How Alan Arkin Sheltered Abigail Breslin From Little Miss Sunshine's Adult Language

It's sometimes hard to comprehend whether child actors in R-rated films can be shielded from the adult themes in the films that surround them. At 12 years old, Chloë Grace Moretz was instructed in "Kick-Ass" to repeat nearly every curse word that exists, and a few years later, Jacob Tremblay appeared in one of horror's most disturbing death scenes in Mike Flanagan's "Doctor Sleep." This was a few years after Tremblay had already given a harrowing performance at age seven alongside Brie Larson in the even more bleak 2015 film "Room." I have to remind myself this phenomenon of child actors in dark or mature films is not exactly new.

In addition to films like "Stand By Me" and "The Goonies," where children swear unbridled, /Film has covered the effects that some classic horror films have had on their child stars, including the experience of Kyle Richards with "Halloween." Despite the measures director John Carpenter took to keep Richards — as one of the children Laurie Strode babysits in the film — from its scariest elements, it was after seeing the final cut at age 10 that she had to sleep in her mother's bedroom for the next five years.

During the making of the R-rated dark comedy "Little Miss Sunshine," Abigail Breslin, who stars as young Olive, was about Richards' age. Luckily, the film's screenplay, written by Michael Arndt, had a built-in solution to protecting Breslin from its most adult moments. Whenever the language reached its strongest, Breslin's character would simply put on a pair of headphones. If it weren't for her co-stars, the headphones might have been little more than a prop, but in one scene involving actor Alan Arkin as the family's foul-mouthed and estranged grandfather, Arkin insisted Breslin cover her ears.

Taking matters into his own hands

At the time "Little Miss Sunshine" was released in 2006, MovieFone reported that Abigail Breslin was genuinely listening to Kelly Clarkson's music in her headphones during filming and not just wearing them for show. But when Breslin appeared on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" in October 2021 to retell the story, she clarified that Arkin was the one enforcing this:

"It's so funny because ... I was remembering that when I did 'Little Miss Sunshine,' I had to listen to headphones in the scene, and I was actually listening to music because Alan Arkin — there's a scene where there's some language that I cannot repeat on television — but, Alan was very, very, like, not comfortable having me listen to it. So he would always check to make sure that I had the headphones on, and was actually listening to music. So I was listening to [Kelly Clarkson's] Breakaway album. I'm listening to, like, 'You Found Me.'"

Considering "You Found Me" is the ninth song on Clarkson's album and is preceded by some all-time hits like "Breakaway" and "Since U Been Gone," Breslin clearly knows the album and must be telling the truth. What remains to be seen is whether Arkin's behavior was driven more by embarrassment in his lines or a sincere interest in Breslin's well-being.

Bringing the best intentions

Alan Arkin's actions after the filming of "Little Miss Sunshine" had wrapped suggest that his concern for Abigail Breslin was earnest, as he continued to guard the child actor from the movie's most vulgar moments. During her interview with Kelly Clarkson, Breslin went on to explain:

"Even like at the premiere ... he was sitting next to me and to my mom, he'd be like, can you get her out of the theater please? ...Like, for that scene"

His protective posture towards Breslin did not stop there. At the 2007 Academy Award ceremony — where Arkin and Breslin had both been nominated for their supporting roles but only Arkin would win — he told Access Hollywood on the red carpet:

"I hope she loses frankly. No, I'm serious. I am not joking. I hope she loses. What, next year she is going to get the Nobel Prize? It's enough. She has had enough attention ... I love her and I love her family; and I feel enough is enough. She is a kid; she needs to have a childhood ... I hope she loses."

He might sound overly harsh, but having accumulated nearly 60 years working across film, television, and theater by that time, Arkin's words came from a place of understanding. Hollywood has a tendency not to allow its child actors to grow up, and Breslin has stated before that she feels "pigeonholed" as a 9-year-old from "Little Miss Sunshine." Though it would've created many opportunities as well, winning an Academy Award might have only made that worse.

Whether or not it was Arkin's responsibility to step in, it's good to know that experienced actors like him are looking out for younger co-stars on set. A strong performance by a child actor can elevate a film, but it shouldn't come at the cost of them growing up faster than everybody else.