YOU know you've made it when you are immortalised in song. Forget the accolades for playing the sweet-but-sullen lesbian lover of serial killer Aileen Wournos in Monster, or the coquettish teen temptresses in The Ice Storm, or the object of Johnny Depp's affection in Sleepy Hollow, or the hilariously diabolical Wednesday in The Addams Family. Forget, even, holding your own in Speed Racer, the over-the-top new cartoon-CGI-live-action pile-up from the Wachowski Brothers, creators of The Matrix trilogy.

Christina Ricci's greatest achievement, surely, is inspiring Goddess Of Doom by Finnish metal band Reverend Bizarre. Altogether now: "There is the one, who is everywhere/I believe I was brought here/To spread my Doom in this world of fear/The one who breathed this life-force into me/Was the Goddess of Doom, Christina Ricci ... "

"Give those to me!" the actress barks, snatching the lyrics from my hand. "Who are these dudes? They can't actually believe this." As she reads, laughing, she stabs the page with her finger. "I think from now on I will call myself Christina Ricci, The Internal Void'! That's pretty awesome. I gave Doom to men'? Hey, I'm really nice to men, OK? I'm, like, an awesome girlfriend. I'm not gonna doom anybody. That's the thing - I'm really kinda fun. People like to be around me. I like having a good time."

It's a rainy lunchtime in West Hollywood, and Christina Ricci and I are having sushi in one of her favourite Japanese restaurants. She has driven here in her big Mercedes from her home in the swanky Los Feliz neighborhood.

She is a small woman, teeny and almost doll-like. You can see why writer-director-producers Larry and Andy Wachowski wanted to cast her in their adaptation of a cult 1960s Japanese cartoon: she has the wide eyes and button-nosed cuteness of an anime character.

Speed Racer is the story of Speed (Emile Hirsch, last seen in Sean Penn's Into The Wild), who was born into a racing family. The father, Pops (John Goodman) designs cars - the supersleek, superfast iconic Mach 5 is his creation - with the support of Mom (Susan Sarandon). Unsurprisingly Speed is a young hotshot behind the wheel. Ricci plays Trixie, his crush at school and now his beloved girlfriend. But Speed is haunted by the mysterious death of his idolised older brother Rex. When an extravagantly wealthy and sinister corporation tries to sponsor Speed, the enigmatic Racer X (Matthew Fox, Jack in TV's Lost) approaches him for help in exposing the nefarious businessmen who are ruining the sport with their race-fixing ways.

"The whole message is that cheaters never prosper and that greedy people are bad," says Ricci of a movie which echoes the wholesome message of the original cartoon and which is pitched firmly at family audiences. "The character Speed Racer is an independent, which is unheard of - they try to sabotage him but he sticks to his morals."

Hence lots of thrilling race sequences in crazy tracks around the world. None of them, of course, are real - they're conjured from the same cutting-edge digital jiggery-pokery that made the Matrix movies so innovative. Filming was almost entirely based in the same Berlin studios where V For Vendetta (produced by the Wachowskis) was made. Nor does Hirsch do any actual driving. And Ricci doesn't really fly a helicopter. But she does wear a fetching black catsuit and throw some mean kung-fu moves.

Speed Racer is a big change from last year's Black Snake Moan, in which Ricci starred alongside Justin Timberlake and Samuel L Jackson. She played an abused southern gal who takes too many drugs and sleeps with too many men. In an effort to "cure" her, Jackson's God-fearing farmer takes her into his home - and chains her to a radiator to stop her running away.

Ricci hated the way Black Snake Moan was marketed. She thinks the posters of her in her underwear with a chain round her neck, Jackson standing over her, misrepresented what it was about. But she fought hard to get the part: she is a longstanding spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, and felt that the script had positive things to say about how sexual abuse leads to post-traumatic stress and dysfunctional behaviour. But the producers were initially wary of casting her. "They thought there was too much associated with who I was, and that I was very specific looking," she shrugs. That "moody goth" baggage so beloved of North European metal bands again. "Sometimes people don't have very much imagination," she adds with a snort. "So I got a tan and bleached my hair."

During filming she went further still, insisting that she be tethered to a real chain. "I thought I'd feel like a dumb ass if I was dragging this weird plastic chain around. You're doing yourself a favour as an actor if you have the reality of something like that to deal with. Sam hated the fact that I was always barefoot - he was a very protective, sweet man. I had a splinter in my ass for three days after I was dragged along the porch."

At one point, for one scene, she had to get so upset that she vomited on-set. "I believe that if you smile long enough you feel happy," she says by way of explaining her (literally) visceral reaction. "There's a connection. So if you're crying for that long and putting your body through that much upsetting stuff, eventually it's gonna have a physical reaction. So," she adds chirpily, "I got sick."

This is perhaps nothing less than you would expect of an actress who was known to be a live wire in her early years ("Well, OK, when I was younger I was partying and out of control," she says now, "but I was just a normal crazy girl in that way.") Read the interviews she gave throughout her teens and early 20s and you can't help thinking: what a mess. Anorexia, self-harm, therapy, moodiness, grumpy-gothness ... The daughter of a 1960s model and a psychiatrist who had patients primal-screaming in the family basement, she became the poster-girl for child-actresses gone wrong who would later produce and star in the adaptation of the original "misery memoir", Prozac Nation.

In some ways, Ricci was wrong from the start. Aged six, she was fired from her first ever advert. "I hated the haircut they gave me and refused to act happy about it." Then she failed her first movie audition, for Stephen King adaptation Pet Sematary, because she turned up with a black eye that she'd got innocently enough playing football at school. But it all changed with her big break, Mermaids, in which she starred, aged 10, alongside Winona Ryder and Cher. "The feeling I had on that set I've had on every set since - I associate work with things being really fun and easy and having a vacation from real life. That's what it feels like to me - a total vacation."

Playing Wednesday in The Addams Family was an even bigger break. Ricci was so good as the moon-faced little terror that, for the sequel, her character was given a much more prominent role. Shortly after the release of 1993's Addams Family Values, however, her parents split. Was it tricky being in the spotlight with that going on?

"Nah, that really wasn't a big deal," she says. "The work has always been a really amazing escape for me. It only became difficult when I had physical problems, when I was 14, 15 and anorexic. There was no way to hide that there was obviously something wrong with me. If you're in a room and people are talking to you about the way you look, and you're adolescent, it's just, Oh my God...'"

Did talking about anorexia help her deal with it more quickly? "No, because I didn't have to talk about it until afterwards. Someone found out about it, but it was after I had already gotten treatment. So I actually didn't choose to talk about it, someone chose to write about it. But the thing is, when I was a kid, it was helpful to read about other people who went through the same thing I went through. You feel so isolated as a teenager, you feel like no-one else in the world could possibly have as many problems as you do. The most perfect girl at school thinks she has more problems than anyone else.

"So it was pretty normal to feel that way. Then to read about someone that you might admire going through the same things as you is helpful. And when you're a kid and you have problems and someone finds out about them, there's a tendency to be defiant. Had I just been at a family function saying that, people would haven forgotten it. But because it was all reported and said to strangers, it doesn't go away." And Ricci laughs her giggly, what-can-you-do laugh.

For all her childhood traumas and occasionally draining commitment to her work, Ricci now appears to be a thoroughly sorted young woman. Twice-weekly therapy sessions, she freely admits, are a big help. "I feel like I was a really late emotional bloomer. Just in the last year or two, I've really gotten to a place where I feel much more secure and I've let go of a lot of things that you hold on to while you're a young adult. Sometimes in a session things are bought up that you didn't want to think about, then you walk about feeling Eugggggh'. And you just want to go to sleep. But sometimes when you're there, you get to vent about an emotion. Then you leave and you don't feel that way any more. That's great, that's one of the best."

If, as a young actress, she had had the kind of press and paparazzi attention that Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan endure, how would it have impacted on her? Ricci pauses. "I don't think it would have been good. I think it would have been an ugly scene ... There's a certain amount of attitude to those girls, that kind of teenage attitude that's like, Go f*** yourself, you wanna judge me, judge this'" - Ricci gives me the finger - "and that just leads to more and more things. Yeah, I would not have done well in that environment. Now I deal with those kind of things in a way that I actually like - it's a quality I like about myself.

"The thing I think's really weird is, you have to look at what happens to girls that are sexualised that early. We've got a really amazing example of what happens to a girl who's sold sexually in Britney - she's the original 14-year-old sexpot. We don't really think about the effect it's gonna have on them as adults. It teaches them something - everything that's done to us as a kid teaches us a certain lesson. And her lesson from that I would imagine is: I'm successful if I'm sexy and if I dress like a stripper... all this crazy shit."

Christina Ricci, the messed-up child star who nonetheless grew up smart, appears firmly in control of herself, her image and her career - her self-mocking self-awareness is evident in the name she has given the film production company she started with her sister Pia: Functioning Films. "I was functioning before," she insists with a cackle.

Ricci is also having a laugh with Speed Racer, starring - for the first time in her career - in a big old blockbuster movie. And here's us thinking she was the queen of indie or leftfield movies. But here, too, she is savvily switched-on.

"It's harder and harder to get cast in movies, especially ones that are being financed independently, if you don't mean something at the box office. Most actors are lying to you if they say they're not looking for something that will make themselves more valuable. Everyone who was cast in Speed Racer was saying that we were all prepared to sell out. But the thing is, we didn't have to sell out - we all were lucky enough to get cast in the blockbuster that isn't cutely selling out because it's smart and funny. It's really actually pretty cool.

"But also," she concludes, returning to the background theme of her young life, "people have misconceptions about me. Which is probably my fault. You know, that I only do dark, weird little movies. Or that I'm a really serious person. I so don't live up to that. People who get to know me are like, It's really weird, don't you just care about the art?' I'm like, "F*** the art! How much am I getting paid?'"

*Speed Racer goes on release on May 9 and will be reviewed next week