You could be forgiven if you haven’t caught on to who Abby Quinn is. The young performer’s success has more or less snuck up on her, too. The 23-year-old Bloomfield native has recently starred on screen opposite Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams and on TV in the reprise of the ’90s sitcom Mad About You. And, on Dec. 25, you can catch her in a couple of scenes in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women. But when asked to reflect on her success — in particular, on how it felt to attend Sundance Film Festival in 2017 for her first major movie, Landline — Quinn finds it hard to believe this is now her life. “I only realize it in moments like this, when I’m talking through it, how incredible it really is,” she says.
It is incredible that in just a few years in Hollywood she’s been able to accomplish so much. But when you consider Quinn’s knack for recognizing authentically written characters, her drive to learn from other female creatives, and her passion to dive headfirst into a multitude of roles, it’s more of a surprise that her star power is just now beginning to show.
Quinn’s love for performing goes back to 2002, when, as a first-grader, she played a munchkin in Detroit Country Day School’s production of The Wizard of Oz. “From there, I never really stopped,” she says. Her mother encouraged her love of singing and acting, and when she was 9, her family’s annual two-month vacation to Telluride, Colo., turned into an opportunity for Quinn to improve her skills. On her first day at a theater camp offered through the Telluride Academy — cleverly called Mudd Butts — she was required to slide down a muddy hill and have her photo taken to shake the day-one jitters. At the end of the camp, she performed in a play with fellow theater kids.
In Telluride, Quinn found freedom to explore, but it was back in metro Detroit that she learned the discipline needed to make it. In the years that followed her first Mudd Butts — which she continued to attend throughout her childhood and teenage years — she started guitar lessons with a teacher who eventually helped her create five holiday albums. She also participated in every school play possible and attended Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland with her eighth-grade class. Then, after securing an agent while participating in a summer acting workshop in 2012, Quinn began sending audition tapes to producers in New York and Los Angeles.
By the time she graduated from Detroit Country Day in 2014, she had completed 13 school productions, sent more than 100 audition tapes, and landed a guest spot in a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode and a role in the mystery film Sisterhood of the Night. Quinn took off to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Mellon University’s acting program, but after her freshman year, she felt she’d find more career opportunities if she could audition in front of casting directors. She moved to L.A. in July 2015. Seven months later, she booked Landline.
The comedy tells the story of the Jacobs family, a dysfunctional clan living in 1990s New York City. In the film, Quinn plays Ali, the family’s youngest daughter, opposite Jenny Slate’s Dana, portraying a convincing sisterly bond as the two grapple with the discovery of their father’s longtime affair. To prepare for the role, Quinn immersed herself in ’90s music and tapped into the feelings she experienced when her own parents divorced when she was in fourth grade. The project was pivotal for Quinn as much for what she experienced behind the scenes as in front of the camera. Most of the people on the Landline set were women, creating a safe space that seemed rare for an emerging actor. “I don’t think a lot of people are fortunate to start like that,” she says.
Landline set the tone for how she wants to pursue her career. Since then, she’s sought out roles that allow her to grow and learn from the industry’s greats. She acted in a 2017 Jodi Foster-directed episode of the Netflix sci-fi series Black Mirror. She starred as an overachieving teen who gets stoned in the 2018 comedy Good Girls Get High. And while playing a 20-something newlywed in After the Wedding — a 2019 drama that features a song by Quinn titled “Knew You for a Moment” — she pulled off crying scenes while holding her own alongside Williams and Moore.
Working with the two Hollywood legends, whom, along with Foster, Quinn describes as especially honest, was an education in itself. “They’re not looking for anybody else’s approval, which, as a woman, is incredible,” she says. “It’s something I admire, because it’s easy to feel like you need to let everyone else decide what you should be doing with your career.”
More subconsciously intentional, the parts she’s taken on also meet Quinn’s standards as realistic portrayals of women. “I am more drawn to the projects that give women a powerful voice that is honest and truthful,” Quinn says — she appreciates authentic characters created by writers who understand what it feels like to be a woman in her 20s. “In my auditions, I might be giving it that extra something because I am passionate about [the character].”
Quinn is now wrapping up filming for the first season of Mad About You to air since the show’s original run ended in 1999. In the reboot’s Nov. 20 premiere on Spectrum, Quinn re-introduced viewers to Mabel, the now-18-year-old daughter of Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser’s characters Jamie and Paul Buchman. The significance of the show, which earned 12 Emmy Awards during its seven years on NBC, is not lost on Quinn, who feverishly watched the original episodes after landing the role. She’s also eagerly anticipating the release of Little Women, in which she plays Annie, a wealthy young lady who appears in two scenes. While the part is small, it’s a big step for Quinn. The big-budget period drama has been in the works at Sony since 2013, and it’s the largest production she’s ever worked on. Plus, the film is already gaining Oscar buzz for its high-profile casting, which includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Meryl Streep as members of the March family. “It’s going to be the most incredible movie,” Quinn says.
Even as Quinn steadily racks up an impressive IMDB page for a Hollywood newcomer, she isn’t getting comfortable yet. “I talk to a lot of actors, and even the ones you would assume feel like ‘I’ve got this in the bag,’ there’s this feeling of ‘I don’t know what my next job is,’ ” Quinn says. As a result, the biggest thing she’d like to accomplish is simply to continue doing what she’s already doing. “My big dream is to work with people who I admire and to keep playing characters who allow me to explore like I’ve been able to, luckily,” she says. Whatever she takes on, one thing is certain — she’ll be hard to miss.
Written by Emma Klug for Hour Detroit.