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HAILEE STEINFELD HAS TRUE GRIT

BY JOSE MARTINEZ, PHOTOGRAPHY RAINER HOSCH, MAKEUP LINDA HAY FOR THE WALL GROUP, HAIR RYAN TRYGSTAD FOR THE WALL GROUP

 

Starring alongside venerable Oscar-winning actors Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon can be intimidating for any actor. Throw in the fact that acclaimed Oscar winners the Coen brothers are directing, and any thespian worth his or her salt would shake in his or her boots. But 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, the breakout star in the remake of True Grit, delivers a standout performance that screams movie star rather than greenhorn.

Nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and already a winner of numerous prestigious awards such as the Austin Film Critics Association Award, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, the Chicago Film Critics Association Award, and the Critics Choice Awards, among others, young Steinfeld is enjoying her time in the spotlight.

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, some 15 miles north of Hollywood, Steinfeld knew she wanted to act since the age of eight. The daughter of a practical mother, little Hailee had to take acting lessons for a solid year before she was even able to think of going on an audition. That perseverance has paid off as Steinfeld steals the show playing True Grit’s determined Mattie Ross, the no-nonsense frontier girl who will avenge her father’s murder with the help of a one-eyed lawman she hires.

The niece of famed fitness trainer Jake Steinfeld, famous for his “Body by Jake” workouts, this star-in-the-making, ala her heroes Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman, doesn’t shoot blanks and takes no prisoners.

Venice: Congratulations on True Grit. You really delivered a great performance. I read where Jeff Bridges said he was initially concerned about your playing Mattie Ross until the first day of shooting when you won him over. Were you ever aware of that?

Hailee Steinfeld: From him, I never heard that, but I could imagine it because this character is such a big part in the movie that it had to be good. I didn’t know that, coming from Jeff specifically, but I had an idea.

Did you have any concerns that you could really pull it off?

No, not after I started filming and I met Jeff and the Coen brothers and all the actors and realized they were all on my side. That was really helpful. But every scene had its own challenge.

Do you think working with actors the caliber of Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, as well as the Coen brothers, made things easier or more nerve wracking?

At first it was a little intimidating but after meeting them and realizing how down-to-earth they are, and the fact they were just there to do their job, and I’m there for the same reason, really makes you feel at ease.

Now that the film is done, what do you make of the whole promotional aspect of moviemaking?

It’s very new to me I have to say. I have to be honest, when I first got into acting it was for many different reasons, but I never realized it takes doing all these interviews and all this other stuff afterwards. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s new.

When did you know you wanted to act?

When I was eight years old, my cousin was doing commercials at the time, and seeing my cousin on TV, someone that I knew and grew up with, really made me believe it was possible that I could do something like that. So I wanted to do that too. And my first job was a soda pop girl commercial and I was so excited to follow in her footsteps.

I heard you say when you told your mom that you wanted to act she made you wait a year.

She made me take classes and study for a full year before we took any steps further to make sure I was consistent with it.

Whose idea was it that you would do your own stunts in True Grit?

I had an amazing stunt double named Cassidy [Hice] and she was really cool picking up things that I would do, and I appreciated that, but it’s hard when you see them do something and you realize that’s not how you would do it. So whenever there was something that I was capable of doing I would ask the Coen brothers if I could do it. And they let me do anything I asked.

How was it filming the river-crossing scene? Were you nervous taking that on?

That was a little nerve wracking. I have to say the most fun part, with the stunts that I did, was riding the horse across, and to get back there was a guy on a jet ski and I would ride that back to the other side of the river. That was fun. 

Talk about being able to relate to your  character Mattie Ross. Did you find that easy?

I felt, without putting any thought to it, I related to her in many ways. Just being a regular person definitely helped. Being able to relate to the character was important, with the material you can see how you can relate to it emotionally and how you can relate to it in your own life, but with this character there were a lot of natural similarities.

You really nailed the dialogue. I love your style of speech. Was that difficult to get down?

That took a lot of work. Thank you by the way. Again, I had to go through each layer and make sure what it meant to me emotionally and how I could relate to it in my own life. But that formed naturally when I got on set because everyone was talking like that and we had horse wranglers originally from West Texas and Montana and they were really familiar with southern accents, so that was all helpful.

At what point did you watch the original True Grit?

I watched it before and during the audition process.

Did you only use it as a reference and then put it aside?

I used it as a reference more so for the time period and the language. It definitely gave me a direction. Kim Darby was amazing in the role but I had to say that with this script that the Coen brothers wrote, there’s something about it that I was able to take it and make it my own.

Who are among your favorite actors?

That’s hard, I love Diane Lane, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, of course, she’s my favorite, and I love the guys that I worked with, especially after getting to know them.

Do you ever stop and allow yourself to think about winning some of the awards you’re nominated for, maybe even an Oscar?

I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m just starting to pick out what I’m wearing. It’s all very, very exciting and I’m so honored to be a part of it.

You started a cuss jar on set. Was that your way of making things fun?

That was my mom’s idea, and my teacher, because everyone, cast and crew, were cursing a lot and they didn’t want me to pick up on it. So I started a curse jar where it was five dollars for the f-word and one dollar for every other swear word.

What was the grand total at the end?

Three hundred and fifty dollars, and I matched it and donated it to an Alzheimer's foundation.

Did you have to chip in yourself?

Actually, about a month after I started it, Matt, Jeff, and Josh were in the makeup trailer and I was in there as well, and I overheard one of them say the f-word so I yelled out, ‘Five dollars!’ And they said this is so not fair because you’re catching us off guard. So they charged me fifty cents if I said the word ‘like.’

Do you know what’s next for you?

We’re just taking a look at a lot of scripts right now. There are a lot of amazing things out there and we just want to make sure we’re making the right decisions.

You mentioned Jodie Foster, who started very young and has had quite a career; where do you see yourself in 10 or 20 years?

I’ve thought about that and I look up to people like Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman and Diane Lane who have maintained such amazing careers since they were young. And that’s my goal, to just keep enjoying what I’m doing.

What would you hope someone would take away from seeing True Grit?

For women, of all ages, they can take away watching a young girl stick up for herself in a time period where women were very dismissed. Being that independent I think is a good lesson for women, telling them that they can stick up for themselves no matter what age they are or what they look like. I think that’s an important thing, especially for young women. And for guys, as much as it is a western and you have the cowboys and the guns and the horses and the shootout, it really is the coming-of-age story and the lost innocence of this girl, and I think guys can see through that. I think Jeff, Matt, and Josh are such role models as people and that really seeps through their work. ▼

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