Abigail Breslin is a doll – in person and on screen

Ed Symkus

Abigail Breslin turned 12 in April, yet she’s a veteran in front of the camera. She started with TV commercials when she was 3, and worked her way up to a starring role – and her name above the title – in the new film “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” which opens Wednesday.

Lest viewers forget, she also picked up a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her turn as an unlikely beauty pageant contestant in “Little Miss Sunshine.” So far, her onscreen career has presented her as cute and vibrant, maybe a little eccentric (“Signs”), possessing some insight on the human condition (“Definitely, Maybe”).

But in person, Breslin – who is named after Abigail Adams – is a young girl with no airs about her who giggles and squirms a little at certain questions.

You read it here: Abigail Breslin is the real thing -- a normal, everyday kid who happens to be a very convincing actress. If she doesn’t follow her secondary dream of becoming a veterinarian, and stays with acting, perhaps she’ll take home one of those Oscars some day.

In “Kit Kittredge,” which is based on the successful series of books and absurdly expensive line of American Girl dolls, she plays the title character, a happy 10-year-old who, along with her family, is going trough some tough times during the Depression. But her friends, and her dreams of becoming a reporter, help her get by.

Abigail is no stranger to the American Girl dolls, as she owns more than a dozen.

Sitting, along with her mom, in a room at the Liberty Hotel in Boston, she seems a little tired (it’s almost noon, and she’s been doing interviews for about three hours), but there’s still a sparkle in her eyes, and she does her spunky best to answer questions and toss in a smile with most of her replies.

“I had to learn how to use a typewriter,” she says of her preparation for the role. “When I saw it I said, ‘Where’s the screen?’ That was really weird. But I don’t think I would be a very good reporter because Kit takes a lot of notes, and I wouldn’t be able to keep track.”

She explains that she doesn’t take notes in real life because she’s home-schooled.

But, she’s asked, “Don’t you still have to take notes?”

“Naw, not so much,” she says, at which point her mom chimes in with, “She’s a very good student.”

One thing she didn’t learn much about in her home schooling is the Depression, which is painted in the film as being a time of hunger and uncertainty and thievery and roving hobos.

“I didn’t really know what the Depression was, so I asked my grandma, and she told me some things,” Abigail says. “But I learned a lot while doing the movie, too. I read all the Kit books, but working on the movie, I would hear things and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ I asked anybody on the set.”

Abigail has said in previous interviews that she chooses to play characters that she’d actually like to know. She certainly would enjoy knowing Kit.

“She is very curious, always asking questions, because she wants to be a reporter,” Abigail says.  “But the thing I like about her is that she shares what she has, even if it’s not a lot. I think that’s something that’s really cool about her, and I think she’s a lot more brave than I am.”

A lot more brave?

“I was so afraid to get up in that tree,” she says of one scene in the film. “I’m afraid of heights.”

Her method of conquering that fear was to just go for it.

“I thought about it for a couple minutes, then just decided, ‘OK, I’ll get up there and do it,’” she says, smiling. “And I did. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I was more worried about getting down. I didn’t want to have to be pulled down. But they did sort of help me. And I’m still afraid of heights.”

And, bless her, she doesn’t appear to have any ego problems. When the script called for her to do some good old-fashioned roller-skating, she got a pair, and dutifully started practicing, for close to two months. But when she got to the set, she was informed that they would be using a double in the movie, neglecting to tell her why.

“I think it was because I wasn’t a good enough roller skater,” she says, with a slight shrug.

Then there were the rules, especially one no-nonsense one about working with a monkey in the film.

“They told all of us that you couldn’t show your teeth to the monkey and you couldn’t look the monkey in the eye,” she says, then adds, “but I have two dogs: Curtis and Stormy, a dachshund and a German shepherd.”

Asked if, with her track record of about a dozen films now, directors treat her differently, she’s quiet for a few moments.

“It’s always good when you can talk to the director and ask them, ‘Well, do you think my character would do this instead of that?’ So I guess I do have some input.”

Ed Symkus can be reached at