The actress says her Black Snake Moan costar has "the inklings of an artist"

By Rennie Dyball
Updated March 03, 2007 06:30 PM

Acting with Justin Timberlake in the explicit opening scenes of their new movie Black Snake Moan could have been awkward – but Christina Ricci says the singer was “sweet” and “a lot of fun.”

“He’s really great,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was so impressed.”

What impressed Ricci, 27, was the role he chose – Ronnie, a National Guardsman who is supposed to go to Iraq. “It’s amazing, ” she says. “It’s not a vanity project. And he’s not in a place where he needs to prove himself. He’s established in his market, so he doesn’t have to be choosing to do roles like this. It really shows the true inklings of an artist.”

As for their sex scene, she says, “Well, you know, actors make out with other actors all the time. If they’re sweet – and Justin is a very sweet, sweet guy, a lot of fun to be with and goofy – then you can turn it into a situation where you just laugh your ass off. Like, ‘Okay, fine, now we’re naked and on top of each other. Hi, how are you?’ ”

All in all, she says, “He was fun to be with, because we could laugh about it.”

In the movie, set in backwoods Tennessee, Ricci plays Rae, an abuse victim caught in a cycle of promiscuity, who ends up beaten and unconscious outside the home of a God-fearing blues player named Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson). He nurses her back to health and tries to teach her better behavior – by chaining her to his radiator.

Prepping for the part, Ricci made herself look unhealthy and, she says, too thin. “Usually people are like, ‘Oh, you looked so great. I’m like, are you kidding? I look like I’m about to die. They’re like, ‘You’re so skinny!’ Yeah, I look like I’m about to die. I wanted [Rae] to look like someone who didn’t take care of herself.”

To reach her goal, Ricci says, “I ate crap. Crap. [Rae] maybe eats once a day, and it’s like, sugar, or whatever she can get from fast-food places. I would eat a corndog and a cherry limeade and that was pretty much it.”

But the diet wasn’t all bad for Ricci, who says, “I’m not a huge fan of healthy food, anyway!”