Ricci began her career appearing in commercials and received early recognition as a child star. Her debut performance in Mermaids (1990) was followed by a breakthrough role as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel Addams Family Values (1993) when she was eleven and thirteen years old, respectively. Following her success with the Addams Family films, she earned something of a "teen icon" status thanks to appearances in various big budget productions, notably Now and Then (1995) and Casper (1995), which were marketed for younger audiences, before making a successful transition into adult-oriented roles with the art-house drama The Ice Storm (1997), at the age of seventeen.
Ricci has also acted in various television productions. In 2006, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as a paramedic in the ABC drama Grey's Anatomy. From 2011 to 2012, she starred as a stewardess in the short-lived series Pan Am. In 2014, she starred in the titular role of the Lifetime film Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, marking a return to the darker roles she had generated attention for earlier in her career. In 2015, she reprised the role in the limited series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, chronicling the aftermath of the events that took place in the biopic.
Ricci was born in Santa Monica, California, the fourth and youngest child of Sarah (née Murdoch), a real estate agent, and Ralph Ricci, a lawyer and group therapist. Regarding her ancestry, Ricci has stated, "The Italian blood has been bred out of me. There's an Italian four or five generations back who married an Irish woman and they had all sons. So they married more Irish women, there were more sons, and more Irish women. Now I'm basically Scots-Irish."
The family moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where she grew up attending Edgemont Elementary School, Glenfield Middle School, and Montclair High School, as well as the Morristown-Beard School. After one year, she left the high school for the Professional Children's School in New York City. Her siblings are Rafael (born 1971), Dante (born 1974), and Pia (born 1976). Ricci's parents separated in 1993, when she was 13, and she has not spoken to her father since. She has been vocal about her childhood in interviews, particularly her parents' divorce and turbulent relationship with her father.
A critic for the Bergen Record discovered Ricci at age eight in a school play (The Twelve Days of Christmas) at Edgemont School in Montclair, New Jersey. Another child was originally cast in the role, but Ricci got him to hit her and told on him; he lost the role to her as part of his punishment. Ricci appeared in a couple of parody commercials in the late night sketch Variety show Saturday Night Live. The first of these featured Ricci as a child at a birthday party in which medical waste fell out of a burst piñata, parodying the then-topical dumping of medical waste in the rivers of the United States' east coast. This gained her her AFTRA card.
Ricci's big screen debut was in 1990's Mermaids as Cher's character's younger daughter. She also appears in the music video of the film's soundtrack "The Shoop Shoop Song". The following year, she starred as the morbidly precocious Wednesday Addams in the feature film adaptation of The Addams Family. She reprised the role for the film's 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values. Both films were commercially successful, and critics singled out Ricci's performance as being one of the highlights of the first film and its sequel.
Her next project, the live-action adaptation of Casper, was her first in a lead role. The feature received mixed critical reviews, but it was a success at the box office, being the year's eighth highest-grossing film. Ricci then played the younger version of Rosie O'Donnell's character in the film Now and Then. The film was a box office success, and critics praised it as the "female version" of Stand by Me. She also starred in a handful of other films with teenage roles such as Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain and That Darn Cat. In 1997, Ricci began to appear in more adult roles, beginning with her performance as the troubled, sexually curious Wendy Hood in Ang Lee's critically acclaimed The Ice Storm.
Ricci subsequently appeared in films like the independent hit Buffalo '66 (in which she played Vincent Gallo's unwitting abductee-turned-girlfriend), John Waters' Pecker, and Don Roos' The Opposite of Sex (as the acid-tongued, manipulative Dede). For her performance as Dede, Ricci won acclaim and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Although she missed out on an Academy Award nomination, Entertainment Weekly honored her well-received performance as one of the "Worst Oscar Snubs Ever".
Later films included Sleepy Hollow (alongside Johnny Depp), and Prozac Nation. She then starred opposite Charlize Theron in the film Monster; during Theron's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, she acknowledged Ricci, calling her the "unsung hero" of the film. Ricci made a cameo appearance on Beck's successful album Guero, providing vocals on "Hell Yes". On December 4, 1999, she appeared as the guest host on Saturday Night Live. She performed parodies of Britney Spears and the Olsen twins. During one of her skits, she accidentally punched actress Ana Gasteyer in the face.
In February 2006, Ricci made a guest appearance as a paramedic in the ABC drama Grey's Anatomy, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award. She was a guest star for seven episodes in the last season of Ally McBeal in 2002 as Debbie 'Liza' Bump, a lawyer who works at Cage & Fish and marries Richard Fish in the last episode.
In 2006, Ricci stated that she feels that at 5 ft 1 in (155 cm) she is "too short" to ever be an A-list actress, saying she tends "to look really small on camera". She has also said that she believes she does not have much control over her career, specifying that she still has to audition for film parts.
Ricci appeared in the 2007 film Black Snake Moan as a young woman suffering from sexual addiction. It received mixed reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes tallying an overall score of 66 percent. It received some positive feedback, however; on the television program Ebert & Roeper, filmmaker Kevin Smith, filling in for Roger Ebert, described the film as the best of the year thus far and called Ricci's performance the best of her career. Richard Roeper also gave the film a "thumb up" rating. The film earned $4 million, putting it in eighth place for the highest earnings in its opening weekend. For her role in Black Snake Moan, Ricci was required to lose several pounds and wore a 40 lb (18 kg) chain during filming.
In 2006, Ricci starred in Penelope, a modern fairytale; and in 2008 she played the female lead in the Wachowskis' feature film adaptation of Speed Racer. She also signed on for three episodes of TNT's crime drama Saving Grace during its second season. Ricci played a young detective who temporarily partners with Grace, played by Holly Hunter.
Ricci appeared with Liam Neeson and Justin Long in the psychological thriller After.Life which had a limited release on April 9, 2010. She made her Broadway debut as Mandy in Time Stands Still, resuming performances on September 23, 2010 at the Cort Theatre, alongside original cast members Laura Linney, Brian d'Arcy James and Eric Bogosian. She replaced Alicia Silverstone, who played the role of Mandy in its Manhattan Theater Club engagement.
In September 2011, Ricci began a starring role in the ABC television series Pan Am, set in the 1960s. She returned to the stage in April 2012, playing Hermia in an off-Broadway revival of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 2012, Ricci flew to Sydney to begin work on an Australian film called Around The Block. In January 2014, she starred in the title role of the Lifetime original movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax in which she portrayed Lizzie Borden who was accused, tried, and ultimately acquitted of the murder of both her father and stepmother in the summer of 1892. A year later, she reprised the character in a limited series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, also on Lifetime.
Ricci is listed in several art publications as one of artist Mark Ryden's muses. Her image has appeared in over 10 of his oil paintings and numerous sketches.
Ricci is the National Spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
Ricci began dating actor Owen Benjamin in 2008 after they met on the set of the film All's Faire in Love. They became engaged in March 2009, but ended the engagement two months later. In February 2013, Ricci announced her engagement to dolly grip James Heerdegen, whom she met while working on the series Pan Am in 2012. They married on October 26, 2013 in Manhattan, New York. They have a son named Freddie (born August 2014).
After making the top of PETA's worst-dressed list and receiving a letter from them, Ricci decided to give up wearing fur.
Ricci has tattoos of a lion on her right shoulder blade (a reference to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a favorite novel of hers as a youngster), an Edward Gorey figure on the inside of her right wrist, a pair of praying hands on her left hip (this tattoo was originally a bat), the name "Jack" on her right thigh for a deceased pet, a sparrow on her right breast, and a mermaid on her left ankle. She also had the words "Move or Bleed" on the left side of her rib cage, as well as a bouquet of sweet peas on her lower back.Music2005: "Hell Yes" – BeckMusic videos1990: "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" – Cher1991: "Addams Groove" – MC Hammer1993: "Addams Family (Whoomp!)" – Tag Team2000: "Natural Blues" – Mobyvideo games2008: The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon as Cynder2008: Speed Racer: The Videogame as TrixieAudiobookGossip Girl – NarratorGossip Girl "You Know You Love Me" – Narrator