Abby Quinn is having a moment. She’s currently starring in After the Wedding opposite Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams and will soon appear in Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women and the upcoming Mad About You revival as Helen Hunt and Paul Riser‘s grown-up daughter.
Quinn, who also starred in an episode of Black Mirror directed by Jodie Foster, is smart, funny and incredibly talented and it’s no wonder she’s booking up a storm. Here she talks about what she learned working with Moore and Williams, how she creates a character, why she left college after a year, auditioning and more!
After the Wedding, can you tell me about your part?
Abby Quinn: Yes, totally. I play Grace, and she is 23 years old. The movie opens a couple of days before her wedding, and I think she’s at a point in her life where she’s very confused and is looking… she thinks marriage is going to solve her problems or give her a purpose, I think? She’s sort of on the surface appears very sure of herself, but as soon as her family starts to unravel and she is learning more about her history and the truth behind her family, that facade goes away. You see that she’s still very confused and vulnerable and young. But yeah, when you first meet her you just think she’s this happy-go-lucky 23 year old, but that’s not entirely true.
That’s never true of any a 23 year old.
Abby Quinn: Right. Yeah, exactly. Probably true of myself, too.
Yeah, and me too. And I’m far from 23, unfortunately.
Abby Quinn: Right. [laughs]
Abby Quinn: Yeah. I mean it’s like, “I hope I get it”, and then thinking that would never, ever happen. I think when I was auditioning it was just Julianne who was attached. And that alone was like, “Okay, this is it’s a great opportunity to audition and I hope I do well in the room.” But truly not thinking that I was ever going to get it. And even after I left, I know the casting director pretty well because I’ve been auditioning for her since I was 14… but even with that, I left thinking that I did not nail it in any way. So I was pretty sure that I didn’t get it. And then I think I heard, maybe like a week and a half later that Bart [Freundlich], the director wanted to Face Time and just talk through some stuff with me. And that was the first I felt I might have a chance or that they had any interest in me. So the whole thing, for me, was a long shot. But yeah, an incredible opportunity to just audition even.
When you work alongside those two, do you just kind of sit back and just take everything in?
Abby Quinn: Yeah, I feel like that was most of what was happening, especially when I was not in the actual scene. But I would just sit behind the monitor. I remember, we filmed a lot in Oyster Bay, and if we had one scene for the day, we would have to just be there all day. So those days were really cool for me because I was just watching Michelle and Julie and Billy [Crudup] in these scenes, and it was really like watching how I studied their movies. It was like watching that all unfold and actually seeing how each of them, each of their processes because they’re all pretty different. It was pretty incredible to see that all come to life and happen right before me.
When you watched them work, does that influence you? Because I know you probably have your own way of working. Do you kind of make you think, “Oh, I should do it this way. I’m doing everything wrong!”
Abby Quinn: Yeah, there’s a bit of that. But then at the same time, because they were all approaching it so differently, it made me feel like there is no right or wrong way to do it. So it really put me at ease.
And I come from a theater background and I went to school for acting for a year, and that year was really teaching me how to be analytical in acting and really thorough and thinking through everything a ton before ever showing it to anyone or bringing it to life. And I was kind of coming from a bit of that.
And then it’s really interesting because, Julianne especially, she’ll say it in interviews, she goes based off of what is on the page and what her instincts are. She told me once she sometimes she doesn’t even know the last name of the character. But other actors have create Bibles of these people and go completely the opposite route. And watching Julianne for some reason I would just expect her to also be doing that because she’s so brilliant and so detailed, and it just seems like she already has all of that figured out. But I think part of her brilliance is that she just goes based on how she’s feeling and is not overthinking anything.
And then I know Billy, especially because he’s so close to Bart, when I first met him, he was asking so many questions and had to have every scene figured out to a T, and was leaving nothing to the imagination, or not the imagination, but nothing unanswered. He just had to know everything and there had to be a reason for everything.
So it was just, it was incredible and a really cool learning experience for me to just be surrounded by three completely different actors who approach it completely differently.
I want to talk about what you’re working on right now, the Mad About You sequel or reboot? How did you get involved with that? Was that kind of intimidating? I mean these guys have been together for years and years, and you’re walking on set as their kid.
Abby Quinn: Right. It is pretty… We’re filming episode four this week, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of it. But yeah, it was… I didn’t think it was going to be intimidating, but then when you’re there just for the first table read, there are, I think four new characters and then everyone else has known each other for 20 some years. But at the same time, because they all know each other so well, I think they’re so excited and open to having new people too. Like they’re not in any way closed off or cliquey. I think it’s more so like, “Oh, we have this rhythm and we’re excited that you’re here and that we can teach you that”.
And then I also feel like I just learned a lot from watching the show. I had never watched it before auditioning. But before auditioning and just throughout filming, I’ve been watching a lot of the episodes and I feel like I’m just learning more… I feel closer to them just in doing that because it just gives me a better idea of the rhythm and the relationship between all of the characters. So, it’s been nice to have so many episodes for research purposes.
Is this your first sitcom?
Abby Quinn: It is, yes. And I think that’s part of probably why it’s intimidating too, not just the cast alone or the show, it’s really like, this is something I’ve never done before. It was all very new to me.
Was there any learning curve?
Abby Quinn: I think the first… Helen directed the first episode and I think the learning curve for me, I felt like… I haven’t done theater in six years, but I know that that’s still in me somewhere. But I’d gotten so used to doing film and independent films and I feel like I’ve grown accustomed to delivering not small performances, but I’m not projecting. I’m not projecting like I would in theater. And for a sitcom, it is really a lot like theater and there’s a live audience and it still has to feel grounded. But I guess I just had to find the balance between really projecting and performing, but still feeling like I knew what I was saying or actually really feeling it.
I think with film I’ve gotten used to being able to look inward a lot, if that makes sense? And sort of… Not worry about is my performance reaching a hundred people that are actually watching that day. I’m just worrying about a camera seeing it.
So for the first episode, Helen just kept reminding me to project. We pre-taped some of the scenes and she just reminded me that day that I have to continue to pretend like there’s still an audience and to go in with that energy.
I feel like that’s been the biggest learning curve, just sort of going back to my theater roots, but still feeling like I know what I’m doing or that it’s genuine. But I think I’m getting the hang of it. It was a bit… yeah, it was strange for the first two episodes.
You mentioned that you went to Carnegie Mellon and you were there for a year. Why did you decide to leave after that?
Abby Quinn: I wanted to take a gap year after high school, and then I got off the wait list at Carnegie Mellon and the minute that I went there, I just knew that that’s where I wanted to be. And I was kind of bummed that I didn’t get in. And that’s part of the reason I wanted to take a gap year, just because I wasn’t so excited about college. But then when I found out I got in I ditched that idea and went in August.
I loved school so much and it had nothing to do with Carnegie itself. It was more like I had been auditioning for film and TV since I was 14 and most of it… I’m from Michigan, so it was just like years of doing self-tapes with my mom and then feeling really frustrated because… I had spent very little time in the actual audition rooms and I felt like… I mean so much of it is out of your control, but it felt even more so in Michigan. I had no reference of what was happening.
I had this moment at Carnegie, I’m still trying to audition but sort of doing it in private because we’re not really supposed to audition. So I’d be in the basement with my acting coach on Skype trying to do these tapes that ended up being really shitty tapes.
And I just had this moment of like, ‘I have these opportunities right now and who knows if I’m going to have them when I actually graduate here. And it’s turning into a very stressful thing for me and I don’t want that to be the case. So I’m just going to take a year and actually be in L.A. Or New York and audition and give myself an opportunity before coming back to school.’
So the plan was to go back, and then I just ended up booking a role that April. So, it was really down to the wire for me because I had to make a decision by May. But yeah, the plan was to go back and that’s just never happened.
I think you made the smart move though.
Abby Quinn: Yeah, I think so. I mean it could’ve gone either way, but I mean I’m really lucky because my mom, it wasn’t even a big conversation. I remember just really talking to her and she gets it and she’s really supportive and loves theater and all of that. I’m really lucky that she was supportive of that, because it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been. But yeah, I think I did make the right decision.
You make a playlist for a lot of your characters?
Abby Quinn: Yeah.
What other things do you do to sort of help you create your character? Like when you first get a script, what are the things you can kind of do?
Abby Quinn: I work with my acting coach, who I’ve known since I was a freshman in high school, and now we live 10 minutes from each other. So I usually, especially before auditions, I’ll just go to her house and we really break down the script and the scene.
And then a lot of it, I think truly it comes from… I think music plays a big role in my own life. And so I’m able to really feel out my mood by what I’m listening to. And I always start with a playlist of five songs and then it helps to just walk around listening to that. And then I start to slowly figure out what they’re… like what shoes they might wear or how they might walk and see the world. But I feel like that all really does stem from what I’m listening to, at least at this point in my career. I feel like that’s been the biggest thing for me.
And then I find that for each movie that I’ve done, there’s been a TV show or a movie that I was obsessed with at that time. And then looking back, I feel like my performance was probably influenced by that. Like for After the Wedding, I watched Almost Famous because of Billy and it just became my favorite movie ever. And then I also was watching, it was weird, I was watching Little Women because I remember the character Beth in that movie has the most heartbreaking scene when she’s dying, and I have so many crying scenes in After the Wedding and I was really freaking out about that. And that was just a movie that I thought of instantly. I probably watched that movie four times throughout filming, and that scene 20 times just to figure out why that impacted me so much and why it felt so authentic.
I don’t know if I have a clear answer really? I feel like a lot of it comes if I’m just staying open and I’m not distracted. I fill in a lot of the blanks just by being present and following my instincts with each character, which is what I took away from Julianne; feeling comfortable not knowing. Sometimes if I do try to answer all the questions or fill in the blanks of the character, it starts to feel like bullshit. So I’m trying to do less of that, because I could come up with a bunch of stuff for every character, but if it doesn’t feel like it’s truthful then it’s sort of, to me.. It would’ve felt like a waste. I guess I’m just being open to not knowing all the time. There’s the long answer.
No, that was great. And then just my last question that I love to ask everybody: what’s been your worst audition?
Abby Quinn: Oh geez. There have been a few. I remember. I filmed Transformers, the Bumblebee movie, and then my scenes were cut. But my initial audition, I was auditioning for the main character who Hailee Steinfeld played. And I just remember feeling so out of my element. I was supposed to be talking to a robot… or Transformer, and usually, that would be really fun. It is, it does sound fun for me… but on that day, I just remember thinking, “Oh my God, these people think I’m awful. I’m not even believing what I’m saying”. And then a couple months later, I auditioned for a different part, and that went well, but I just left the room feeling terrible. I don’t even know, but I think there have been a few pretty terrible ones. That might be the worst, though.