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Abigail Breslin: Little No More

In an interview with a student from Tribeca Flashpoint, Little Miss Sunshine is all grown up, starring with Johnny Depp in the new animated feature Rango.

Actress Abigail Breslin, who voices Priscilla, behind the scenes on RANGO, from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan.


Recently, Tribeca Flashpoint was invited to sit down and chat with one of the stars of Rango, Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland, Janie Jones). Rango is an original animated comedy-adventure that reteams star Johnny Depp and his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski. It's a “fish-out-of-water” story about a chameleon in search of his identity. Breslin voices the character called Priscilla.


We met at a suite in Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel. And I think I must've been half-expecting to see the little girl I was used to seeing on film, because I walked right past her as she sat on the sofa. Her mother Kim sat nearby, so I checked around the room and after realizing my mistake, I apologized and introduced myself.


"Your hair threw me off," I said. I lied. Everything threw me off. In front of me was not a little girl, but a young lady in a tasteful burgundy dress and black pumps. She also didn't have blond hair. It was still long, but it was a very rich, dark auburn. And not the rebellious teen “I colored it myself in the sink” kind of red, but a very classy red. And it's no wonder she wasn't what I expected. Breslin started this film when she was twelve years old. She is now fifteen.


And while she's used to the cold as a New Yorker, the day's temperature in Chicago that day (-12 degrees) was still an adjustment from the balmy Miami weather she had flown from that morning.


“I got off the plane,” she said, “and took a deep breath and I was like [coughing and choking], it's cold! But I love Chicago, so that's ok. But it's a little cold. I'm not gonna lie."


One of the first things I wanted to talk about was “the process.” Verbinski used a rather innovative technique that I term “Organic Vocal Recording” (OVR). In most animated films, actors are isolated from each other while in the recording studio, and it's a great challenge to capture the mood and feeling of a character in a sterile sound booth. Verbinski chose instead to have the actors perform their scenes together, making use of costumes and props on a sound stage in order to capture the “rawness” he was looking for. I asked her about this technique.


Abigail Breslin in Rango
Actress Abigail Breslin, who voices Priscilla, behind the scenes on RANGO, from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan.


“We were all in the same room together,” she explained, “so we all were playing off of each other. We had wigs on, we all had a little bit of our costume on, so it was fun. And being with each other made it better than being behind a booth.”


So, were there sets too?


“It was mostly costumes and props, but for the rest of it we had like, a door or a box. It was great. A lot more fun than being by yourself, where they choose the best take from each scene from another actor and you just sort of have to work it out like that. [Since] we were actually with each other, if we wanted to change something, we could.


“Even though you're dealing with emotions and putting them into animated form,” she continued, “you still have to rely a lot on your voice to tell a story. You really have to make sure that your voice [is conveying the emotion]. I actually forgot midway through filming that we were filming an animated movie. You get the best of both worlds. [You get the feeling of working on a live action film] with all of these people and you get to see yourself animated.”


I wondered, “Was there any improv?”


“I don't think—well at least for me—I didn't do a lot of improv, because we were working with such a great script already. I didn't think we needed to add anything. It was already funny enough.”


Breslin became interested in the role, she said, after receiving a sketch of “Priscilla” and a letter from the director asking her to be in it.  The sketch, which she called “adorable,” practically won her over, but when she learned more about the character and the story; she knew she wanted to do it.


Abigail Breslin in Rango
Priscilla (Abigail Breslin) in RANGO, from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.


She said she is attracted to strong characters and considers Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway as actors she admires. They are each in their own way strong, independent women and at times, unconventional.


Breslin added, “I would love to play Lady Jane Grey. I read a book on her when I was younger, and I saw a movie that was made in England in the 80s with Helena Bonham Carter—it's a really a sort of tragic story. It's a part in history that's really interesting.”


I asked her which movies she watched over and over as a child. Without even a moment's hesitation she said, The Little Mermaid, before adding Quest for Camelot and the Goosebumps series to the list.


Switching gears, I asked if there were any plans to work on Zombieland 2.


She replied, “I'm definitely interested in it, although I'm not sure what's going on with it. But I enjoyed making the first one so, yeah, definitely. And I have a movie coming up called Janie Jones, which I sing in, actually. So I'm really excited about that. I actually just wrote and recorded a song with my best friend in New York. And then, I'm also filming a movie in New York called New Year's Eve.”


[Note: Janie Jones will be released by Tribeca Film this summer.]
Tribeca Film to Release Janie Jones
Alessandro Nivola and Abigail Breslin in Janie Jones


“So do you have time to go to regular school,” I asked, “or are you tutored?”


“I'm home-schooled. I do my school online, and they grade it. And comment on it. [She says this with a touch of humor that says, "Ugh, school."] I was having a lot of fun until you brought up school! [laughs] And then of course, when I'm on set, I get a tutor for three hours a day, unless we can get more in, which is really fun. [She pretends to be her tutor:] ‘Oh my gosh, like, you got done so early! Let's, you know, knock out a math quiz!’”


I asked if she had plans to take time off and go to college. “Yeah, I'd like to go to college. I'd like to do both. I'd like to major in psychology, but I'd like to do acting as well. Be a therapist on the side,” she says with a wry smile.


One thing that becomes apparent quite quickly is how mature Breslin seems for fifteen. She seems to have healthy goals and interests outside of acting, besides doing the usual teen stuff like hanging out with her friends. She doesn't appear to be someone who is trying to be someone she's not, and for those reasons, one gets the feeling that she won't be making headlines anytime soon for unladylike behavior.


Breslin concludes with a plug for Rango: “Some of my favorite films of the year were animated films. And I think the message of this movie really gets to you. It's all about working together and saving this town, and also, to be who you are.”


Lyn Niemann is a 2nd-year film student at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago. Formerly a Metro reporter for the Chicago Tribune, she waits and prays for the day the Chicago Cubs go to the World Series.




Rango opens Friday, March 4. Find tickets.


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