At the age of 13, Hailee Steinfeld got the opportunity that she and 15,000 other girls across the country crossed their fingers for. She was reading for the role of Mattie Ross in an upcoming movie called True Grit, a remake of the original 1968 book by Charles Portis.
“Going into it I was so prepared and I wanted it so bad, and I feel like I could’ve convinced them without even reading how bad I wanted it,” Steinfeld said at Hotel ZaZa during a press junket for her latest film The Edge of Seventeen. “Luckily they gave me the opportunity to read it for them the third time around. And I was in a room with Jeff Bridges and the Coen brothers themselves and a week later I found myself shooting their movie.”
Steinfeld, who only had a few short films and some commercial work on her resume at the time, not only landed the part, but gave a performance so good that Time Magazine editor Richard Corliss wrote that Seinfeld had a “true gift.” Suddenly the teenager’s name was placed alongside the likes of Amy Adams and Helena Bonham Carter at the 83rd Academy Awards, where Steinfeld was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
“I was 13 and it was just a year of complete chaos,” Stienfeld says. “I 100 percent realize what everything meant now — way more than I ever did then.”
After a yearlong break, Stienfeld’s career boomed in 2013, with the release of blockbuster Ender’s Game and indie piece Hateship, Loveship. And while she hasn’t reached the heights of her debut, the now 19-year-old has gained experience working alongside the likes of Harrison Ford, Kristin Wiig and most recently Woody Harrelson, and formed close bonds with fellow celebrities like Taylor Swift, all while her recent successes as a musician have cemented her place as a multitalented rising star.
Her latest film, The Edge of Seventeen, sees Steinfeld playing the foul-mouthed, angsty Nadine Byrd, a 17-year-old high school girl struggling to find herself after the loss of her father. The film's plot covers familiar ground, but updates the traditional teenage romantic comedy with F-bombs, dark humor and a hilariously dead-pan Harrelson, whom Steinfeld plays off of with effortless style. It's fairly heavy subject matter for an artist whose single “Starving” has recently been in constant rotation on Radio Disney.
“Well I think it definitely adds a level of realness. I think we’ve all been in high school and we know the way that we talk and we know what generally goes down at parties,” Steinfeld said. “[The Edge of Seventeen] does justice to what I felt my teenage years are and were like, and it’s nice to sort of have a movie and be able to feel understood by someone and not feel like, ‘Oh when is the makeover going to happen or when is it going to turn into that movie where we all want it to happen that way [in real life] but it really doesn’t?’ It’s not that, it’s just honest and it’s real and that’s why I love it.”
And it’s her focus on the transitionary moments in life that separates Steinfeld’s portrayal of Nadine from the rose-tinted film efforts of other teenage idols. At her core, she's just a teenager looking to follow her own passions.
When given a chance, Steinfeld takes it unapologetically, like she did when she landed her role as Emily Junk in Pitch Perfect 2, using the musicality of the role to step into the music world after a chance encounter with a representative of Republic Records. Her first EP, Haiz, was released in November 2015, during filming for The Edge of Seventeen.
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“I remember when I was sort of making that transition into music I wanted my first single to have an important message not only to the world but to myself,” she says. “With the song ‘Love Myself,’ it’s been a constant reminder, not only to my fans but to myself, of how much importance there is in being able to love yourself.”
The song has also been labeled as a tongue-in-cheek reference to masturbation, with lines like "I'm gonna touch the pain away/I know how to scream my own name" and "I'm gonna put my body first/And love me so hard 'til it hurts," which Steinfeld sings while wearing a leotard with the words “Self Service,” printed on the front. No matter how unsubtle the euphemism, it’s refreshing to see Steinfeld preach positivity in a real way, especially given how well she’s navigated Hollywood since the age of 13.
“After I made True Grit I didn’t make another project for a year,” Steinfeld said. “It took me that long to kind of come off that experience and sort of really figure out what it was that I wanted to do next and what I wanted it to be about, [while] obviously having the most fun possible. But making the right decision and working on something that was going to challenge me, that’s really been my goal with any decision I feel I made since then; finding something that will challenge and will better me as a person and as an artist.”
Steinfeld added that she’s excited to return to Dallas on Nov. 29 for the 2016 Kiss Jingle Ball, along with Meghan Trainor, the Chainsmokers and the Backstreet Boys.
“The first time I came [to Dallas] was to visit my cousin who was at SMU,” Steinfeld says. “Every time I come back, I don’t know, everybody is so friendly here. It’s just a good place to be.”