The lingering question of whether stewardesses of the ‘60s were empowered career women or subservient eye candy is exactly why Christina Ricci booked her flight with “Pam Am.”
“It's difficult to fall in love with a character when you just read the pilot – you don't really know who the character is,” Ricci, who plays the independent-minded international flight attendant Maggie on the retro ABC drama, tells PopcornBiz, “So I really fell in love with the idea of the show and what the show would provide for further storylines. I loved the fact that, yes, the misconception of who these women were, of ‘Coffee, tea, or me?’"
“I've considered myself somebody who believes very strongly in doing things that are good for women, not anything that would ever hurt or denigrate women. And so I loved the idea of doing something that has this sort of misconception about what stewardesses were,” says Ricci. “I love the idea that these girls were navigating a blatantly misogynistic society…the whole idea that, yes, in order to see the world and run their lives and be free they had to serve tea and coffee.”
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But the actress thinks that the many realities that stewardess of the famed airline faced in 1963 – both thrilling and limiting – will become apparent immediately, and the notion that they were just ornamental sex objects for the jet set will evaporate. “I think as soon as anybody sees five minutes of the show, those misconceptions about what this meant for women are going to be gone,” says Ricci.“They'll realize that what this really sends is a message that these women were really free and in charge of their lives, so it's actually kind of great for young girls and women [today].”
“In reality, the job allowed these women to have a freedom that they weren't really given in a regular sort of role in life at that time,” Ricci explains. “Yes, they did have to pass through the girdle checks and grooming checks, but by going through those things and having met the education qualifications and all of these other things, they were then allowed to travel freely and see the world in a way that other people didn't get to see. And to be in charge of their own lives in a way that women at the time weren't necessarily regularly in charge of their lives.”
After a long career centered in film, the 31-year-old actress says she’s looking forward to plying her trade in long-form on the small screen. “I've been looking to do TV for a while,” says Ricci. “I've always done guest-starring stuff, I've done a couple of multi-episode arcs, and I've always loved the experience. I feel like some of the best talent is on TV right now, between writing, acting, great directors. I've been looking for the consistency of work that TV provides for you, and I always thought it would be really interesting to live with a character for months, if not years.”
One thing that Ricci’s keeping at the forefront of her mind is just how heady the experience of traveling the world in a jet was in 1963 for both Pan Am passengers and crew.
“I always remember in my performance that this is something that is exciting,” she says. “Every time we step on a plane, we are excited just like the passengers are. It's glamorous, and these stewardesses were looked at as really glamorous symbols. We have so much pride in welcoming these passengers onto the plane, and they have so much pride in travel.”
"Pan Am" premieres Sunday, September 25th at 10 PM ET on ABC