In the Lena Dunham HBO series "Girls," Christopher Abbott played Charlie Dattolo, the on-again-off-again, passive aggressive boyfriend of Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams). Following the show's second season — in which, after Charlie rakes in cash from designing and selling a new smartphone app, the couple rekindles their love for one another — Abbott abruptly left the series for encountering "creative differences" with creator Dunham. He now stars in Where We're Born, one of the five plays in Lucy Thurber's Off-Broadway play cycle The Hill Town Plays, chronicling a woman's journey through life in the throes of poverty, alcoholism and abuse.
Abbott plays Tony, a 180-degree spin from his character on "Girls" and the edgy (and sometimes hostile) cousin of Lilly (Betty Gilpin), a conflicted teen home from her first semester at college who causes a riff between Tony and his longtime girlfriend Franky (Mackenzie Meehan). When Lilly comes between the two, Abbott's character — a scruffy womanizer always in search of his next bottle of beer — gets violent. Prior to the play cycle's official Off-Broadway opening, Playbill.com chatted with Abbott about taking on the dark character of Tony, his Broadway debut alongside Ben Stiller in the revival of The House of Blue Leaves (where he played Stiller's sadistic son Ronnie Shaughnessy) and his experience with HBO's "Girls."
I saw the show last night, and I found it very dark. Tony is totally different from Charlie on "Girls," which a lot of people know you from. Were you attracted to this type of character?
Christopher Abbott: "Girls" was kind of something that was different for me to do — comparably to other stuff that I've done — it just so happens to be the most well known. But, you know, I grew up not too dissimilar from the world of [playwright] Lucy [Thurber]'s plays — in Connecticut. The work I've been doing over the last year or so has been kind of similar — that kind of blue-collar, working-class world — like a friend of mine, [director and writer] Mona Fastvold, I did her film back ["The Sleepwalker"] in November, and that character was not too dissimilar from what I do in Lucy's [play]. It's kind of exploring new territory. Now that I've just, generally in life, gotten older, it seems to be a little bit more fitting. I'm not as young as I used to be. [Laughs.]
Tell me about exploring the darker themes in this play. When I was there last night, there was an elderly woman who, during the pinnacle of the second act — where things got a bit violent — got up and left, and I thought it was interesting. The material can be a bit offensive to some. What was it like in the room?
CA: I don't find the play to be that dark. I think the situations that happen in this play aren't actually that abnormal to what people sometimes go through in life. We didn't approach working on it like, "Okay, we have this heavy drama that we have to tackle" and "How are we going to do it?" The first 75 percent of the play, I would say, is fairly lighthearted. It doesn't really accumulate to a climax until the second half of the second act. I think the trick of the play is to not "play the end" because nothing gets truly unraveled with these people until that point. The majority of the first act is a homecoming [for Lilly], and there are little droplets of tension, but it's nothing… You can't play the end of the play at the beginning. I think we had a pretty fresh approach to it and [did] not overthink it… The play — the way it's written and moves — is so sharp. It moves so well on its own that, once you work on it enough, you just kind of play the scenes from beginning to end, and all of a sudden, you wind up getting to that point. Just as much as maybe the audience doesn't see [the ending] coming, we don't see it coming. Obviously, we know, but it just "happens," you know.
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