Christopher Abbott getting Oscar buzz for James White,
Christopher Abbott is earning early Oscar buzz for playing a difficult character in new film
Most people know Christopher Abbott from his time as Charlie, Marnie’s boyfriend on the Lena Dunham TV series Girls, but he’s the Sundance Film Festival poster boy as well.
Four times in the past five years he’s starred in big-buzz films at the career-making indie festival. This past year’s entry, James White, plays the Toronto International Film Festival starting Thursday night and already has a release date slated for Nov. 13.
In fact, some very early Oscar buzz has started for both Abbott and his co-star Cynthia Nixon in the Josh Mond story about a perpetually substance-abusing boy-man whose mother’s terminal cancer forces him to take a close look at his life.
“It was a hard movie to do, that’s for sure,” shares Abbott on the phone from Manhattan, where he’s just closed a run in John, the latest play by Annie Baker, who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“But it wasn’t because of the people around me or because I’m a method actor,” he hastens to add. “It was technically kind of draining. Every day we had an important or difficult scene to film. There was never an easy day.”
Critics have hailed Abbott for pulling off the difficult task of earning sympathy for a tough character without ever asking for pity. Abbott cred- its a couple of things for that.
“First off, Josh Mond wrote what he knew, even though the film is not completely autobiographical. But I’m such a close friend of Josh that I know why every little detail is there and where it came from. That helps.
“And Rule No. 1, as always, is to empathize with the guy you’re playing. I knew right away the character could be kind of annoying at times and maybe too much. One of his problems is how he puts expectations on everyone, his best friend, his mother, even this girl he meets by chance, and he thinks everybody lets him down.”
Abbott laughs. “I know it’s narcissistic in a way. He thinks everybody is after him and to fight against that is kind of interesting.”
Abbott is willing to talk in depth about his characters but less anxious to open up about his life. His Wikipedia page was recently wiped clean of almost all biographical information and other conventional sources of information like IMDB.com are also sparse on facts about his background.
A little careful digging reveals he’s 29 and was born in the working-class section of Greenwich, Conn. He opens up a bit about what that was like.
“I don’t like to give up too much away about how I grew up. I mean, it wasn’t all that different. I grew up in a town. It wasn’t easy by any means. Connecticut is considered a rich state, but there are pockets of poverty and not-so-great stuff. That’s where I lived.
“It creates a kind of class issue. The rich are so close to you. I grew up with the attitude of kind of hating rich people.”
Yet he comfortably inhabits the world of the idle privileged in James White.
“Everyone has troubles,” he insists. “It’s not that I’m a special person or James White is a special person. Whether you’re rich or poor, or whoever you are, you’ve got stuff to deal with.”
Abbott didn’t grow up thinking he would become an actor, although he does admit that “I watched a lot of movies growing up and that shaped me. I worked at a small familyowned video store for a long time and I’d bring movies home. I couldn’t afford to do anything else.
“Then I started taking some classes at a community college. In the second year I took a theatre class. I really don’t know why. But something clicked.”
He moved to New York and, in a few years, was acting on Broadway in The House of Blue Leaves with Ben Stiller and Edie Falco.
Then came Girls. As the sweet but indecisive Charlie, he grabbed the audience’s attention. Viewers were happy when he seemed to be making things work with Allison Williams’ Marnie by the end of Season 2.
But Abbott decided to leave the show. At the time, there was gossip that he and creator Dunham weren’t getting along, but he denies that now.
“It was a part that was fun to do, but I just like to do different things. I learned about doing a TV show and about myself. People can grow and change in a year. To go back to the same part after eight months felt, well, strange, that’s all.”
He was seen briefly on the Girls set this summer and when asked if he would be involved in the show again, he replied, “Not in a big way.”
Coming back to James White, he says, “I love developing a character by adding layers. What I’m wearing is important to me. The shoes I’m wearing are one of the most important choices of all.
“Then you finally look in the mirror. Sometimes it’s disappointing, but with James White, well, it worked. That’s a nice moment.”
Christopher Abbott, best known for playing Charlie on Girls, plays a substance-abusing character in James White.