Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael on Sex Appeal and Success
We first got to know Christopher Abbott as Charlie on Girls, and ever since he left the show at the height of its popularity, the 37-year-old actor has been disappearing into roles while keeping audiences at a distance. With no social media and an allergy to self-promotion, Abbott is more cipher than celebrity. So when his friend Jerrod Carmichael, who directed Abbott in the dark comedy On the Count of Three and appears with him in Yorgos Lanthimos’s upcoming Poor Things, met up with him at his New York apartment, he wanted to know one thing: Who the hell is Christopher Abbott?
MONDAY 9 PM JULY 3, 2023 NYC
JERROD CARMICHAEL: Do you like L.A.?
CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT: Short answer is no.
CARMICHAEL: Why not?
ABBOTT: It’s not that I don’t like L.A., I just like New York.
CARMICHAEL: Do you live in New York for acting?
ABBOTT: Originally. Now I’ve spent so many years here that I always say I earned too much in the sense of the restaurants I like and being able to go in when I want. I don’t want to give that up.
CARMICHAEL: So it’s nothing to do with your career?
ABBOTT: No. New York feels, not to be clichéd, but like my backyard. It’s very egotistical, but I feel like everyone’s in my city.
CARMICHAEL: I lived in L.A. for a while, and there are things I like about it, but you do earn a living in New York.
CARMICHAEL: We should say on the record that this is take two of our conversation. I requested a second take because I felt like take one wasn’t—I don’t know. I felt like we could top it.
ABBOTT: And the intention was not to start by saying New York or L.A.
CARMICHAEL: Well, we were watching the Weeknd show [The Idol] and it had a lot of scenes in L.A. You said you missed L.A. when you saw it, so that’s what made me ask.
ABBOTT: It just made me want to go there.
CARMICHAEL: And do what?
ABBOTT: Find a house and party.
CARMICHAEL: L.A. is crazy because you always find yourself in the wildest situations. I remember being in Elon Musk’s house with some girl playing a piano at 3 a.m.
ABBOTT: I feel like I’m playing out some sort of narrative when I’m there.
CARMICHAEL: You’re Chris Abbott, the actor.
ABBOTT: In a way, yeah, which is interesting for a short period of time.
CARMICHAEL: Is it because of the industry attention you get?
ABBOTT: I don’t get any. At least I don’t think I do. But I’m genuinely unaware of that stuff. I can tell if someone recognizes me, but I never cause a scene.
CARMICHAEL: Yeah. This is leading to a lot of things, because the reason I wanted to redo this is I started putting myself in the audience members’ shoes, the people who respect your work. I’m one of those people. Even as your friend, this is a good excuse to dig into things that we wouldn’t normally talk about.
ABBOTT: You thought part one was more riffing how we would normally riff.
CARMICHAEL: I was kind of performing the interview more than I should have.
ABBOTT: You were? I didn’t feel like you were performing.
CARMICHAEL: I felt like I was trying to make sure we covered ground. It was true, but I felt like there was a deeper version. And I was like, if the audience feels about you the way that I do, then they have so many questions, because you are mysterious in many ways.
ABBOTT: That’s a fair reason to do part two.
CARMICHAEL: So tell me about your mom, because you don’t talk about her a lot.
ABBOTT: Oh, man. First of all, I love my mom. I just wonder, would I confide in her if something was wrong? And I don’t think I would. Put it this way: My mom is so sweet that if something was going wrong with her, she would say, “Don’t bother Chris.” My mom wouldn’t dare burden me with anything. But it’s almost like there wasn’t time to talk about shit. Both my parents worked a lot.
CARMICHAEL: Who else was in the house?
ABBOTT: The first house I lived in was a six-family house, which was very Italian-style living. Me, my dad, mom, and my sister lived in one apartment. My uncle lived in the one next to us. My great-aunt and uncle lived in the one below us. My mom’s godparents lived in another one. My grandparents lived in one on the bottom. And my great-grand-mother and my other uncle lived in another one.
ABBOTT: It was a very unique way of growing up, which I didn’t know at the time.
CARMICHAEL: What do you remember about your parents’ relationship?
ABBOTT: I was more naive when I was younger, so, I didn’t pick up on as much. They had fun together. My dad would make her laugh. It wasn’t until later, when I was a teenager, that I’d pick up on some of the issues that they were having.
CARMICHAEL: How long were they together?
ABBOTT: I think they were married for 32 years before they divorced, but they met in high school.
CARMICHAEL: What were their expectations of you?
ABBOTT: I don’t think they had any. They were genuinely supportive of whatever I wanted to do and didn’t push me in any direction. When I started doing bad in school, obviously they were like, “You have to do better.” But I never had that clichéd thing of, “You have to get a job.” But I wanted to work as soon as I could, anyway. I wanted money.
CARMICHAEL: What did you think you’d be?
ABBOTT: In retrospect, I’m like, “I wanted to be an actor, I just didn’t know it,” because I wanted to do so many different things and I would constantly change my mind. There was a point early on, which is absurd to me, that I wanted to be a New York businessman. I was like, “I want to walk down some steps in New York with a briefcase because that looks cool.” And then I saw The Matrix and I wanted to be Neo. So it constantly changed. But when it came time to really think about a job, at the end of high school, I didn’t know. I was more concerned with the immediate day-to-day of making money.
CARMICHAEL: What were you on the path to being?
ABBOTT: I had one option where I could have started a landscaping business with some friends. I was sort of interested in psychology, so I took a pre-psychology course in community college, but I only went for a year and a half. And to bring it back to acting, I realize now that I was interested in acting because I’ve always been interested, well, in movies, but in human behavior specifically, and why people do what they do.
CARMICHAEL: You’re a good mimic.
ABBOTT: And I observe. Even before acting, I was a watcher.
CARMICHAEL: What was the transition into acting?
ABBOTT: I signed up for an acting class at that community college.
CARMICHAEL: I remember you saying that they were doing the exercises and you almost walked out. I’m curious why.
ABBOTT: Because I thought it was embarrassing. At that time, I was like, “I’m a man. I don’t do this kind of shit.”
CARMICHAEL: It just seemed too silly.
ABBOTT: Yeah. I guess I was rejecting the feeling that I was an artist in that way.
CARMICHAEL: What compelled you to stay?
ABBOTT: I don’t know. I was in the back of the theater, and they were all the way up on the stage doing their exercises. So I opened the door, it closed behind me, and I was standing in the back for a few seconds. I was like, “Do I walk out and forget the class?” And I just kept walking towards the class. That was the choice.
CARMICHAEL: Did you keep taking the class?
ABBOTT: Yeah. I was trepidatious about it for a while. And then when I did a scene from a play onstage with somebody, and the other students and the teacher were watching, that was a bit of a click. I wouldn’t say it was the moment, but I was immediately kind of good at it.
CARMICHAEL: Was that validation internal or external?
ABBOTT: External at first. It was probably the teacher’s reaction. I don’t know what the internal one was other than it just felt like I had an immediate knack for it. I knew how to move in this space.
CARMICHAEL: I’m curious what your mom thinks of your career?
ABBOTT: She loves it and she gets excited. I’m 37 years old and she still tells me all the time, “I’m so proud of you.”
CARMICHAEL: How do you receive that?
ABBOTT: I’m touched by it. I think she’s still kind of in awe.
CARMICHAEL: That she can see her son in a movie or on the television?
ABBOTT: Just that I went out and did it. This shit was not in my wheelhouse.
CARMICHAEL: Had you seen anyone from your hood or from your family make it in any sense?
ABBOTT: Zero. Movies, Hollywood, whatever you want to call it, it had nothing to do with me, and I had nothing to do with it. I grew up only an hour and change away from New York, but it might as well have been 200 miles.
CARMICHAEL: Do you remember making the decision to move to New York?
ABBOTT: Yeah. After a year and a half, I decided to drop out of community college. I think I was just so satisfied with finding something that I liked doing and I was ready for the next step. I was like, “Okay, I’m taking this class in a community college in Norwalk, Connecticut. I got to go test this in New York.” I didn’t move right away. I commuted and took classes at HB Studio in New York, which is this little school in the West Village. Luckily, I was still living at home, so there was no rent. After commuting for six months, I had saved enough to get a room in the city, so I did that.
CARMICHAEL: That’s a short amount of time to make a big move like that.
ABBOTT: But I didn’t have much money at all. For years, I learned how to navigate with two or three grand in my bank account.
CARMICHAEL: What were you eating when you first moved to New York?
ABBOTT: Well, I became friends with Philippe [Bonsignour], who owns the 11th Street Cafe, and me and my friends Michael and Mona, we’d go there and he would sometimes cook for us. But I would just try to eat cheap. And if I got invited to a dinner and had to pay, I would just do it and be like, “Fuck.”
CARMICHAEL: Because knowing you, you don’t seem like a 2 Bros. Pizza kind of guy. [Laughs]
ABBOTT: I’m not. I weirdly had the same lifestyle as I do now, it’s just a little more expensive. Money’s a very interesting thing, where I never wanted to seem like I didn’t have it. I remember I’d get invited to dinners and I wouldn’t eat as much, just to save a little money. And then it would come time to split the bill, and people were just like, “Okay, everyone split it.” And then I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah.” I would do it, but I’d be sweating a little. I never wanted to look cheap. I think that’s a childhood thing.
CARMICHAEL: Well, we grew up in the hood wearing white Air Force 1s that we tried to keep clean. We were walking places and of course our shoes would get dirty, but it was a sign of having more than you had if your shoes were clean.
ABBOTT: I did the same thing. I had white Air Force 1s and they smelled like Wite-Out.
CARMICHAEL: Do you care about money now?
ABBOTT: Of course.
CARMICHAEL: How often do you think about it? How does it inform your decisions?
ABBOTT: It doesn’t.
CARMICHAEL: That says a lot. I’m working with an actor who dropped out of a project because he wanted half the budget. It wasn’t for any artistic merit. He was doing it because he’s in a Disney movie and he wants Disney to pay for this A24 thing that I’m doing.
ABBOTT: I love money, for sure. I want to buy a house eventually. But I don’t think about it too much, because I make enough to live the life that I want to live, which is pretty simple—going out to dinners and I can take trips if I want—and that’s pretty good.
CARMICHAEL: When do you remember first feeling secure financially?
ABBOTT: When I started making TV money. It was probably around the time when I did the first season of Girls, because I was also doing a Broadway play at the time.
CARMICHAEL: Which one?
ABBOTT: The House of Blue Leaves. I still wasn’t making that much money. I was a guest star on Girls, and HBO at the time, minimum guest star pay was, I don’t know, $3,000 an episode or something. It really wasn’t much.
CARMICHAEL: It seems huge.
ABBOTT: Broadway must have been like $800 a week. But at the time I was like, “Man, I’m raking this shit in.” I knew actors were making more money than I was, but I felt like I was doing alright.
CARMICHAEL: Fast-forwarding ahead, and we kind of talked about this, but do you want kids?
ABBOTT: I can safely say I do.
CARMICHAEL: Were you conflicted about that?
ABBOTT: Yeah. Because for a while, I had this idea that it was completely based on my partner. If she wanted to, I would. Or if she didn’t want to, then I wouldn’t. I’d say only in the last few years, I made the decision that, as a sole human, I want kids. That was a nice feeling. Do you want kids?
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, I do. I have four nieces and a nephew and in some ways, I think of them as my own. You get to show them your favorite things about the world. I really like that. My boyfriend’s 32, I’m 36, so it comes up a lot more frequently as less of a joke. I also don’t want to be a Larry King dad, having kids when you’re so old that making it to their graduation day is up in the air.
ABBOTT: I don’t want to be an old dad.
CARMICHAEL: I think you’d be a great dad.
ABBOTT: Thank you. Yeah, I got to have sex with someone first.
CARMICHAEL: Do it, bro. It’s New York City. Get out there. You must get a thousand offers a day.
CARMICHAEL: I think you don’t see them, as someone who has dinner with you in restaurants and sees the way girls’ heads turn towards you. I’ve seen you get a hundred silent offers that you kind of breeze by. You don’t take advantage of all the opportunities that present themselves to you.
ABBOTT: Sure. But I also don’t want to.
CARMICHAEL: No, no. It’s good, but at the same time, you aren’t the dog you could be.
ABBOTT: I have been, in the past.
CARMICHAEL: What stopped you?
ABBOTT: I’m tired now.
CARMICHAEL: Just older and tired. You want tea and sleep.
ABBOTT: Yeah. Look, I’m not wildly unaware.
CARMICHAEL: I was going to say, you have to be aware of the sex appeal you have. Do you find yourself sexy?
ABBOTT: Um, it oscillates. I see myself in the mirror and sometimes I’m like, “You are the most handsome devil I have ever seen.” And then I see a photo of myself, and I’m like, “You are the ugliest piece of shit.”
CARMICHAEL: You can’t think you’re ugly.
ABBOTT: I’m just telling you the truth!
CARMICHAEL: You’re fucking gorgeous, you know that.
ABBOTT: I think I have the ability to look handsome and look ugly, which is good for acting in some ways.
CARMICHAEL: But I guess I’m asking how do you feel? Just watching you in Yorgos [Lanthimos]’s movie, you’re obviously incredibly talented, but you’re also beautiful.
ABBOTT: I guess. I’ve seen myself too much, so that’s not my first reaction. Look, I’m not a monk. I know there’s vanity inherently in the job. So for me, when I see myself in a movie, of course there’s part of my brain that’s like, “You don’t look so good there.” But it’s very fleeting. I’m generally much more concerned about my performance.
CARMICHAEL: Well, that’s also very hot. To be talented is hot.
ABBOTT: [Laughs] But I’m definitely my own worst critic. I’m the first to be tired of myself and think I’m phoning it in.
CARMICHAEL: Who are the critics in your head? For instance, if I’m getting dressed in the morning, if I don’t think my fit looks great, what I’m imagining is middle school, when my dad used to drop me off. If I got there early enough, I would walk into a courtyard full of kids, and if you look crazy or you don’t look cool, they’ll just immediately start talking shit about you. I view the world through that lens. But what’s yours?
ABBOTT: It’s very similar for me, growing up and trying your best to look good. An early memory is when I was in elementary school and I was wearing these blue sweatpants that said “Chicago” on the thigh. They were worn out and had discolored patches on them and one day while I was wearing them I somehow sat in shit.
ABBOTT: It was a moment of ridicule and embarrassment, and I think that was a turning point where I was like, I need to start looking better.
CARMICHAEL: Well yeah, you got shit on your knee-patch Chicago pants. Did you have to fight a lot?
CARMICHAEL: Yeah. Because I feel really safe with you and Lionel [Boyce]. I grew up with a big brother, and I could talk a lot of shit because he was respected in the hood and I felt safe around him. And I feel safe around you walking around the streets of New York. I feel like if something happened, you could fight for me. Remember that day recently when you got into a fight?
ABBOTT: With the bike? I was riding to meet you!
CARMICHAEL: Yeah. You were riding to meet me at [Café] Kitsuné.
ABBOTT: For coffee, yeah. And the guy hit me on my bike. The end of the story is I slapped him, but it was deserved.
CARMICHAEL: [Laughs] Because he hit you while you were on your bike.
ABBOTT: He ran into me on an electric bike. I looked back at him and he immediately started saying, “What the fuck are you doing?” and calling me a fucking idiot when I knew right away it was totally his fault. We started arguing in the street, and people started watching. He kept saying he was going to fuck me up, so I basically said, “Let’s do it.” And then we were in each other’s face again, and he kept calling me a faggot for whatever reason. And then we were close to each other and he made a move like he was going to hit me, and in reaction to that, I just slapped him.
CARMICHAEL: You’re so cool. [Laughs] That’s the coolest.
ABBOTT: Well, I didn’t feel that cool. I was shaken by it. But all that is to say that growing up, yes, I have gotten into fights, but I wouldn’t look for them. But if for whatever reason someone wanted to fight me, I wouldn’t back down from it.
CARMICHAEL: Well, you make me feel safe.
ABBOTT: Those days are over for me. At least, I think. But I still have fantasies about shit happening. You told me the story about Paris the other day and I wish I had gone.
CARMICHAEL: I wish you were there, too. I was just there with my boyfriend and I saw a car creep up beside us and someone threw water out of the car on me just because we’re gay, I guess. I wanted to chase the car down. I wanted to throw something. I was really mad. But ultimately, I just went to the hotel room and cried. I was actually more hurt by the fact that someone would do something like that to people who weren’t doing anything to anyone. And yeah, I wish you were there because I think as your friend, I would’ve both wanted to stop you and also be like, “Beat his ass, Chris.”
ABBOTT: Yeah, I’d fuck someone up for you.
CARMICHAEL: Thank you.
ABBOTT: Just enough to not get in trouble.
CARMICHAEL: I’d bail you out.
ABBOTT: I’d fight someone for you, but I don’t know if I’ll go to jail for you, bro.
CARMICHAEL: Never go to jail. That’s one rule. What else? I just really want everybody to see Yorgos’s movie, Poor Things, because you are excellent in it.
ABBOTT: I’m very proud that I’m in it, but I’m more proud that we’re both in it together. You’re great in it.
CARMICHAEL: I’m really happy too, and I know more people will continue to see On the Count of Three, but I’m really proud of that. And your play [Danny and the Deep Blue Sea] with Aubrey [Plaza].
ABBOTT: I think those are the three plugs here.
CARMICHAEL: Anyway. I love you a lot.
ABBOTT: I love you, brother.
CARMICHAEL: This is good. I like this one better.
ABBOTT: We’ll see what happens.
This interview and photoshoot was completed before the SAG-AFTRA strike.
Grooming: Thomas Dunkin at Art Department.
Fashion Assistants: Lulu Lee and Danielle Zeldis.
Lighting Assistant: Rachel Filler.
Studio Assistants: Katie Park and Danny Gurung.
Movement Director: Sophia Parker.
Post-production: Two Three Two Studio