Since her acting debut in Signs (at age six) and Oscar nomination for Little Miss Sunshine (at age 10), Abigail Breslin has taken an unpredictable path in her film roles, appearing in everything from family movies to heartstring-heavy dramas to unabashed horror-comedy — as Zombieland‘s gun-toting scamp Little Rock, she got to indulge in what few of her young peers are allowed; namely, blowing away hordes of the undead. This year, Breslin’s already lent her voice to probably the best, and certainly the most original American animated feature, Rango, and she’ll soon appear (alongside practically everyone else in Hollywood) in the romantic comedy New Year’s Eve; while next year brings a transition to teenage roles — including a high school murderess in the very Heavenly Creatures-sounding Innocence. In this week’s Janie Jones, Breslin plays the title character, a 13-year-old girl set adrift from her single mother to reconnects with her boozy rock-n-roll dad, played by Alessandro Nivola. We sat down with the young actress to talk about the movie and her music, where she sees her career headed, and her Five Favorite Films (with a little assist from her mom).
Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944; 100% Tomatometer)
One would probably be Meet Me in St. Louis, which I love. Meet Me in St. Louis I love because I love Margaret O’Brien, and I actually got to meet her in person — she was so sweet and so cool. She was my favorite. So I love that movie.
I guess I’ll have to do one horror movie because it’s my thing; I love horror movies. So my favorite horror movie would be… [pauses] I guess I’ll just go with a recent one that I really like right now, which was Insidious. I actually really liked that. It was kind of like, in some ways kind of campy, but it was so fun the way it was done. I loved the storyline of it all, and the ending was really cool.
A recent movie that I really liked was The Help. I thought The Help was really, really good. And I love all the actors in it, who I thought were just amazing. I love Jessica Chastain, and Viola Davis and, you know, Emma Stone too, ’cause I worked with her. And Octavia Spencer. I thought they were all amazing.
And then finally I love… [long pause] Can I think about the last one? [Breslin’s mother intervenes: “For sentimental reasons the one you always loved was Prancer,” she suggests, laughing.] Oh yeah, I loved Prancer. Oh my god. [Laughs] I actually, really— okay, yeah, I’ll put that. So that movie, for sentimental reasons, and just because I still love it. It still has to be watched every Christmas. [Mom laughs in the background. ]
How many times have you seen it?
Oh, probably over a hundred. Especially when I was younger, I watched it like every day.
Do you know I’ve never seen it?
Oh my gosh, shame on you! Now you must.
Next, Breslin talks about Janie Jones, starting her music career, and her mini-obsession with Little Rock.
So, Janie Jones. I was impressed that you did all your own singing and playing in the movie. Was that something that attracted you to the part, or were you already performing music?
Abigail Breslin: Well I’d never really done music before, except for, you know, church Christmas parties and stuff like that. I’d never sung that much before, so it was definitely nerve-racking to come in — especially with Alessandro, who was such a good guitar player and singer. So that was definitely nerve-racking, but at the same time it was a lot of fun and it kind of inspired me to learn more. I taught myself guitar and took more vocal lessons, and now I actually have my own band; so that’s kind of cool.
How’s that going?
It’s going well. The band’s going good. It’s called CABB, with two “b”s, and actually our first song is coming out today and it’s called “Well Wishes.”
What kind of music do you play? “Who are your influences?”
[Laughs] Who are my influences! I kind of like… I love Adele, I love Foster the People, Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, The Vaccines. And then my best friend, who’s also in the band, she kind of likes different stuff, like Lady Gaga; so it’s kind of like a merger of the two.
Is music something you might consider pursuing as well as acting?
Yeah, I mean definitely. We’re working on an album right now. It’s definitely something that I love doing and can hopefully, you know, do both.
You and Alessandro kind of have a bond on screen — did you become close off-screen to get that dynamic?
Well, I mean, the first time we met was on set — except, actually my brother Spencer did a movie with Alessandro’s wife, Emily, so we met when I was three. [Laughs] I don’t think we “met.” So when we first met on set, one of the first scenes we did was a very awkward and uncomfortable “first meeting” scene, and it kind of worked out well — as we got to know each other, as the characters got to know each other, we got to know each other in real life. So that was kind of cool.
You first meet him in Little Rock. Was that a coincidence, or did you have that written into the script?
[Laughs] No! Because of my character in Zombieland?
Well, what’s interesting is that while I was filming Zombieland I was reading this script, and my character was “Little Rock,” so… [laughs] I actually really like the city Little Rock in real life.
You need to find a way to work this into all of your films.
[Laughs] Exactly. I need to find a way. It’ll be like a thing. Every movie that you see of mine will have, like, “Little Rock Dry Cleaning” or something like that.
And then you’ll know it’s an “Abigail Breslin Film.”
Then you’ll know — you will know. [Laughs]
You can go back into your old films and have it digitally inserted.
Yeah, I know! [Laughs] I need to go back into all of them. You’ll see Little Miss Sunshine and instead of it being at, like, Redondo Beach, it’ll say “Welcome to Little Rock” in a really cheesy voiceover. It’ll sound really bad, but it’ll work!
Looking at your film choices since your Oscar nomination, you seem to be taking pretty varied roles — from Zombieland to character work in Rango and now this — is there a plan to it?
I don’t really have a set plan of what I feel like I should do, but I definitely like to play characters that I’ve never played before, and do different ones. I just feel like I’d get bored playing the same character over and over again. So I do try and do different roles, but there’s no set plan. I just go script-by-script, and if I like the character and the story, and if it’s a character that I’d want to know in real life, then that’s sort of why I do it.
Janie Jones is released in theaters and on VOD this week.