Edge of Seventeen
Best known for her role in Little Miss Sunshine, Abigail Breslin is 17 now... and ready for the big time in a film with Meryl Streep. By James Mottram
Abigail Breslin's Twitter page reads like this: "I really like cats, CHRISTMAS, horror movies and anything sparkly." It might not surprise you that the girl who won an Oscar nod for warming our hearts in Little Miss Sunshine likes furry animals and festivities, but scary movies? "I love them," she cries. "It's a real challenge for me to be actually stay-up-all-night terrified about a horror movie. I'm always looking for one that will keep me really, really scared."
Now 17, and with hair dyed straw-blonde, blue-eyed Breslin was drawn to the genre from an early age. "I always wanted to watch horror movies but my mom was worried I'd be too scared of them." She saw her first, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, when she was 12.
"I got such an adrenaline rush off of watching it. And ever since then, it's been a main interest of mine. I do it all the time." She lets out a wicked laugh. "I knew that it was my destiny to watch horror films!"
Better still, it's been her destiny to act in them – from 2009's Zombieland to supernatural scare-fest Haunter. Her latest, The Call, though not strictly a horror, is undeniably terrifying – a blend of Buried and The Silence of the Lambs. She plays Casey, an ordinary teen who gets kidnapped from the mall by a stalker and put in the trunk of his car.
Managing to phone a 911 operator (Halle Berry), so begins a wire-taut real-time journey as a terrified Casey and her phone-a-friend try and locate her before she meets a grisly fate.
Breslin admits she was into it immediately. "I got so nervous when I was reading it – that definitely made me want to do it." In reality, with Breslin spending a lot of the film crying, screaming or shaking, it was an exhausting process to shoot. "You have to keep that intensity and energy level up the whole time, which is difficult to do."
At night, she'd go home and gorge on trash TV to unwind, although she did make the fatal error of watching one of her beloved horrors one evening – leading to some very strange dreams.
For all this intensity, Breslin comes across as remarkably well-adjusted. Put this down to her New York upbringing in a tight-knit family – led by mother Kim and father Michael, a computer programmer.
The youngest of three, Breslin – who was named after former First Lady, Abigail Adams – followed her older brother, Spencer, into acting when she was just three. Featuring initially in commercials, she then won her debut movie role a couple of years later in M. Night Shyamalan's crop circle thriller Signs.
Even now, with over a decade of work in the industry behind her (including 2004's Raising Helen, alongside her sibling), she has no desire to move to Hollywood. "I think in New York, there's a way for you to stay a little bit more normal." Indeed, when she tells me about her love for the Twilight series, she gets all starry-eyed, just like another fan – particularly about the moment she met its British star Robert Pattinson. "He was walking past me and we shook hands, and he was like 'I have to get back to my seat!'" she wails. "I couldn't even say anything!"
In October, Breslin stars in what might became her own Twilight. It's the sci-fi extravaganza Ender's Game – based on the first in a series of best-selling books by Orson Scott Card about young child prodigies who are trained in a military academy to fight against an alien race. With a cast also including Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, she plays Valentine Wiggin, sister and protector to the gifted Ender (Asa Butterfield).
Like Twilight and The Hunger Games, the books already have a rabid set of devotees.
"Everybody I mention it to is like 'Oh yeah, I love that book!'" she says. "They say 'Who are you playing?' and I tell them Valentine and they're like 'Oh my God, I love Valentine!'
"I remember when I was filming it, I'd be walking around New Orleans and people were like 'I wish that Valentine was my sister. She's so cool!' So it's always exciting for me but nerve-wracking."
If that sounds daunting, Breslin has also gone up against Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor in August: Osage County, based on the Broadway smash by Tracy Letts about a crazed Oklahoma family. Early reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, where it's just premiered, have suggested it's a major Oscar-contender. Breslin plays Jean, moody teenage daughter to McGregor and Roberts. "It was one of my favourite things I've ever done," says the actress, who was so scared during her first scene with Streep, she dropped all her props.
Beyond this, Breslin spends most of her down-time with her friends, tweeting about boys, just like any other teenage girl. "I'm sure one day I'll look back and go 'Who was I? Why did I tweet that?'" Maybe it's a good thing, a way to stay grounded when so many other starlets fall foul of drink, drugs and diets.
"There's a lot of pressures that come along with the job," she admits. "You just have to tune out and not pay attention to that." This includes not going on the internet and reading her own press. She lets out a sigh. "I know way too much about myself already!"
The Call opens today