By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sometimes Christina Ricci just wishes she'd keep her yap shut.

"When I get annoyed, I tend to get really sarcastic," the actress says ruefully as she fires up a cigarette. "It doesn't translate."

Ricci's current foot-in-mouth hangover was prompted by an exchange a few hours ago with a panel of reporters who were eager to pick apart her self-image.

Does Ricci, the reporters asked, ever aspire for a less off-kilter film career? Will she ever abandon that cool Gothic air? Does she ever yearn for more commercial looks?

"Of course," Ricci calmly responded. "I always wanted to be Jennifer Love Hewitt."

Nervous laughter followed.

"I know that I say things all the time and I don't realize how it's going to turn into something else," Ricci says, wincing at the memory. "Then, five minutes later, I'm like, 'What were you thinking?'

"But I just can't imagine how boring it would be if I had to sit and just say the normal: 'Oh, yeah, I'm really happy with my life! And God, I love myself! Wow, life is interesting!'

"I can't imagine how boring that would be. I think I'd have to kill myself! I mean, it's tedious enough as it is sometimes without having to pretend to be something that you're not."

Ricci finds herself at age 19 trying to shake her vampy indie film image, much the way she slipped out of the ultra-adorable roles of her childhood. This time it's harder.

"I think it's because most of the roles I play are so strong. The characters are so specific and strong and usually a little bit shocking," she says.

"And because of that, people just assume that someone who chooses that kind of role would probably be just like that," she says. "Like we all think Christopher Walken is really a crazy man. You know what I mean?"

Ricci wears her shoulder-length hair tucked over each ear, displaying her moon-shaped face and Bette Davis eyes. She's outfitted in black leather pants, and wears a thick bracelet made from what looks like a bicycle chain. Her fingernails are painted red.

Her film career still owes much to playing Wednesday in two "Addams Family" films and her other preteen roles: Cher's adorable daughter in "Mermaids," the cutie in "Casper" and the tabby lover in "That Darn Cat."

"Children have this sort of incredible imagination -- they're able to just be someone else. They play-act, they do it all the time. That's what I was doing when I started acting," she says.

"They were like, 'Pretend you're happy, pretend your sad.' So that's what I do -- I pretend. And I think because I kept exercising it throughout all these years, I still do that. I didn't lose it the way other adults would, because I used it constantly."

With every role, her talents were developing, but so was her body. By age 15, Ricci had grown into a young woman, complete with curves and a rebellious streak.

"It was really stressful," she recalls. "They want to make films where you're gangly and really skinny and that whole romantic notion of gangly teen-age girls -- the Nabokov thing -- and I was never that."

So rather than becoming Hollywood's next Cinderella, Ricci chose to play the princess' whacked-out older sister.

She portrayed a laundry Nazi in John Waters' "Pecker," a tap dancing hostage in "Buffalo '66" and a stone-cold seductress in a Richard Nixon mask for "The Ice Storm."

"I call her an old soul," actress Miranda Richardson says. "She's incredibly self-possessed and she also makes great choices -- very interesting choices."

"They're all more real," Ricci says of the roles. "They're all honest. They're supposed to be real people and real problems that people face -- maybe a little bit heightened -- but based in reality."

By 1998, the transformation was complete. Her character in "The Opposite of Sex," throws lawn furniture into her stepfather's open grave, fires a gun, seduces her half-brother's lover, steals $10,000 and swears like a dockworker.

"I don't think about something being brave," she says. "In 'The Opposite of Sex,' it didn't occur to me that I was doing something shocking or dangerous or risky.

"It seems ridiculous to me that people even said, 'You did such an amazing job!' because that was like breathing. It was so natural. My mother read that script first and called me and said, 'Oh, Christina. This part was written for you. You could do this in your sleep.'"

Now, Ricci's ready to tackle more mainstream fare. In "Sleepy Hollow," she plays a corseted princess opposite Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton's retelling of Washington Irving's classic tale.

Ricci also has been in Paris filming a World War II drama with Cate Blanchett and Depp called "The Man Who Cried." She portrays a young woman who flees Germany and falls for a Gypsy.

There are no gun-wielding, expletive-laced tantrums in either. Nor are there the typical teen roles that would require Ricci to merely appear pretty or scared or dumb.

"As I got older, I could have gotten more of those sorts of parts. I'd probably be in cheesy high school movies right now. But, for some reason -- fate or luck or I don't know -- I didn't," she says. "It's so weird."