Abby Ryder Fortson has been popping up everywhere lately, from HBO’s Togetherness to Amazon’s Transparent to ABC’s new series The Whispers, in which the 7-year-old plays Harper, one of several tykes manipulated into maiming and murdering by an invisible entity called Drill. With all these projects already under her belt, she tells us what it’s like being a little girl in a small-screen world.
On The Whispers
Harper may be in a scary situation, but Abby says she isn’t afraid of the show—or of watching herself onscreen, doing the things Harper has to do. That includes the opening scene of The Whispers, in which Harper lures her mother (Autumn Reeser) into a treehouse, causing her to fall and end up in a coma. “I’m not a scaredy-cat, I know it’s all fake,” she says. “I’m not really scared because in every story with bad guys and good guys, the good guys win.”
Drill doesn’t scare her either. “He’s kind of weird,” the first grader explains. In fact, the imaginary-friend plot isn’t the coolest part of the show for Abby; she says her favorite memories from shooting include getting to celebrate her sixth birthday with the cast and crew—”They gave me the biggest cake with frosting and flowers and butterflies,” she remembers—and getting lifted to the treehouse. “It was, like, eight feet above the ground,” she says. “It was very high!”
Plus, she got to play pranks on her adult co-stars, including Lily Rabe, whom she calls one of her favorite actresses. “She plays the FBI person, but she’s really nice to me,” Abby explains. “One time, I actually kind of tricked her about an imaginary friend. I said Drill was in another room, and I made her go look!” (Abby reassures us Rabe didn’t get too scared by her trick.)
TV isn’t Abby’s only playground: She’ll hit the big screen this summer in Ant-Man, adding Paul Rudd to her long list of on-screen dads, which also includes Mark Duplass on Togetherness and Rob Huebel on Transparent. “Meeting new people and reading scripts—that’s my favorite part of acting,” she says. “I really like to pretend I’m a different character. I get to feel emotions that another person wouldn’t feel because they’re not that character.”
With Rudd, Duplass, and Huebel all known for comedy, it’s hard for Abby to say which actor was the funniest scene partner. In the end, Abby says Rudd was the funniest—but not by too much. “In Ant-Man, Paul Rudd plays a funny character so that’s why he’s a little funnier than Mark,” she says.
On life outside acting:
Abby began acting at 4, when she started going on auditions with her parents. And though much of her experience comes from TV work, she’s not allowed to watch Togetherness or Transparent because of their adult themes. (She watches The Whispers because she understands it’s all “make-believe.”) Instead, she’s a huge film fan, listing Hayao Miyazaki films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro as her favorites. She also calls out Elf for its star. “Have you ever seen Elf?” she asks. “I really want to meet that guy who plays Elf.”
A project with Will Ferrell isn’t the biggest stretch if she continues acting—but will she? “Well, yeah…” she answers. “But I really want to be an animal rescuer, too.”
An edited version of this interview ran in Entertainment Weekly issue #1367, on newsstands Friday, June 5.