Abigail Breslin: 'Little Miss Sunshine' grows up in 'Janie Jones'
From Tatum O’Neal to Hailee Steinfeld, adorable child stars have long faced an uphill battle in making the shift to an adult career. Many have struggled to prove that there’s more to their talent than just playing cute. Abigail Breslin is well acquainted with that particular conundrum.
At the age of 10, she earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination for 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” She had the memorable role of Olive, a chubby, somewhat dorky girl whose eccentric family rallies behind her efforts to win a beauty pageant. Since then, Breslin’s slowly been transitioning into more grown-up parts, playing Ryan Reynolds’ daughter in the romantic comedy “Definitely, Maybe” and tackling more serious fare in the somber drama “My Sister’s Keeper” opposite Cameron Diaz, not to mention her turn as feisty younger sister to Emma Stone’s gun-toting tough girl in the horror sendup “Zombieland.”
Now 15, she stars in “Janie Jones,” an independent drama opening Friday about a teenager who is introduced for the first time to her estranged father (Alessandro Nivola). Dad is a rock star, and she joins him on the road as the two work on their relationship.
“To anyone who said, ‘Well, she got an Academy Award nomination because she was a cute kid,’ I would say, ‘Look at her in this movie,’ ” said David Rosenthal, who wrote and directed the film and cast Breslin without even auditioning her for the part. “You see why she’s really a star.”
During a recent trip to Los Angeles to promote the movie, the New York City native sat down with 24 Frames' Amy Kaufman to discuss her latest role, her mother’s effect on her career and her new band.
A.K.: This is a pretty mature role for you — there’s lots of swearing and partying in “Janie Jones.” Was there any hesitation on your mom’s part about letting you do it?
A.K.: Your mother was the one who helped you get into acting, right?
A.B.: Yeah, so the story is that my brother’s agent asked if I would be willing to audition for a movie, and my mom was like, ‘No, Abby’s really quiet. I don’t really see her as doing that, but I’ll ask.” And I guess I said, “Yes, I’m ready,” or something like that.
A.K.: How involved is she with your career nowadays?
A.B.: Well, I mean, she’s always been there because I’m a minor, so I can’t be on sets alone and everything. But she’s always been there just as my mom. She’s not my manager or anything like that. It’s always great having somebody there with you who cares about you and wants the best for you.
A.K.: Is it true you sang and played guitar for the first time ever in this film?
A.B.: Yeah, and it kind of inspired me, because I actually started my own band through doing the movie with my friend Cassidy. It’s called CABB — like Cass and Abb. We do write about guys, of course. That’s our main thing. That’s what all the inspiration comes from, I guess. Feel my fingers. They’re so gross from calluses. I play, like, six hours a day.
A.K.: Do you ever use music to help you get into character?
A.B.: I have sad playlists I listen to, which sounds really lame. I went to this song — it was “Fix You” by Coldplay, and then “Samson” by Regina Spektor. The music puts you in a calmed-down sort of mood.
A.K.: When you think back on the experience of being nominated for an Oscar, what do you remember?
A.B.: It was a lot of fun and it was definitely kind of a blur, I guess, in a lot of ways. I mean, I was only 10. But a lot of people told me they had liked the movie, and I just thought that was cool. I liked getting to wear the big dress and get my hair all done. It was like going to a ball or something.
A.K.: Have you become friends with any other young actors in Hollywood?
A.B.: I actually met Chloë [Moretz] last night, and we’ve been BlackBerry messaging. She’s a year younger than me. She’s so sweet. We’ve kind of been talking about, like, Foster the People and barbecue and Disneyland.
A.K.: You’re attempting to transition from being a kid actor to an adult one. Is there a lot of pressure that comes with that?
A.B.: There’s obviously times when you feel that and you think about it, but at the end of the day, I kind of try and think there are really other important things going on in the world. There are diseases and hunger and really important things. Even though I think film can be really important and teach people things, it’s an hour-and-a-half-long movie. You kind of have to keep it in perspective.
A.K.: How do you choose your roles?
A.B.: I just kind of choose movies based on if I like the character and it’s somebody I’d want to know in real life. I like characters that, even if they had bad circumstances, they don’t make themselves a victim.
A.K.: Have you ever considered being anything other than an actress?
A.B.: There was a time a year ago when I really wanted to be a doctor, but it was only because I was watching way too much “Grey’s Anatomy.” And then I had to go get stitches, and nobody was talking about their relationships and nobody proposed in the waiting room. It was nothing like I thought it was gonna be. I was like, “Ugh, bo-ring! Don’t wanna do that.”
A.K.: Do you want to go to college someday?
A.B.: I kind of have always had this plan with my cousin that we’d both go to college in New York — that I’d go to NYU and she’d go to Columbia, and we’d have, like, this really cool apartment with a silver Christmas tree. I just feel like it would be so much fun.
— Amy Kaufman
Photo: Abigail Breslin. Credit: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times.