- teams with Amazon Studios for "Z: The Beginning of Everything." Premiering in full on January 27th, the ten-episode series, with Ricci serving as both executive producer and leading lady, offers a look at the prototypical jazz baby with fresh eyes, simultaneously bringing her down to earth while shedding light on just how much of a societal status quo-shattering force she ultimately was, as Ricci reveals in conversation with Moviefone.
Moviefone: When did Zelda Fitzgerald hit your radar for the first time?
Christina Ricci: I don't know when I first heard of Zelda. But the book that the show's based on, "Z: A Zelda Fitzgerald Novel," by Therese Fowler, is a book that I discovered; I think it was on a bestseller list or something in a magazine, or must-have summer reading or something. So I read it, and I absolutely just loved it. I loved how intimate Therese made the story. I love how accessible and sort of modern Zelda's voice was. I just thought it was something really worth telling, a story worth telling.
She's been a figure of fascination for generations, of both women and men. What do you think is the secret of her ongoing allure and the appeal of her story?
I think she really was a person out of time. It's like she was out of place in the time period she was. It's almost like a mistake happened in the universe, and she was born, like, 60 years too early or something, or 70 years too early, or 80 years too early. Because, I think, that it's taken that many generations for us finally to evolve, and women who understand her behavior, women who are like her.
I think that the fascination, and why it's now all kind of coming to a head with her, is that she's finally relatable. I think before, her behavior was just too bizarre, because the rest of us hadn't gotten there yet.
On the most personal level, what was that thing about Zelda that really resonated with you, that you felt you got, or that you related to particularly?
I think the thing that I always love about, one through-line I think, when you read about really fantastic women in history, strong women, women who struggled, is there seemed to be this strength in, realizing a situation they were in, but making the best of it. That's a real survivor. Somebody who was able to turn their situation into something palatable or even enjoyable. What I loved about Zelda is that she made the best out of her situation. She was always herself and just couldn't help it.
Her love story with F. Scott Fitzgerald has become legend. What was, to you, the challenge or the joy of making that story real and making it relatable for the modern audience?
That wasn't such a conscious thing. You put two actors in parts, and you write scenes for them and they're in love, and you hope it works. David [Hoflin] was cast very late. We didn't rehearse at all. I think we just really lucked out. David and I get along really well. We worked really well together. Both of us are child actors, and I think it's that kind of comfort on screen and on set that allows us then the space to really work on the chemistry.
We see her early struggle rebelling against the world in which she's raised. We all do that to a degree as we come up. You came up in Hollywood, which is probably an interesting world to rebel against. Did you find yourself at any point in your life wanting to move in different directions than the world you lived in was telling you to move in?
You mean do something other than be an actress?
Or just maybe even be an actress in a different way than the system was trying to tell you to be an actress, or the kinds of roles they were telling you to play.
Yeah. I've never been very good at doing things that don't occur to me naturally. I think I'm very much like Zelda, in that I have a hard time not being myself. So yeah, I've definitely felt at a certain point that I was supposed to become something different, but I tried really hard, and I couldn't. I think it's almost, in trying really hard that I did my career a lot of damage. Because you should always be the thing that makes you special, the thing that no one else can do, but you can do.
What was the creative reward of shepherding this project as a producer? Was there a particular territory that you gave extra attention in that role?
I love filmmaking. I love movies. I've been on sets my entire life. I'm obsessed with the process. I'm obsessed with the nuance of story, with performance, every aspect of it. So for me, it was just ... I wanted to see this told, and I wanted to see it told the right way. Quote-unquote, the right way, according to me.
You are a producer!
I have a very strong opinion, generally, about everything. I had really specific vision for this.
Do you feel there's a very specific takeaway for a generation that's going to discover Zelda Fitzgerald for the first time through this series? Do you think that there's a really apt metaphor for today's times to draw from her?
It's a person and a life, so I think there are many lessons to be learned from this, as many as she learned in her lifetime. I think it's a story worth telling now, because I think it's important that we, as women, don't forget what the world was like for us in the past. I think it's important that we realize we have something to protect, and more to fight for. I think it's a great story. It's a great story to really show how far we've come. Because her life wouldn't have been tragic if she was alive today. She would have had recourse.