At 10, Is Abigail Breslin the Next Big Thing?
Despite all the speculation, the "Little Miss Sunshine" star takes it all in stride. It’s just ‘work,’ she says.
By Kelly-Anne Suarez, Times Staff Writer
Abigail Breslin always knew it'd come to this.
She'd grown up on movie sets, thanks to her older brother, Spencer Breslin, who at 8 starred alongside Bruce Willis in Disney's "The Kid." While her brother mugged for the camera, little Abbie sat quietly toward the back, until one day she got the call.
M. Night Shyamalan was on the hunt for a New Yorker to play the role of Mel Gibson's daughter in "Signs." When Abbie's mom, Kim, heard the news, she turned to her 4-year-old to see if she'd be interested in auditioning.
"Yes," Abbie said, after a moment. "I'm ready."
Breslin laughs at the memory as she stares at her daughter, five years and a dozen projects later. "I was like, 'What? You've just been waiting for me to ask you?' "
These days there's no question the freshly minted star has talent. After her performance in this summer's indie of choice, "Little Miss Sunshine," drew glowing reviews — USA Today's Claudia Puig called Abbie's rendition "perfection"; the Associated Press called her "irresistible" — there's talk that the 10-year-old ingenue is poised to take over the throne of Junior Hollywood, long ruled by the talented Dakota Fanning, who, after all, at 12, is getting up there.
The film follows an emotionally fractured family as it road-trips, VW-style, to Redondo Beach, where its tiniest member, 7-year-old Olive, will compete for the crown of Little Miss Sunshine. Along the way, Abbie more than held her own among the cast's heavy-hitting players — Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear, among others — portraying a range of emotions many kids wouldn't be able to identify, let alone execute on command with such depth and subtlety.
"Her performance was so consistent," said Valerie Faris, who directed the film with her husband, Jonathan Dayton. "There's just never a false moment with her. She never missed a beat, and that's just unheard of with child actors."
John Werkman agreed. The former child actor and manager of Cole and Dylan Sprouse — the 13-year-old twin stars of Disney's "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" who recently launched their own magazine and line of entertainment products — said out of every 500 youngsters who walk through his doors, one will possess the intelligence and charisma needed to springboard into stardom. "There are very few of the Abigails," said Werkman, who has kept tabs on Abbie's career from afar.
Faris and Dayton immediately sensed that gift in Abbie a few years ago while watching her on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," where she had joined Spencer in promoting "The Santa Clause 2."
"She was so full of life," Dayton said, adding that, more than lively, she appeared utterly focused on her conversation with Leno; the ability to listen is both highly coveted and rare among child actors.
But above all, Abbie came off, not as a rehearsed, buffed and packaged performer, but "as a little girl having a good time," Faris said. The Breslins have worked hard to shelter their children from the industry's sharp edges, she said, and it shows.
Indeed, despite the media's recent fawn-fest and save her classic child-actor entourage — parent, stylist and publicist — Abbie seemed refreshingly untouched by Hollywood as she recently fidgeted and noshed on French bread in the cafe at the Four Seasons. In the stream-of-consciousness patter of youth, she explained how her playground of choice is not the Grove but an actual forest — with real trees — in New Jersey, where the summer goal of catching two frogs remains high on her To-Do List, how she positively adores salt-and-vinegar potato chips, though they make her tummy ache, and how the '80s were, like, a really cool decade.
Abbie was born April 1996. "I know. I just missed them," she said, shaking her head and taking a moment to mourn the loss of punk rock, plastic jewelry and side-ponytails.
When put in front of a photographer, she didn't bat her lashes or adopt a coy pout. Instead, she called to her mom. "How should I pose?" she asked, before throwing her arms straight into the air and flashing her slightly gap-toothed grin.
Onscreen, Abbie's character, Olive, is pudgy, bespectacled and plain. In real life, Abbie is nothing of the sort. Bright-eyed with doll-like features and a fresh-scrubbed glow that women will pay hundreds for and never achieve, Abbie is one to turn heads.
When conversation turned to speculation that she is "the next Dakota Fanning," Abbie grew uncomfortable. The girls met when Spencer worked on "The Cat in the Hat" with Dakota. Her mother came to her rescue.
"We love Dakota," Breslin said.
"Yeah, we love Dakota," Abbie said, relaxing. "She's really nice."
"She'll take it as a compliment," Breslin said. Next question.
How did she feel about carrying a feature film at such a young age?
"It wasn't that scary for me. I thought it was just, like, you know, like, fun. It was just, like, you know, going to work, pretty much," she said, giggling at the absurdity of such a statement coming from a 10-year-old. "Yep, just going to work."
While talking shop, Abbie focused less on the acting gigs themselves and more on what comes with them. Working on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," for example, "was really cool" because she got to take the witness stand and sit behind a two-way mirror. When asked about the hardest thing about filming "Sunshine," she cited neither her tearful onscreen heart-to-heart with her character's grandpa, played by Arkin, nor her show-stopping pageant grand finale.
"The fat suit," she replied. "It was soooo hot out."
After Abbie's brief dalliance with Hollywood, she and her mom returned to the family's modest apartment, deep in New York's East Village.
"It's nice to come out here; you want to help promote the project. But when it's all done, it's best to go home. Take out the garbage," Kim Breslin said. "Besides, how do you play a kid if you don't live like one?"
Abigail Breslin, 10, is uneasy being compared to Dakota Fanning, who is “really nice.”