Christina Ricci in Pan Am

31-year-old actress on role in retro TV drama

Interview, Time In
Interview, Time In

Abu Dhabi trolley dollies, eat your hearts out: long before our veiled, grey-suited femmes took flight, the world of air travel was all about glitz, glamour and the finer things in life. Yes, it’s hard to believe that decades before the screaming kids, stale bread rolls and blanket-filled garbage bags, there were white gloves (ooh, fancy) and tipples galore.

A new show airing on OSN looks back to the golden age of air travel. Pan Am, an airline period drama set in the ’60s, is the mile-high answer to Mad Men – the storyline follows the lives of the stewards, pilots and hostesses on one of the US’s most successful airlines. Here, Novid Parsi caught up with Christina Ricci, who plays purser Maggie Ryan, to find out more about her TV debut.

You’d been looking for a TV role for a while. Did film become less appealing, or TV just more so?
Doing films as an actor, you spend maybe 40 per cent of the year doing your chosen profession. If you’re on a successful TV show, you spend 80 per cent of your year doing the thing you love.

Pan Am depicts women of the era gaining independence through their work lives, but it comes through serving other people. Do you see that as ironic or just a reflection of the times?
If we’re going to make a show about the ’60s and we’re going to be historically accurate, then there is a certain level of what women’s situations were at the time. In the ’60s there were limited jobs that lent themselves to women being self-sufficient, and this was one of them.

The pilot episode made us nostalgic for a time when flying was enjoyable.
Yeah. [Laughs] It was a time when you could arrive 10 minutes before your flight and just have fun on the plane, and all of that sounds absolutely fantastic.

That episode shows a little girl gazing at the stewardesses, clearly influenced by their sense of independence. Who were those role models for you as a girl?
When I was a little girl – well, a teenager – I wanted to be Samuel L Jackson. I always wanted to be men. [Laughs]

Have you shared this with him?
Oh, yeah, I told him when I did Black Snake Moan with him. He thought it was hilarious.

Your Pan Am character, Maggie, is different from the darker, sarcastic characters you became known for in films like The Addams Family, but she still has that Christina Ricci rebellious thread…
Yeah, it was explained to me early on that [creator] Jack [Orman] would be spending quite a lot of time with us. In television, your personality – and what the writers observe of it – ends up getting mixed in quite a bit. Things about you start being reflected in the storylines.

What things about you?
I have a bit of an authority problem, and I tend to be somebody who speaks before thinking about what they’re saying. And I tend to fight for what I think is right. I fix problems that aren’t necessarily my own.

You mean with family and friends?
No, I mean like at work. I’ve become less impulsive with age, but it’s still something I just do.

A long-time theme in articles about you concerns body image: your early experience with anorexia, your weight gain and loss. Pan Am also looks at body image: the inspections of the stewardesses and their girdles.
It doesn’t have much to do with Maggie’s character. Maggie doesn’t wear a girdle because she doesn’t feel comfortable, not because she has any feelings about her body. And that was so long ago for me that it doesn’t really cross my mind very often.
Pan Am airs every Sunday at 10pm on OSN.

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