“GRAMabe? “Christopher Abbott asks, and for a moment across the screen he looks puzzled. Then the penny drops:” Gabe, the character’s name? “He laughs.” I was like, ‘Who is Gabe!’ I should know! It’s been a while… “
In fact, it’s been a while since Abbott filmed Black Bear, the “meta-comedy thriller” directed by Lawrence Michael Levine and set in the Adirondack Mountains, and it’s been more than a year since it premiered at Sundance. Regardless, Black Bear’s layers and twists are such that anyone, even his actors, could be forgiven for forgetting who was who, where, and why.
It is divided in two parts. In the first segment, Gabe (Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) are a young couple expecting their first child, having left town with vague plans to turn the family lake house into a creative retreat. His first guest is Allison (Aubrey Plaza), an actress-turned-filmmaker seeking inspiration. As Gabe, who is clearly attracted to Allison, argues with Blair, the night falls apart.
The second part offers a different setting: Gabe is now the director of a movie at the lake house, while Allison and Blair are actors. This time, Gabe is married to Allison, but he’s apparently looking at Blair. Once again, things fall apart.
How much of this is real and how much is a figment of a character’s imagination becomes increasingly debatable. The film is, we believe, a rumination on fact, fiction and creativity.
Today, Abbott sits in her apartment in Tribeca, New York, in a black sweater and gold chains, with a woolen cap that drags over her head, from beanie to Cossack and vice versa, as we speak. Behind him are flashes of white brick walls, framed paintings, and a guitar case.
It was Black Bear’s experimental nature that appealed to him, he says. “As an actor, you are playing two parts in a movie, more or less, so there is something interesting about that. But he was more interested in doing, in playing. It wasn’t that cerebral, maybe, but it was just being there and doing these scenes with these people. Long, theatrical scenes ”. Remember the remote location, the night shots, the driving home at sunrise, the dreamy quality of the scenery. “It was experiential, I guess.”
Above all, the appeal of Levine’s script and premise was that it “felt like a play.” Abbott says, “I thought it would be interesting to do that on screen, especially since, at the time, I hadn’t done a play in a while, so I felt like I got closer to that. There are nuances to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?. And there seems to be some Cassavetes vibe in there … “
But he hesitates to delve much deeper: the creative trope of the cabin in the woods, the symbolism of the black bear, the nature of fiction; For the most part, when he talks about the movie, he sounds like a man trying to draw the Taj Mahal from memory. “I have to be honest: usually when I’m done with something, I don’t think about it,” he says. “It feels a bit like a checklist: I’ve had that experience, I’ve had that feeling, now move on, now do something different. I don’t want to give Larry so much credit for saying it affected my life afterward. “
Abbott was late for the performance. She grew up in Connecticut, attended a community college, and worked in a video store and then a wine store before deciding, at age 20, to enroll in a performing arts college in New York. He slept in the theater, appearing in several off-Broadway productions, before making his screen debut in 2011 with Martha Marcy May Marlene, followed by Hello I Must Be Going in 2012. For some time, Abbott was better known as the Sweet Charlie on Lena Dunham’s Girls series, and she quit after season two with the reason that she couldn’t relate to the character.
As a performer, it is a gift; He has a presence and a face that can change smoothly in the light: from beautiful and contemplative to brutal and sullen. There is something quite unexpected in his approach to his career: Girls’ abrupt departure and attendant fame and fortune, his tendency to mention John Cassavetes, his reluctance to analyze much of his craft in interviews, which has helped mark him, potentially, as one of the greats in left field.
It’s been more than a year since Abbott took on an acting role. Last March, when the pandemic descended, he was returning from shooting with John Michael McDonagh in Morocco. Since then, he has navigated the “ebbs and flows” of this strange year: no new hobbies, no “Thoreau plains,” occasional trips upstate. Finally he placed a projector in his apartment and started watching movies: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Christian Petzold, Lee Chang-dong: “All for pleasure, all for complete pleasure.”
I wonder, for someone who spends his life pretending to be other people, how it has felt to spend a year just being himself. Abbott thinks for a moment; shuffle the hat. “Honestly, I enjoyed it,” he says. “I do a lot of indies, but I was lucky to have worked a lot that year before, so at least financially… it wasn’t killing him, but it was enough to sustain me this year. It has been nice doing exactly what I want to do every day! Making your own schedule is good. “
Of course, there are many things that should have happened: a turn in Tennessee Williams’ play Orpheus Descending, for example, potentially delayed until summer. Enjoy the “intensified poetry” of Williams’ writing, he says, “The fact that there is a world.” He is hoping to play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, a role that has almost happened several times, including in the last year. “But I don’t know how the theaters are going to get going again,” he says. “There are things that I was attached to for a while; We’ll see when they happen. “
Among them is a film adaptation of Deborah Levy’s novel Swimming Home, with director Justin Anderson. “Hopefully, by May, we’ll see,” says Abbott. “I really want to do it and I hope everything goes well. It’s really nice. I’m very excited about that, but I don’t want to say too much, because energy wise I don’t want to curse anything. So yes, you could be very busy or still not very busy; I really do not know.
“I’m not in a hurry to go back,” he adds. “It’s not romantic at all, the Covid set.” If you’re honest, you’re not entirely in love with film sets in general. “There are things that I love about him, but things that are very annoying,” he says. “I really don’t like getting up early to shoot. Waking up at five is a nightmare to go to work ”.
He channeled some of this ambivalence into his role in the second part of Black Bear, turning Gabe into “a fusion of some director friends of mine, maybe even a little bit of Larry himself, one of those directors who are always constantly eating – there’s celery. , and there’s a bit of what I’m asking to have walnuts in hand … it’s those little things that I find funny on a film set. ” Was that your suggestion, I wonder? Abbott smiles. “That was my only brilliant suggestion, yes.” I think he makes the movie, I tell him. “It does,” he laughs. “That’s why it’s good!”
The theater is a different matter. “I remember doing my first Broadway show and being in that building with those old narrow hallways and little rooms… I felt like there were ghosts there, in a nice way. I love the feeling of being in New York and doing that. “
On stage, he says, “You have the energy of the crowd, you feel like you can orchestrate a little bit more and, in a nice way, you have that quality where you can control an audience, make them listen, make them lean. There is. a completely different dialogue with the audience and an energy for a live show that I miss. ” It is rare, he admits, to see a good play. “And when it’s not good, it’s the most uncomfortable place to be. Sometimes I really enjoy watching plays and often I don’t. But selfishly, by doing them, you don’t have to be in the audience. “
I ask Abbott what gives him acting that he doesn’t get anywhere else in his life. He frowns and lowers his hat to his forehead. “Well, how much in your life do you regret something, or are you ashamed of something, or wish you had done something different?” he says. “So even though it’s a fantasy, sometimes it’s good to experience certain moments as if you could do that.”
But it’s a strange life, one that last year’s fixation has perhaps only amplified. Talk about the pleasure of being in one place: walking around New York, hanging out outside in the summer months, hanging out with old friends; a world at odds with the transience of the film set or theatrical production.
“In this business, you meet a lot of people, which is a nice thing,” says Abbott. “But sometimes it’s hard to deal with, because you have these brief bursts of intense connection with people and then in five or six weeks, it’s over. And sometimes you keep in touch and sometimes you don’t. People’s lives move on. “He frowns again, then his face softens.” But movies are inherently romantic versions of life, right? “He says.” And there’s even something romantic about making them, the fleeting nature of it. There is some melancholy, but also sweetness. “
Black Bear launches April 23 in digital formats.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism