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 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.

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