Why He’s On Our Radar: In the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition opener “Hello I Must Be Going,” 25-year-old actor Christopher Abbott more than holds his own opposite Melanie Lynskey (“Win Win”) and Blythe Danner as an actor who takes up a steamy affair with a woman (Lynskey) over 10 years his senior.
That he distinguishes himself among these two acclaimed actors shouldn’t come as a surprise. Last year saw the Stamford, Connecticut native give a standout Broadway debut performance in “The House of Blue Leaves,” opposite Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Edie Falco. This also isn’t his first time at Sundance: Last year, he came to Park City in support of a role in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
What’s Next: Abbott’s profile is bound to rise with his role in Lena Dunham’s anticipated HBO show “Girls,” in which he plays the boyfriend of one of the main characters. He also just wrapped a feature adaptation of a short documentary helmed by a friend, which he hopes will premiere at Sundance next year. The untitled project revolves around three siblings who get together every year on the anniversary of their mother’s death.
So you were here last year with a bit part in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” How is your Sundance exeperience comparing this time around?
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There was equal excitement just to be able to come here with a movie. This year’s different – I mean, it’s Melanie’s movie – but I guess it’s a bigger part. It’s also fun to take part more this year in the Q&As.
You’re a relative unknown in the film world, but you’re a pretty established star on the stage. Was film always on your radar, or are you a born theater brat?
I didn’t start acting until I got to college. Film was a big part of my life growing up. I went to movies with my uncle all the time. My first job ever, I worked at this family-owned home video store in my hometown. I just watched a lot of movies. I think that’s what, if anything, sparked my appreciation for film. The theater thing happened not in a forced way. It just sort of happened when I started working as an actor.
You’ve had great luck on the stage, appearing alongside Ben Stiller on Broadway not far into your career. How did you navigate that pressure?
The thing is, with plays you rehearse for almost a month before you start doing performances. I guess there’s something about just the setting of the rehearsal room that kind of levels everyone out. I mean, of course I was extremely excited to work with Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Edie Falco, but in a good way it’s kind of sequestered. The cool thing about that play was that everyone had a sense of camaraderie about it. There were definitely no egos.
Did you have that same vibe with the cast on “Hello I Must Be Going”?
Yeah. The thing is with a film everything’s so much quicker. This shoot was I think somewhere around three weeks. We were all pretty much in one town. So in a way, you force yourself to establish that type of camaraderie faster. As actors, you want to do good work and you want to get to know everyone as best as possible.
You forged this beautiful chemistry with Melanie. What kind of work did you two do prior to shooting to establish that bond?
I just auditioned for it with a reader and then once I got cast, I met Melanie just for a day a few weeks before we started shooting. You wouldn’t think it was ideal, but it worked out really well.
First of all, I think she’s an amazing actress so there’s that alone. Then getting to know her, we just got along so well. The dinner scene where our characters first meet was the first one we did together.
Guess you’re lucky you didn’t have to shoot one of the many sex scenes first.
(Laughs). I know, could you imagine? I thought that was a really nice way to set up. I knew her, but I didn’t know her that well. It was cool to play with the real chemistry of just meeting someone. And we vaguely shot in order from there on in, so that helped.
The relationship between your characters takes on an overtly sexual course from the get-go. What was it like shooting those scenes?
On a human level, of course it’s nerve racking. But the good thing that me and Melanie did, we had a very practical conversation right off the bat. And at that point, I don’t think it’s that big of deal. I really don’t. It’s a human thing, you just do it.
Now you play an actor in “Hello I Must Be Going.” I’m guessing you related.
It’s funny, someone asked me a similar question yesterday. The one thing that I related to most about it, was in the film he gives this whole speech about how he hates acting…
But he’s high while delivering it.
Yeah. I guess I’d probably say that at some point too, if I got high (laughs).
Not to get hippie about it, but I just think it’s important on a human level to get what all this is — at least for now, relating to the character. I do love doing what I’m doing, I love this business. As far as I can see, this is what I love to do. But I’m always very aware that it’s only a part of my life, not necessarily my entire life. Who’s to say that in six of seven years from now, I could be doing something else. I’m not a soothsayer.