The younger sister of child thespian Spencer Breslin (Disney's the Kid, The Santa Clause 2, The Shaggy Dog), the dynamic young actress Abigail Breslin was born in Manhattan in 1996 and began shooting television commercials at the age of three. In 2001, Tamil-American director and Spielberg protégé M. Night Shyamalan discovered then five-year-old Breslin and brought about her movie debut by casting her in his sci-fi thriller Signs -- the tale of a farmer and pastor (Mel Gibson) who discovers a giant crop circle on his property as an early indicator of an extraterrestrial invasion. Breslin plays Bo Hess, Gibson's asthma-ridden, paranoiac daughter who is racked by the delusion that she must never drink water, for every glass in the house is now contaminated. The terror evident in this characterization was not unique. From an early age, the pint-sized Breslin became notorious for her preternatural ability to pour an extraordinary amount of emotional intensity into each role, which led to several challenging parts that Breslin pulled off with ease. The first of these turns, 2004's sadly overlooked Keane, is a harrowing drama about a drug- and alcohol-riddled schizophrenic named William Keane (Damian Lewis), obsessed with attempting to find his young daughter, who may never have even existed. Amy Ryan and Breslin play, respectively, Lynn Bedik and Kira Bedik, a mother and daughter who wander into William's life and concurrently raise, within him, a towering fear of himself and the capacity for emotional connection. The New York Post's V.A. Musetto called Breslin "a revelation."
After light-hearted turns in Garry Marshall's terribly received Raising Helen (which marked the first onscreen pairing of Breslin and her older brother) and David S. Cass' little-seen domestic comedy Family Plan (2005), Breslin signed on as the central character in Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's Little Miss Sunshine. This road comedy -- about a severely dysfunctional family that bands together and treks off to the titular children's beauty pageant in which young Olive (Breslin) is participating -- unexpectedly dazzled viewers with its acerbic wit, flashes of wild humor, exemplary characterizations, and touching insights into familial relationships, when it premiered in summer 2006. In fact, it became, hands down, one of the most significant sleeper hits of that year. Thanks in no small part to her mature evocation of sweet-natured, pure-hearted Olive (who elevates the film to new levels not only by strengthening family ties, but by performing an outrageous final dance number in the beauty pageant), Breslin became one of the youngest individuals in Hollywood history to receive a Best Supporting Actress nod when the Oscar nominations rolled around in January 2007 -- younger, by seven months, than Tatum O'Neal, during her Oscar win in early 1974. Meanwhile, Breslin signed on for several additional roles alongside her studies. These included Zoe, the niece of Catherine Zeta-Jones's character in Scott Hicks' romantic comedy No Reservations (a remake of the German film Mostly Martha); a sick child befriended by a lonely, itinerant young man (Drew Fuller) in Michael O. Sajbel's The Ultimate Gift; and the confused, inquisitive 11-year-old daughter of a political consultant (Ryan Reynolds) in Adam Brooks' romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe (2008). That same year she had the lead role in the family adventure film Nim's Island, and the title part in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. The next year she would appear in the comedy Zombieland. In 2011 she provided one of the voices for the Oscar winning animated film Rango, and was one of many in the ensemble cast of New Year's Eve as the independent-minded daughter of Sarah Jessica Parker.