Breslin Brings Normalcy to Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
- 2008 18 Jun
Like most 12-year-old girls, actress Abigail Breslin is admittedly crazy about Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers, loves her two dogs (and desperately wants a new pug puppy to join the brood) and can't wait for a summer va-cay filled with sleepovers with her cousins and best girlfriends.
In fact, if you didn't know that she's already been in 10 movies, including the little indie movie with big box office legs, 2006's Little Miss Sunshine, it wouldn't be difficult to mistake Breslin for that precocious neighbor kid who lives just down the street from you. Breslin is just that normal.
One might assume that she would be a little more rehearsed—even coached—in her press interviews. But thankfully those around her, including her Mom who is sitting a few feet away in the background, (but unlike the typical stage mom never chimes in when Breslin gets stuck on a question) just let her be a kid. She speaks off the cuff and a mile a minute, all the while twisting and fidgeting with a gold necklace she's wearing. Breslin has no idea that she's any sort of celebrity and admits her friends could care less about what she happens to do for a living. "They're like ‘Yeah, that's cool, whatever,'" she says. "We'd rather just talk about lip gloss."
Even when she's spotted at the mall from time to time, spending her $12 per week allowance, the native New Yorker takes it all in stride. "I don't really mind," she offers. "Everyone is really nice."
And that everykid quality has definitely come in handy, now that Dakota Fanning is a teenager. After Breslin's debut in the much-praised M. Night Shyamalan flick Signs with Mel Gibson in 2002, she's gone on to play strong supporting roles in everything from 2004's Raising Helen with Kate Hudson and her older brother Spencer to 2006's The Ultimate Gift with James Garner to last year's No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. With Sunshine, Oscar came calling when the then 10-year-old actress received a "Best Supporting Actress" nod. But when pressed about what the red-carpet experience and the career-defining nomination was like, Breslin offers nothing more than a breezy "It was really fun."
Not slowing down for anything, save for her three hours of required school work each day, this year has been no less busy for the ingénue with two movies adapted from popular books. First came Nim's Island with Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler, which released earlier this year. And now she's front and center, starring in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, the first big-screen adaptation of the American Girl books.
As a fan of the wildly popular books and collector of the equally popular dolls, playing Kit, a 10-year-old aspiring reporter during the Great Depression, was a role that Breslin relished. "I think she'd be a lot more brave than I would be," she says. "I could never walk up to someone and say ‘Yes, I'm going to do this [become a reporter]' … I just could never do that."
When choosing what roles she'll pursue, Breslin says she considers if the character is someone "I'd like to know." And Kit definitely fit the bill, even if there was a considerable learning curve with accepting the part. Not only did she have to study up on the history of The Great Depression—since being true to the time period was so important to producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (who regularly works with Julia Roberts, also a producer on Kit)—but she also had to learn to type on an old-fashioned typewriter. "When I first saw it, I was like ‘Where's the screen?'" Breslin quips. "And you have to hit the keys so hard."
In light of the film's perilous time frame, Breslin also had to step up to the challenge of crying on cue. "With any role, I really don't like crying scenes," Breslin shares. "But when you think about the situation the character is in, that sort of helps you tear up."
While trying to convince the editor of the Cincinnati Register to publish the story that'll give her future career in journalism a serious kick start, Kit is also dealing with very adult realities as she's seeing her family and friends' families struggle economically—even losing their houses when they can't pay the mortgage. And by learning about the Great Depression, Breslin has even drawn a few parallels to today's struggling economy. "I don't like to hear about anyone struggling," Breslin says. "So I hope the movie will encourage people that even through hard times, you can pull through."
Behind the Scenes
Joining Breslin in Kit is a well-known ensemble cast that includes Julia Ormond (Sabrina, The First Knight) as Kit's mom, Chris O'Donnell (School Ties, Batman and Robin) as Kit's dad, Joan Cusack (Friends with Money, Raising Helen) as the spirited traveling librarian (and the film's chief comic relief) and Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, TV's ER) as a mischievous magician.
As a husband and father of five kids, O'Donnell says he accepted the role immediately after being offered it because he's an advocate of making family movies that aren't "nauseating."
"My kids love going to the movies, and aside from what Pixar is doing or the Narnia flicks there's not a whole lot out there that's entertaining for the whole family," O'Donnell adds. "So it was a pleasure to be a part of something family-oriented with a message."
Ormond, a wife and mother to a daughter says Kit's story was not only inspiring, but replete with modern-day takeaway value. "It's really a story of discovery about what people in America went through—how people as a population faced hardship and social stigma," Ormond shares. "This is a family that starts off pretty sound economically. And as a child who has no real awareness of social issues, she's eventually introduced to people from a social class that she wouldn't normally have encountered. And instead of coming at it with prejudice, she comes at it with a lot of heart."
At the center of the story is the aforementioned hobo community, particularly two young orphans who Kit meets: Will Shepherd and Countee, played by Max Thieriot (The Astronaut Farmer, Jumper) and actor Will Smith's (I Am Legend, Independence Day) daughter Willow. With a will-work-for-food mantra and strong survival instincts, Kit finds the perfect inspiration for one of her research pieces and two great friends in the process. And when her friends are falsely accused of stealing valuables later on, Kit gets to put her natural curiosity and sleuthing skills to good use—which inevitably teaches the townspeople a few things about stereotypes.
"Kids will instantly love the mystery of it," Tucci says. "It's a wonderful story to be told through a child's eyes. The story is always pertinent because there's always poverty no matter how wealthy a country we are. The moral is that everybody pitches in together and does what they have to help each other as a community to get through the tough times."
After making the promotional rounds for Kit, Breslin is looking forward to some downtime, having just wrapped the drama My Sister's Keeper with Cameron Diaz (What Happens in Vegas, In Her Shoes) and Alec Baldwin (TV's 30 Rock, The Good Shepherd). After a quick jaunt to Prince Edward Island, Breslin is looking forward to those fun sleepovers. And finding her missing iPod.
But before long, Breslin will be more than ready to return to movies. "I've had fun on every single movie I've been part of," she says. "I definitely want to work with everyone I've worked with before again. And Meryl Streep. I really like Meryl Streep."
Of course everyone likes Meryl Streep, and if Breslin continues in her success, she's got a great shot at being the next Meryl Streep. Or so says her Kit co-star. "Abigail is as mature as any adult actor I've ever worked with," O'Donnell says. "So it was a fantastic opportunity getting to play her dad. I think she'll be in the business for a good long time."
Not a bad lot for a girl as charming as your neighbor kid!
Starring Abigail Breslin, Stanley Tucci, Joan Cusack, Chris O'Donnell and Julia Ormond, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl hits theaters in select cities (NY, LA, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas) on June 20, 2008. The film releases wide on July 2, 2008.
Click here to read a full review of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.