Abigail Breslin, Oscar nominee and face plastered across billboards for October’s Zombieland sequel, is perched on an emerald velvet couch. The 12-foot arched window of a Spanish-style mansion cinematically frames the glittering streets below as the afternoon sun shines through a patch of gently fluttering palm trees. This setting — a dreamy, Instagram-worthy tableau leftover from the afternoon’s photoshoot — seems like somewhere the actress should feel right at home.
But Breslin is distracted, focused instead on pulling at each of the charms on a multicolored choker with a tag that says “Blind For Love.” It was a gift from her not-an-industry-type boyfriend that she initially took as a bit of an insult. Blind For Love, it would turn out, is just a Gucci line, and not a cryptic message from her beau of two years. Later, we’ll laugh about the misunderstanding, but for now, the fidgeting persists.
Perhaps that’s because Hollywood has never felt like home for her. This house isn’t hers — the former New Yorker lives “in a canyon” in Los Angeles where, she laments, she can’t even get any trick-or-treaters. Her dusty vintage leather boots and ripped jean shorts are a far cry from the gown she wore to present at the 2019 Tonys. Much like her Zombieland family, who spend their days dodging bloodthirsty creatures, Breslin has spent her 18-year career dodging industry hazards.
As a 10-year-old, that meant a paparazzo following Breslin around Disneyland and a stranger who literally picked her up and hugged her. “My mom was like, Please put my child down.” There has been bad advice from a few unnamed industry leaders, who keep telling her to just get a role in a Marvel movie, as if it’s that simple. She eschews Hollywood parties where the food is just “some kind of cream on a cracker” — her favorite thing about these events is the fact that afterwards, she can go from glammed-up Cinderella to eating baked ziti in her sweats in 60 seconds flat.
And then there’s the one lumbering menace that just won’t die: The narrative that Abigail Breslin is All Grown Up.
“Every article since I was 12 has been, ‘She’s all grown up,’ and I’m like, When am I all, all, all grown up? I’m not sure. That’s what I’m gonna have on my tombstone: All grown up, like all the way,” she jokes.
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Her new movie, Zombieland: Double Tap, seems to be trolling her. Breslin’s first line in the trailer comes when she begs Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee to “stop calling me a little girl.” Even in a group of Oscar-nominated actors that Breslin calls “family,” the actress and her character, Little Rock, find themselves faced with yet another situation in which someone just can’t comprehend her adulthood.
Breslin is now 23. She’s been legally allowed to drive, vote, and drink for a few years.
“It’s called puberty. It’s a thing that happens to people, but some people really want me to just stay 9 years old forever.”
Audiences have known Breslin since she co-starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 movie Signs at age 5, but a few years later, she landed the movie that would follow her for the rest of her life, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine.
Breslin played Olive, a 9-year-old aspiring beauty queen who drags her dysfunctional family to California to compete in a pageant. Olive was beloved for her piercing squeals, her eccentric wardrobe, and, of course, that dance. The role also garnered Breslin an Oscar nomination at just 10 years old, and when the big night arrived, she famously brought cookies in her purse.
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From there she had roles as the Cute Kid™ to A-listers’ lovable protagonists: Catherine Zeta Jones in No Reservations; Ryan Reynolds in Definitely, Maybe; Cameron Diaz in My Sister’s Keeper. As a pre-teen, her roles became less consistent. She did one of those star-studded 20-stories-in-one rom-coms (New Years Eve), August: Osage County with Meryl Streep, and some tinier movies you probably haven’t heard of.
“It kind of took a few years in my teens for people to stop viewing me as just a little girl,” she says. Things got tough, and at 15, her parents put her career on pause. “I was just getting too obsessed with booking roles and working and they were like, Can you be a teenager for a second there?”
The pause allowed her to forge a new path as a teen actress with Scream Queens and a 2015 advice book adapted from her Tumblr page, but not before her teen angst went viral. Her infamous 2014 pop song, “You Suck” boils down to this: Breslin was dumped by a boy and lyrics like “I hate the scar, above / Your eye it looks like you’re on drugs” and “You’re just a dumbass” are her revenge.
The jeers came on swiftly — one outlet called the tune “Tragically Bad And Weird” — but because the target of the song was 5SOS boy bander Michael Clifford, the fan reaction was far more vicious. The hashtag #YouTriedAbigail was one of the more tame responses. Breslin also got death threats, and one reporter told the band she wasn’t “afraid to get physical” with the actress over the apparent dis track.
“Oh, people hated it. You can call a spade a spade,” says Breslin, who says she didn’t want to release the song, but felt she had no choice but to defend it back then. She’s since changed her tune. “When you’re 16 years old and you like a guy, your mind is different.”
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The song eventually faded away, and other moments, such as her perplexing friendship with Tiffany Trump and her bombastically liberal political rants on Twitter and Instagram, have taken its place. But the “You Suck” moment was a turning point.
“That’s when I realised that my mistakes are public mistakes, and when I was younger, there’s no way I could have gone to a party and gotten a picture of me holding a beer in my hand,” she says. “If I do it, I’m another child star gone down the wrong path. Even during allergy season, people’s favourite thing to jump to is that I must be on cocaine. I’m like, No, look at me. I’m so anxious all the time. Why would I ever add that?”
I couldn’t find any evidence of drug accusations against Breslin, but the fear was apparently enough to affect her. “I had to stop my friends from doing what they wanted to do because if they did it, I’d be guilty by association,” she says. She knows she wasn’t exactly Taylor Swift-level-famous. “At least if Taylor Swift wrote a song about a guy like that, it would be catchy; mine was just like, Girl, you have got to learn how to play guitar better.” Still, she feared the image that might solidify around her should some other random act gain public attention.
“People want certain things from child stars or child actors. You have to be really smart and really cool, but also they want you to be not too precocious. Not too done up, but not too little girlish. If you wear this, then you’re a slut; if you wear that, you’re a prude,” she says.
And so she fidgets as we chat about her time in the Hollywood bubble, tapping the toes of her platform leather boots and coiling her long, blonde ponytail in and out of a bun three times.
She seems to settle a bit, though, when she gets the chance to level with me about the Zombieland: Double Tap trailer which had just dropped that late August morning.
“It actually looks so dope,” she says, letting her third makeshift bun fall. “They basically learned on day one of stunt training that I’m not a very coordinated person, so they just had me roll on the ground. But that’s the magic of movie making. They make me look like I’m a lot cooler than I really am.”
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Breslin seems most comfortable when she’s letting you know that while she’s technically in movies (the Zombieland sequel, an upcoming Matt Damon drama) and has been on hit TV shows (Scream Queens), she’s a visitor in that Hollywood bubble, not a resident.
When she speaks about industry leaders like Ryan Murphy, the creator of Scream Queens, she treads carefully, gingerly selecting each word like fruit at a farmer’s market.
“Ryan is somebody who knows exactly what he wants for each of his projects, and he chooses them really meticulously, and that’s something that I really admire,” she offers, deliberate word by deliberate word, before adding one last dollop: “I’d love to work together again.”
Change the subject to something less career-focused, like say, meeting Bryan Cranston backstage at the 2019 Tonys and the other Breslin emerges.
“I just went blank and told him, ‘You’re on my phone!’” she says. “I’m the most embarrassing friend whenever I see famous people.”
She loves acting, but knows that the practice requires temporarily leaving the real world. She’s seen enough “real shit” to know “in reality, it’s just a movie, and if it doesn’t work, nobody’s going to die.”
“Real shit” could refer to many things, but one thing that fits the bill is Breslin’s story about being a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, which she shared back in October of 2017. She says her friend and one-time co-star Sarah Hyland, who she’s known since they met as tots on their local playground in New York, talked her through the decision to share it.
“She told me, ‘Talk about it when you want to and don’t be scared. You’re stronger than that.’ And that kind of motivated me,” Breslin says. When she later saw that Brock Turner’s accuser read a letter aloud in court, she felt even more encouraged. “If that girl can do that in a courtroom right in front of her assailant, I can make an Instagram post, I think.”
When we speak about that weighty decision, it’s September, and she’s calling from the south of France. “It’s gorgeous, hold on I’ll text you a photo,” she promises. She’s not there to answer questions about her deeply personal choice to speak out about her past, but rather something that could potentially change her future.
She’s about to start production on Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, about a blue-collar worker (Matt Damon) who travels to France to free his daughter (Breslin) from wrongful imprisonment. That’s the Tom McCarthy, as in the guy who co-wrote and directed the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight.
In preparation Breslin dyed her hair brown, after bleaching it blonde for years — a practice she doesn’t advise. “Your hair will fall out,” she warns flatly. Now, she’s kind of into this brunette thing. “I feel very spy-like, or at least that’s what I tell myself. I’m giving myself this whole new role in my mind,” she says. “I’m in France and I have brunette hair, this feels so right. I’m gonna wear a blazer and be chic.”
Her production itineraries have arrived, officially making this dream a reality — especially because they’re each personalised with a note that the crew has been informed of her severe lavender allergy. “The south of France is like the Oz of lavender,” she laughs. She spent her audition for the project attempting to spit out a Lifesaver and, in her own estimation, yammering on about how McCarthy was also Mr. Bob in Meet The Parents, and yet she still landed the role opposite Damon.
And maybe, just maybe, this role will be the double tap on that dogged, undead narrative Breslin has been trying to escape since it first began.
“It’s been that way since I was 14. I mean I’ll take it, but I am almost 24. I have been all grown up for quite a bit now, guys,” she chuckles. “That’s going to be the headline for this article, right?”
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