Last year, Christopher Abbott was relatively unknown, performing on Broadway with Ben Stiller in The House of Blue Leaves and sharing brief screen time with Elizabeth Olsen in the Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene. Now, thanks to his recurring spot on HBO’s Girls, he’s become the poster boy for epically awkward nookie. As Charlie, the milquetoast boyfriend of Marnie (Allison Williams), the actor’s first-season fate was getting dumped mid-coitus. But fear not: Abbott isn’t out of the picture. “The producers are saying they have some ideas about how to put more confidence in Charlie,” says the Stamford, Connecticut, native, who recently began shooting the series’ second season. This September, he stars with Melanie Lynskey in Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going, a film about a dejected, newly single 35-year-old woman who moves back home and has a secret affair with a 19-year-old boy. That is, until the lovers are caught in flagrante in a cringe-inducing scene that would feel right at home in an episode of Girls. “It starts out dirty,” Abbott says, “but I like how the relationship develops. They learn that they can relate to each other on many levels.”
How did you get into acting? It wasn’t something you always wanted to do.
I got into it when I took my first acting class at a small college in Connecticut. About a year into college, I had been studying different things. I’d been thinking about getting into the trades, like woodworking or landscaping. I took one acting class thinking, Oh, this could be cool. But I really liked it, so I just kind of went for it. Then I started doing some off-Broadway plays.
What were your initial impressions when you read the script for Girls?
I only had the pilot to go off of, and in the pilot Charlie [Abbott’s character] wasn’t a very prominent. I auditioned with Lena [Dunham, Girls creator], and she had me try a bunch of things. My getting the part didn’t come from reading the script; it came from playing around with Lena at the audition.
Were you surprised when you learned about the full-on sex scenes you’d have to portray with Allison Williams?
I wasn’t surprised. I got the vibe. I knew Lena’s movie Tiny Furniture. I knew the world she creates, so I knew what was coming.
Was it weird performing the scenes?
Not really. I’m not an actor who suddenly feels I’m like in this different world. I know what’s going on: I see the camera and people standing around. Everyone is there to work. I don’t mean to de-romanticize it, but it feels like you are just doing your job. I don’t have any fear about it. I just want it to be good.
Do you relate to Charlie?
I relate to the way he loves Marnie [played by Williams], how he is just trying to do good by people. I don’t relate to the way he handles certain situations with women. Charlie is a talker during sex, while I’m more of a “keep my mouth shut” kind of guy.
What can we expect from Charlie in season 2 of Girls?
The producers are saying they have some ideas about how to put more confidence in Charlie. But as far as circumstances go, I don’t really know what happens.
Girls is a polarizing show. It’s a critical favorite, but some detractors have pointed out the lack of minorities represented in it and the way that it sort of exalts the lives of these entitled young white kids. What are your thoughts on that?
Honestly, I don’t like to read anything people are saying. Obviously, I’m alive in New York, and I’ve heard stuff like that, but I don’t know much about the backlash. I think it’s good if it raises questions for people or if they have visceral reactions to it. I think that is kind of the point of the show. Girls does what a TV show is meant to do: It’s a reflection of certain people’s lives. The characters are a very small group. Lena writes so specifically. She writes what she knows; she writes what she has seen or experienced. I don’t think it’s anything more than that.
Well, you’ve got at least one major ally: Mayor Bloomberg has expressed his love for Girls.
Wow, I didn’t know that. Maybe he thinks it’s funny. He probably likes it because the show is very “New York,” or at least part of it.
There have been rumblings that we may one day see a Girls bus tour like the Sex in the City bus tour—you know, where they’ll take visitors around to the iconic places in the show.
That sounds crazy. The idea…well, it’s fine, but not something I would do.
What attracted you to your role in the new film Hello I Must Be Going?
When I first read it, I really liked the relationship between Jeremy [Abbott] and Amy [Melanie Lynskey]. I thought it was unique and special. There is an age difference, but I like how the writer, Sarah Koskoff, made you forget about that right away. I liked how specific it was: the things they would talk about, the locations, the conversations in the front seat of a car. Jeremy is unsure where he wants to go in his life. He’s been an actor since a young age and has always been around people he doesn’t really relate to. He is yearning for something he has been missing. When he meets Amy, things open up and he has someone to talk to.
Jeremy lies to his mother, pretending to be gay. Why?
Jeremy was doing a play where he had a gay role, and his mother loved it so much, so he decided to make her happy by just telling her he was gay. They have a good relationship, but then there is this intense lie between them.
Hello I Must Be Going is about a relationship between a 35-year-old woman and a 19-year-old. What are your thoughts on age difference in relationships?
This movie is about two people who relate to one another. The thing they realize as the movie goes on is how they are perfect for each other, but the timing is wrong. Age difference can play a role in people’s relationships, purely logistically. Someone could be like, “I wish I was born five or six years later or earlier, and then this would have been great.” It’s a timing thing. Then there are people in relationships with an age difference and they don’t care. They have figured it out and they are both at the same place in their lives.
Do you have an age limit for your romantic partners?
I mean, yeah. I don’t think there’s an 85-year-old woman out there for me. My girlfriend is the same age as me.
What do you think Jeremy brings to the table for Amy? What does he do to change her course in life?
She starts off in this sexually vulnerable state, which can do two things: It can close someone off and and make them feel lost and stripped of everything. Or it can make someone open to looking around. Jeremy shows up at the dinner party, and their initial interaction is more physical; they don’t talk that much. It starts out dirty, but I like how the relationship develops. They learn that they can relate to each other on many levels. He shows up as this sort of antithesis of what she was getting from her ex-husband. He is able to open her up in a sense.
Speaking of love stories, what do you think is the greatest love story ever told?
Last Tango in Paris is up there. It’s so weird and unique. The characters have all this love for each other, but they don’t talk about it. They just play these games. I’m not a fan of playing games, but in the film world I love it. I think the dynamic between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation is very beautiful—kind of sad, but still very pure. Like in Hello I Must Be Going, Johansson’s character represents something that Murray’s character is missing.
What is the most romantic thing you’ve ever done?
I try not to do sappy things, I guess. I just want to be honest in love.
Photography by Marton Perlaki