Inspired by the true story of director/writer David M. Rosenthal, Janie Jones follows rocker Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola), whose former flame (Elisabeth Shue) drops a 13-year-old (Abigail Breslin) in his lap, with the surprise news that she is his daughter. Far from knowing how to be a father, Ethan takes Janie on the road, but his self-destructive spiral threatens both the group’s future and any chance at a relationship with his own child. Desperate to revive his failing career, Ethan learns of Janie’s own musical talent, and their bond over that slowly leads him down the path to redemption.
At the film’s press day, actress Abigail Breslin spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about wanting to play this character because of how different she was, the challenge of playing someone so vulnerable who still remains so optimistic, how awesome it was to work with co-star Alessandro Nivola, the real-life uses of being able to cry on cue, and how the musical aspect of the film inspired her to start her own band with her best friend. She also talked about voicing a bird for the animated feature Zambezia, working with Sarah Jessica Parker in New Year’s Eve, recently finishing the dark true story The Class Project about sisters who murder their mother, and that she hopes to get started on Virgin Mary soon. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: Was this something that you had pursued because you were interested in playing this character, or did they come to you about this project?
ABIGAIL BRESLIN: The script came to me while I was filming Zombieland, and I read it while I was filming that movie. It was so different than the character that I was playing in Zombieland. I just really liked the character and the story, and I liked the whole music aspect of it, so I was really excited.
Was it challenging to find ways to relate to this girl, or were you able to understand where she was coming from?
BRESLIN: Janie obviously has a very different life than I do. She’s had to go through a lot. But, something that I really liked about her was the fact that, even though she was in these difficult circumstances, she didn’t let those circumstances define who she was. She channeled all of her negativity into her songwriting. I think that is a really healthy way to get out any aggression that you have. That’s something that I liked about her, but we’re not too similar. We both write music, but that only happened after. I was inspired by the movie to start doing that.
Did you find the character in what was in the script, or did you spend time talking to director/writer David M. Rosenthal for that, since this is inspired by his own life?
BRESLIN: Yeah, definitely. His daughter, Julia, was on the set for most of the shoot. She told us that there was this immediate kinship between them because she’s very creative and wasn’t really sure where she got that from. And then, she met her dad and it was this immediate thing between them. That’s something that’s cool about Janie and Ethan. When they meet, they realize that they’re both songwriters, which is interesting.
Was it challenging to play this girl as so vulnerable and not having a home, but also still being so optimistic?
BRESLIN: Yeah. One of the things that I really liked about her is that she does have a really difficult life and she’s had to be the caretaker for everybody around her, and herself, at the same time. When she meets Ethan, she doesn’t expect him to take care of her because that’s something that’s never been a part of her life. It’s easier for her to take care of him, then it is for him to be a parent to her, in a lot of ways.
What was it like to work with Alessandro Nivola through this, since you didn’t really get any time to get to know each other first?
BRESLIN: Alessandro is great. He’s awesome. We didn’t really shoot in sequence, but one of the first scenes that we did together is one of the scenes after they first met, so it was really awkward. They don’t really know each other, so it worked. He’s such an amazing actor. One of the things that was so scary about doing the whole music thing was knowing that he’s such an amazing singer and guitar player and actor. It was nerve-wracking, but he’s awesome.
What was it like to have Elisabeth Shue play your mother?
BRESLIN: She’s great. She’s obviously an amazing actress, and it was definitely intimidating, when she came onto the set, the first day she was filming. She was absolutely amazing. She’s so sweet, so it was great.
Do you enjoy doing those really emotional scenes because it does come so easily for you?
BRESLIN: It’s never really fun to have to cry in a scene, or anything like that. I just try to put myself in the characters position, and that helps. It’s never really fun, but at the same time, if you’re having a really bad day, it’s a great way to get out all of your frustration by doing a really angry or sad scene. That’s always a good release.
When you can cry on cue, are you often tempted to use that, in your own life?
BRESLIN: Yeah! My poor dad. It actually happened when I was filming Zombieland. We were filming right next to this abandoned supermarket, and there was a vet clinic right next to it. Outside, there were all these little puppies that were waiting to be spayed and neutered, and sent off to a shelter. There was this little blue-eyed, blonde puppy, and I called my dad and was like, “They’re going to destroy her!” I was crying and I was like, “Please let me get her!” Finally, he was like, “Yeah, okay, fine. Get the dog.” That was the hardest five-minute performance of my life, but the dog is so cute, so it was worth it. My mom was like, “Don’t you know that’s what she does for a living? She cries on camera, all the time.” He was like, “Oh, I didn’t even think about that.” It’s probably not a very good thing to do, but it’s so easy!
What was your impression of the original songs you got to perform in the film?
BRESLIN: I really love the music that’s in the movie. My songs were written by a girl named Gemma Hayes. The first one that I heard was “Fight for Me,” and then “Just a Game,” and then “Hurricane.” I really loved all the songs that she wrote for the movie. I thought they were awesome. I had a lot of fun singing them.
What was it like to get to sing and play guitar in the film?
BRESLIN: I was really nervous because I hadn’t really done any singing, except for the church Christmas party. This was the first thing I had ever done, professionally. I didn’t really know guitar. I just knew parts of the songs that I was doing in the movie. It was really nerve-wracking, especially because Alessandro [Nivola] is so experienced. But it was good, in a way, because I took inspiration from it. I taught myself guitar after the film, and I actually have a band now.
How did that happen?
BRESLIN: It’s called CABB, and it’s with my best friend Cassidy. Our first song is out, and it’s called “Well Wishes.” So, we’re excited! It was good that this movie happened, and then I got to do that.
What is your style of music?
BRESLIN: It’s like pop-rock. I don’t really know what to define it as. It has a retro sound.
Will you tour, or do TV appearances?
BRESLIN: Maybe. Hopefully. Right now, we’re still writing and recording. Cassidy and I write all the songs, and we play and sing on them all.
What does CABB stand for?
BRESLIN: Cassidy and Abby.
Did you prefer doing the stage performances where you were in front of an audience, or the more intimate performances you did?
BRESLIN: I really liked the intimate stuff because I was nervous in front of everybody. But, they made it so that the audience wasn’t so large in front of me. Each time that I sing one of the songs, it’s a different set-up, which was cool. “Just a Game” was on the stage, and then “Hurricane” was in the alley, and “Fight for Me” was in that basement-type thing. They were both different, but I liked doing the intimate stuff, mostly because I was really nervous.
How was your experience with driving for the film?
BRESLIN: I’m never doing it again. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. No. I don’t like when people walk behind the car, when I’m trying to back up. I just felt like I was going to hurt somebody. I’m afraid that I’m going to be one of those people. I’m never angry, but I feel like, if I got behind the wheel, I would get road rage. It scares me, and I think the whole crew has post traumatic stress from me being behind the wheel.
You’ve had so many great actresses play your mother in films. What do you pick up from watching such great actresses work? Does that inspire where you want to go with your career, later on?
BRESLIN: Yeah. I’ve been really lucky with the people that I’ve gotten to work with. I learn a lot from them, just by watching them. I just worked with Mira Sorvino, on a film called The Class Project, and she was amazing. I just learn from watching them all, and it’s been great to get to work with all of them.
As you get older, is it more important to you to be really selective about the types of roles that you’re choosing?
BRESLIN: I don’t really like to have a set plan and think too much about trying to be older in a movie. I don’t think, “Okay, I did this, so I have to do this now.” I just go script by script, and if I like the character and the story, then that’s why I do it. Also, because I’m getting older in real life, the scripts that are sent to me are for older, more teenage roles. That just happens naturally.
What do you have coming up next?
BRESLIN: I did Zambezia. That’s an animated movie, and I’m the voice of the cutest bird. In New Year’s Eve, I play a girl named Hailey and I worked with Sarah Jessica Parker. She’s great. That was a lot of fun! I just finished filming The Class Project in Winnipeg. That’s a really dark movie, based on a true story. It’s about two girls who murder their mom. They’re sisters who lived near Toronto. They were 17 and 16, and their mother was this alcoholic who had these horrible boyfriends that would come in and out and live with them. The girls tried to reach out to everybody, including Child Services and their father, and they’re desperate. Georgie Henley plays my sister and Mira Sorvino plays our mom. It’s a really, really heavy movie, and it’s really dark. Virgin Mary is hopefully happening soon, and same with Innocence.
How are you handling school, with all of that?
BRESLIN: I do it online, so it comes with me everywhere. I have tutors on set, and I have teachers at a school who I send my work into, and they grade it. I’m a sophomore, so I’m in 10th grade.
Are there any subjects that you like?
BRESLIN: I like English, and I like writing essays, and that kind of stuff.
Are you thinking about college, at all?
BRESLIN: I don’t really like to think about any of it. I prefer to mentally block it. I would like to go to college, maybe.