Esquire (UK)

Christophe­r Abbott, star of Catch-22

Christophe­r Abbott takes to the skies in a new adaptation of Catch-22

- By Charlie Teasdale Portrait by Kenneth Cappello

On a cold night in Greenpoint, New York, conversati­on turns, unexpected­ly, to The Great British Bake Off. “It’s funny because I can be a cinephile snob,” says Christophe­r Abbott, swirling a mezcal Negroni and swabbing rosemary fries in mayonnaise, “but then I also love First Dates, Gogglebox. I like them better than American reality stuff. I think The Great British Bake Off is one of the purest shows I’ve ever seen in my life.”

He’s even watched Love Island. Not the viewing habits you might expect from a 33-year-old actor who just spent months filming a six-part Hulu and Channel 4 adaptation of Catch-22, in which he plays Yossarian, the paranoid hero of Joseph Heller’s classic novel. Or one whose first movie was the 2011 cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. Abbott went on to play Charlie, Marni’s downtrodde­n boyfriend, in two series of Lena Dunham’s Girls. Most recently, he starred alongside Jessica Biel in Netflix’s The Sinner and Ryan Gosling in First Man. All a long way from “Patisserie Week” with Paul Hollywood.

But it turns out that Abbott, born and raised in Connecticu­t, might not even have been an actor at all. Landscape gardening was the most likely vocation until he tested out an acting class at community college. “I walked in and the class had already started and they were doing warm-ups on the stage. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be and I almost walked out,” he remembers. “Then we started to do scene studies and it clicked, I realised I knew how to do this. It felt good right away.”

Abbott’s career began on stage in New York. “It’s important to fuck up, and that’s what I like about theatre. I did a lot of off-Broadway plays where people would say to me, ‘Dude, when people see you in this…’, and I learned pretty quickly that just didn’t happen. Obviously, I didn’t want to fuck up, but it wasn’t going to be career-ending if I tried something.”

Catch-22 is one of those so-called “unfilmable” books, not that others haven’t tried. Heller’s tragicomic masterpiec­e, first published in 1961, in which members of an American bomber squadron stationed in Italy attempt to see out WWII without dying, was first brought to the screen in a 1970 movie, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Alan Arkin as Yossarian. Perhaps appropriat­ely, given the subject matter and its release at the height of America’s involvemen­t in Vietnam, it bombed. American critic Roger Ebert called it a “parasite depending on the novel for its vitality”, and it was trumped in the countercul­tural black-comedy-about-war stakes by Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, out the same year.

Catch-22 has an impressive cast and crew. George Clooney is executive producer and directs two episodes. He also plays obsessive officer Scheisskop­f. Kyle Chandler is Colonel Cathcart. Hugh Laurie is Major de Coverley.

Its lead actor seems unconcerne­d about the material’s famous resistance to adaptation. “I think that’s the beautiful thing about it,” Abbott says. “It’s nothing new, there are a lot of movies and shows that balance out drama and comedy. But what’s unique to it is that the turns are so sharp. It’s like lightning.”

Filming took four months, split between Sardinia and Rome. “For me, there are jobs that you do that are fun, there are jobs that you do that you just do, and then there are pinnacle ones,” says Abbott. “Where life meets art, a little bit. This was one of those. And not just because of the acting shit, but because of the group of dudes that were there, and the experience.”

I say it sounds a bit like The Trip. Did he see The Trip? “Dude, of course I did. I love The Trip.” It’s all I can do not to give him a Paul Hollywood handshake.

Catch-22 airs in June

 ??  ?? Christophe­r Abbott photograph­ed for Esquire in Los Angeles,
March 2019
Christophe­r Abbott photograph­ed for Esquire in Los Angeles, March 2019

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