Film buffs know her best as the headstrong beauty pageant contestant in the sleeper hit, Little Miss Sunshine. Abigail Breslin was only 10 years old when she nailed that part, which netted her an Oscar nomination.
Now 15, the petite, blonde-haired actress is part of a huge ensemble cast in the big-budget holiday comedy, New Year’s Eve, which boasts stars such as Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Halle Berry and Zac Efron.
Breslin tells The Globe why she loves working with New Year’s Eve director Garry Marshall, whose film feels like a love letter to her native New York.
There are more A-list stars in New Year’s Eve than even Marshall’s previous feel-good comedy, Valentine’s Day. How does he keep everyone – and the myriad storylines – straight?
He filmed it story by story. So I think it was like having 10 different mini movies, which is kind of a cool way of doing it.
Your storyline focuses on the relationship between a loving, but fiercely protective single mom (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her sweet, but increasingly assertive daughter (Breslin). Given there’s very little overlap in the individual storylines, did you meet a lot of the other actors in the film?
I basically only filmed with the people in my storyline so Sarah – who is great – and a group of teens, including my best friend in real life, Cassidy Reiff. We were also the last sequence to be shot so there weren’t people coming and going any more. But I did get to meet Lea Michele. And I was so pumped because I’m a huge Glee fan.
This is your third collaboration with Marshall ( Raising Helen and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement). What keeps drawing you back?
It’s a combination of things. I love working with Garry. He’s kind of like having another grandpa. And I also like his scripts. This movie is just meant to be fun … Garry really encouraged us to have fun with it and improvise a bit. He would say, hey, you guys are the teenagers so you need to tell me what teenagers are doing these days.
Could you relate to this 15-year-old Hailey, a young woman who is close to her mom but also wants to gain some independence?
I think any teenager can relate to Hailey’s story of wanting to be her own person, and just hang out with her friends on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Her mom (Parker) just doesn’t really want to let her go there. She’s very protective. Teenagers will relate to Hailey and parents can relate to Sarah’s character. Times Square is a pretty busy place normally, but when you add on New Year’s Eve, it’s crazy. So I can understand why the mom’s worried. I can see both sides.
You like to mix up your roles, jumping from quirky independent films like Little Miss Sunshine to family flicks such as Nim’s Island. What’s your next project?
I never want to play the same character three times in a row, and I’ve been very lucky not to have to do that. I don’t really have a set plan. I kind of go script by script, and if I like the character – and the script – I do it. I just finished a movie in Winnipeg called The Class Project, which is very different from New Year’s Eve. It’s a very heavy movie, based on a real story that happened in Mississauga. I play one of two sisters who grew up with an alcoholic mom (Mira Sorvino) whose boyfriends abuse the girls. The sisters, with help from a few kids at school, plot to murder her. So this role is a very dark character.
Many other young stars from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan have struggled to stay grounded, but you seem to be a straight arrow. How do you maintain perspective in this nutty business?
I have a really great family, and when I’m not filming, I go home and walk the dogs, take out the garbage, clean my room, all that stuff. My family and my friends keep me in line, and make sure I don’t get crazy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.