Christina Ricci Embarrassed by Provocative Early Role

It's a modern indie classic, an all-star drama about a '70s suburban Thanksgiving gone dramatically wrong. So why isn't Christina Ricci proud of her role in The Ice Storm?

Ricci was only 17 when she made the movie, playing a troubled and sexually precocious 14-year-old. Talking to The Daily News recently, Ricci actually apologized to director Ang Lee, saying she didn't really understand the role she was playing:

"People always compliment me on my performance in the movie, but I cannot take credit for it at all because I truly had no idea what the film was about."

The 29-year-old star's statement raises troubling questions about the ethics of young actresses performing sexually charged roles. It's practically a standard right-of-passage for child actors to take edgy "adult" roles as soon as they hit their teens. But do young actresses really understand what they're doing when they're asked to play sex scenes or seductions?

In 2007, this question was raised when then-twelve-year-old Dakota Fanning played a suggestive role in the movie Hounddog. The film included a controversial rape scene, and critics were up in arms about Fanning's parents allowing her to play the role. But the star insisted the anger was misdirected:

“It’s a movie, and it’s called acting. I’m not going through anything. [The other child actors] Cody and Isabelle aren’t going through anything, their characters are. And for me, when it’s done it’s done. I don’t even think about it anymore...Pretty much everybody who talked about it attacked my mother, which I did not appreciate. That was extremely uncalled for and hurtful.”

In Fanning's case, it seems like her innocence about the movie's content protected her from being hurt. This is similar to what Natalie Portman has said about her debut performance, at age twelve, as a gun-toting nymphet in The Professional. In one scene, censored from some theatrical versions of the film, her character tries to seduce middle-aged Jean Reno. But even in retrospect, Portman insists that the scene isn't about sex at all:

"I personally didn't have a real sexual understanding at that point at all, so the 'I love you' was very innocent... It's a very pure sort of thing in the film. It doesn't cross that line."

And then there's Jodie Foster, who played a child prostitute in Taxi Driver when she was 13. Foster says that she fully understood the role she was playing: "I knew the character I had to play, I grew up three blocks away from Hollywood Boulevard and saw prostitutes like Iris every day." Nonetheless, there was a welfare worker with her at all times ("She made sure I wasn't on set when Robert De Niro said a dirty word.").

Interestingly, Foster had to undergo psychological testing before the movie started production, so that the filmmakers knew she wouldn't be scarred by her role. Would Ricci, Portman and Fanning have passed that test? You have to wonder.

Do you think its harmful for child actors to play adult roles? Chime in below!

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