My worst moment: Abigail Breslin and the time she mistakenly impersonated Jane Goodall

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Abigail Breslin stars with Matt Damon in the drama “Stillwater,” a fictional story that, at first glance, bears some resemblance to the real life story of Amanda Knox.

“There are definitely parallels,” said Breslin, “but I don’t want to say it’s based on it. The film is about a guy who is an oil rig worker and he has a daughter who lives in France and is in prison for allegedly murdering her girlfriend. So it’s about him coming and finding new developments in the case and arguing for her to be exonerated.”

Breslin has been acting since childhood. Her first movie was 2002′s “Signs” when she was 5, and her resume since includes everything from “Little Miss Sunshine” to “August: Osage County” to “Zombieland.”

When asked about a worst moment in her career, she replied: “There have been many cringey moments, I just want to establish that, so it was difficult for me to narrow it down to one story.”

But narrow it down, she did.

My worst moment ...

“When I was about 13, so this was 2009, and my brother and I had the privilege of presenting an award to (the primatologist) Jane Goodall. Being an animal lover and an admirer of her and all her work, I was really thrilled and excited to do it.

“This was in Washington, D.C., so everybody there was a politician or a diplomat. So it was these incredible people. And there I was like, ‘I was in a movie one time.’ I mean, had been in a few movies by that point, but obviously that’s in no way comparable to Jane Goodall and rescuing chimpanzees and saving wildlife (laughs). I was so humbled to be there and so excited.

“So I’m on stage and I’m reading the teleprompter, which has never been a friend of mine because I’m dyslexic. And all of a sudden I’m thinking: Wow, they really are making me say a lot during this introduction for Jane Goodall.

“And it was about halfway through, I want to say four minutes into talking, that I said, ‘In 1972, I went to the rainforest …’ and was like, what? I have never been to a rainforest. There was something desperately wrong with this situation! My brother grabbed my elbow and was like, ‘Abby?’ And then I realized, oh my God, I have just read about three-quarters of Jane Goodall’s speech. I have just been talking as if I am Jane Goodall!

“I know everybody was looking around the room like, what the hell is this girl doing (laughs)? I did think it was weird that I was saying, ‘Thank you for having me here,’ twice. I mean, I’m a thankful person, but that was confusing. And then my brother said, ‘I think there’s been a slight technical difficulty.’

“Someone else might have handled this by laughing it off. But no, I ran. I literally ran off the stage and into the bathroom and was sobbing my eyes out. I thought I had ruined the entire event. I was mortified. I was so worried that she would think I was disrespecting her. And my mom came in and said, ‘It was an accident, don’t worry about it,’ and I was like (sobbing), ‘I ruined Jane Goodall’s event!’

“Obviously she got on stage and started her speech from the beginning, much more eloquently than I ever would have. When I pulled myself together a little bit, I went to her table afterward — near tears still — and I said, ‘Ms. Goodall, I want to sincerely apologize. I was definitely not trying to take away your moment.’ And she was like, ‘It’s quite all right, I honestly didn’t want to read all of it anyway.’ (Laughs)

“She’s such a good sport. But that was probably one the worst moments I’ve ever had.”

Did the teleprompter just keep scrolling even after her words of introduction?

“I think the phrasing of it was something like, ‘That’s why I’m so honored to be here today to introduce the incredible Jane Goodall.’ But it went directly into the next thing, so I thought that meant there was more I needed to say. I just kept going, like a freight train. I really can’t tell you why I thought I should continue speaking, but the way it was written, it was all lumped into one thing together.

“I could see the teleprompter person being like, ‘What is this girl doing?’ But it just did not register. I already get really anxious when I’m speaking in public anyway. And I was 13, so that didn’t help either.

“The way that my dyslexia works, it’s not the typical thing where the letters flip backward — when I’m writing that happens, with b’s and d’s and p’s and q’s — but not when I’m reading. For me, when I’m reading, there’s a delay a little bit. So it takes me a couple of times of reading something over before my brain registers what I’m reading. Like, I would never be able to play ‘Jeopardy!’ because I’d be like, ‘Wait, what is the clue saying?’

“It wasn’t until my teens that I really realized how bad it was. So it does give me public speaking anxiety. And then the anxiety makes the dyslexia 10 times worse. And especially when the words are going by quickly on teleprompter …

“I can’t express to you how upset I was that night, but I remember afterward someone from the foundation was like, ‘Don’t even worry about it, Jane said it was one her favorite moments of the entire event because she knew you were saying her speech and she was very happy to let you say it for her!’”

The audience probably found it charming, especially because she was a kid

“Now at 25 I’m like, dammit, I should have played the whole ‘poor child’ card a bit more.

“I’m still used to being the kid actor. If the day is going long I’ll be like (jokingly), ‘Child labor laws!’ And they’re like, ‘You’re 25, grow up!’ And I’m like, ‘It doesn’t work that way anymore?’ It’s a very rude awakening when you hit that 18-year-old mark and they’re like, ‘Oh honey, you’re not done until we’re done.’ But in all seriousness, whenever I’m working with someone who’s a kid now, I always find myself feeling a very strong protective instinct toward them.”

The takeaway ...

“Definitely learn what you’re saying before you step on stage.

“But I think the bigger thing I learned was how to handle something like that. Laughing it off is always the best way. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. I learned not to be so hard on myself for little things.

“And also, let the teleprompter person know if you have dyslexia.”

———

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting