As the summer movie season enters its home stretch, Gillian Robespierre’s LANDLINE hits theaters like a breath of fresh air, largely due to the sterling chemistry between its two appealing leads, played by Jenny Slate and newcomer Abby Quinn. The duo play sisters in the indie film, which will no doubt serves as an impressive stepping stone for the latter 21-year-old actress.
Quinn’s character is fairly straight-forward in the film, but make no mistake, this was still a tricky role for an up-and-coming young actress — one that required her first onscreen sex scene, not to mention dancing, which might’ve been even more of a challenge given her background.
Critics at Sundance singled out Quinn for her promising work in Landline, and Hollywood was clearly paying attention, as she recently joined Hailee Steinfeld among the young ensemble of Paramount’s upcoming Transformers spinoff Bumblebee.
Like several of our past Up-and-Comers, Quinn has larger ambitions beyond acting, as she’s also embarking on a music career. The 21-year-old has a bright future ahead of her, so get to know her a bit below.
What sparked your passion for acting?
For me, I think singing came first. My dad was really into country music like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, so for some reason, that’s what I was singing first. I just loved guitars and everything about that world. I think I did my first play in the first grade, and it was The Wizard of Oz. I was just a munchkin, because the high schoolers were Dorothy and the others. I was way too little.
But I think what sparked my passion for acting was, I have two older brothers and one of them was into performing and music and acting. I was sort of just following in his footsteps because I thought he was the coolest person ever, and there was this theater camp in Telluride, Colorado called Mudbutts. I’m from Michigan, but for the first 10 years of my life, we would go there every summer and spend a month there. So when I was old enough, that was the first acting aside from Wizard of Oz that I did. I would go every summer for like, four weeks, and we’d create plays.
It was this kooky thing where the kids were creating everything, and I think that gave me a good foundation for how i see acting and performing in general now. I feel really lucky to have had that as my first experience, and not something more rigid and structured. It was really nice to have that as an introduction to what acting can be.
Tell me about the audition process with Gillian and how she discovered you for this role.
It was a pretty standard audition process. I just got sent the audition by my agent, and I got to read the script. I’m based in LA now, so I flew to New York for the audition, and then six weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything, so I just assumed that I didn’t get it. But I was assuming that I wasn’t going to get it because of how excited I was about it going into it, which just never works out. Like, the more excited I am about something, I feel like it’s not going to happen. So then six weeks went by and I went back for a callback, and it was the day before my birthday. Then I spent my 20th birthday with my brother, and it was all I could talk about for two days. I was just so hung up on it. Maybe three weeks after that I found out I got the part. but it was nerve-wracking. I knew it was Gillian, Liz [Holm, the producer] and Jenny, but I didn’t know about anybody else. I think I found out about Edie and John at my callback. I didn’t meet anyone but Gillian or Liz before the read-through.
Had you seen Obvious Child at that point?
Yes. I saw it like, two weeks before. And I’d heard about it, but I just saw it to watch it by myself and because I love Jenny, not because I had the audition. It just happened that way. I don’t think I would’ve been as excited had I not seen that movie. And when I saw their names in the audition, I was immediately freaking out because I loved Obvious Child so much.
What was it like working with Jenny and pros like Edie Falco and John Turturro. Did they give you any acting tips or career advice?
They didn’t really give me any explicit tips. There wasn’t a whole lot of that going on in between takes, we were sort of just hanging out together. This film represented so many firsts for me, but they’ve all worked on a lot of projects with a lot of different people, so I understood that my way of approaching this was completely different from their own. I was just sitting in a room and it was like, even if no one’s talking to you, don’t touch your cell phone, just sit there and take in what’s actually happening. So it was a conscious effort at first for me, but I needed to just acknowledge how crazy it was that I was there.
Was it intimidating at all?
It was, mostly with Jenny, just because we’re closer in age, and not that she’s more my generation, but the stuff that I’d seen her in was more relatable for me I think, and I was juts a huge fan of her. So it’s not that I was intimidated, I was more nervous. And with John and Edie, they were both just really friendly and it was easy for me to click into work mode with them, which totally helped because my character is really straight-forward and speaks her mind and that totally helped when I was first meeting them and I could just yell the f-word at their face. I think it broke down a lot of barriers between us.
Your character chooses a swimming pool in this film, but where do you think is the best place to break bad news to someone?
Maybe it’s because I just saw The Office, but I like how Michael Scott just rolls up his car window slowly after breaking the bad news to someone that they were being cheated on. I’d probably pick somewhere you could get away really quick, like you string them along and they’re waiting outside of your car and then you just say it and zoom off… unless you want to comfort the person. Was that a bad answer? It depends on who you’re talking to, I guess.
Were there any trepidations about the sex scene?
Yes. I was just, like, freaking out, but I did talk to Jenny a lot about that and was asking her what it’s like to pretend to have sex with someone on screen. It’s such a weird thing, and it’s so technical. Probably because of how much I was freaking about it, when I was with this guy — and we had just met that day, too — it actually wasn’t weird or as uncomfortable as I thought it was going to be.
I thought you properly conveyed the awkwardness of teenage sex, as least as far as I remember it.
Yeah, and I feel really lucky that my first one wasn’t supposed to be this hot sex scene. It was two teenagers having weird sex with each other, or just slightly awkward sex.
Was he more nervous than you?
I don’t know. We talked for 10 minutes and then we were in there making out. Things like that happen all the time [when you’re an actor].
This role required you to dance, so did that come natural to you or, is that something you had to practice in the mirror beforehand?
The rave stuff? No, it did not come naturally for me, because I Irish-danced for 12 years, and you have to keep your arms right by your side and you’re only moving your feet, and you can’t show any expression on your face. So literally the opposite of what is good dancing in the real world. And Gillian really had to coach me through that. That was probably more uncomfortable than the sex scene turned out to be. I was like, I should be able to just do this and be in a rave, but she had to tell me what to do with my arms.
I loved how this film brought the ’90s back to life, like when the stereo started skipping. Are you even old enough to remember a time when every house had a landline? Did you ever use one growing up?
No, I did not. In our house in Colorado, we did have a landline, but I don’t think I used it, I think I just pretended to. But I was born in 1996 so I don’t have specific 90s memories. But the costumes, I knew from watching ’90s films, not that that’s what real life is like, but that was kind of my way into the ’90s, and ’90s music. That helped me a lot.
You said you have siblings. Were your family road trips pleasant, or were they as combative as we see in the opening of this movie?
We didn’t really have road trips. I think the farthest we ever went in a car together was from Michigan to Ohio to visit our cousins. We didn’t really go on a lot of road trips, but traveling was really, really crazy for us. My two older brothers were playing sports in the airport and they would literally just throw footballs around and it was hectic, so it my mom taking care of all four of us.
You dress up as a California Raisin in this film, so on that note, what is the most embarrassing Halloween costume that you’ve ever worn in real life?
I don’t know. Well, for a lot of years I was just a fairy because I didn’t prepare any sort of costume. There was this one year when I was in high school, and my friends and I didn’t really go to a lot of cool parties, and we tried to put on cute Halloween costumes and I was just so uncomfortable the whole night. We got there and everyone else was being dorky and fun and for the first time ever, we were trying to be cool teenagers in cute Halloween costumes, and it was just really awful. I think I was a vampire, or something really generic.
What has been the biggest pinch-me moment of your career so far? Was it Sundance, or something else?
It was probably my first day on set. Or maybe just the read-through, because it was so casual and everyone was being really casual about it but I was walking in there freaking out. But Sundance, too. It was so cool, and I’d wanted to go forever, and my whole family was there. The whole weekend didn’t feel like it was actually happening until after when I was thinking about it.
Is there an actress you look up to or whose career you’d like to emulate?
Totally. I really love Ellen Page. I think she’s, just her body of work, I love all of the films she’s been in, and just a person, she seems really nice and humble. I’ve never met her, but the persona that she gives off is that of a really nice, kind person. Also, I think Shailene Woodley is really cool. Same thing, I think. I really like all of her films and she’s a whole other person aside from being an actress that she’s totally unapologetic about, which is hard because a lot of people are telling you to be a lot of different things.
Well, Hollywood doesn’t want you to have any opinions, and she’s an activist.
Yeah, but she’s able to be successful in both realms which is really cool, and kind of rare. She’s definitely an inspiration for me.
Do you harbor any aspirations to write or direct?
Yeah, I used to write a lot as a kid, but I was also really obsessed with horses, so a lot of my stories revolved around magic horses, or unicorns. I had journal of half-written scripts and stories in the 5th grade, so I totally want to do everything, including write and direct.
Do you still sing?
I do. I have just recorded an EP and I’m hoping to do like, one song first and then release everything together.
What’s your style?
I play guitar, so I lot of it’s like, folky, but the producer that I worked with, he played drums and there are a few beats on some tracks, but other ones, it’s just me and a guitar. I think it’s rooted in the country music that I listened to as a kid, but it’s not country. It’s just folky.
Did you go to college, or are you going?
I went to a year of college at Carnegie Mellon for acting, and then I moved out here almost two years ago.
What’s next for you?
I’m not supposed to say anything besides, it’s big. I can’t say anything, but it’ll be announced in the next couple days though. [Quinn was right about that, so click here for more.]
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief