The Commons at Calabasas is too clean. I’m used to Hollywood with its gaggle of strange folk inhabiting every nook and cranny. It’s dirty, overcrowded, and what I sheepishly called home for years. It has its charm, but I could perhaps be brainwashed by the need to defend the place I lived the same way New Yorkers seem to commonly share an insane penchant for ridiculous subway antics as a form of self-imposed Stockholm syndrome. I’ve got my weird attachment to the physicality of Hollywood but the young actress I’m meeting with has gained a near-mastery over the concept of Hollywood that transcends the little stretch of land lined with stars in the heart of Los Angeles.
I’m fiddling with my phone when I hear her call my name. I look up to see Hailee Steinfeld far removed from the couture I’ve grown accustomed to seeing her don with ease: Miu Miu, Dior, Alexander Wang, the list goes on. She keeps it light in a pink sweater, high-waisted jeans, and sneakers to round out the ensemble. We exchange greetings before heading into a bakery and spend the better part of five minutes trying to decide what to order and where to sit. It’s gorgeous outside but too chilly with the wind.
“I feel like this is the longest I’ve been at home,” says the 18-year-old after we take our seats. The grand total of time? Three months. It’s not surprising though for a girl who’s been steadily working since her international debut in the remake of western classic, True Grit, which earned itself 10 Oscar nominations including Best Supporting Actress for Steinfeld at the age of 14. She’s since worked on everything from blockbuster sci-fi adventure Ender’s Game to the musically focused Begin Again, action thriller 3 Days to Kill, and the Sundance indie Ten Thousand Saints. Her co-stars, respectively, have included Harrison Ford, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Ethan Hawke—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In 2015 alone, she has six films slated for release.
“It truly is like a master class with every movie set I’m on. It’s so incredible to see how actors work and how they interact with the crew and just everything they do from the moment they step on set to the moment they leave. I’ve worked with people who are so very different and so alike and in that I’ve learned so much,” Steinfeld shares as we discuss the wide range of actors she’s had the chance to work with. She notes the various methods and lessons each has taught her throughout her burgeoning career and tends to think back to True Grit as I try to get more specific with her experiences.
“Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon were almost stoic. They’d go away for a minute and you wouldn’t know where they were but by the time action was called they were there and they were just killer. Then you’d have Josh Brolin who... the first time I met him, I shook hands with him and five minutes later he was on top of me with a knife to my neck. He was so intense. At first I thought he was the worst person ever—and mind you he’s my favorite person in the entire world—but I remember meeting him and being like, ‘Oh my god, he’s awful!’” She laughs at her admission.
Despite working with the best straight out of the gate, Steinfeld continues to assemble the use of an acting coach to perfect her approach, typically from when she first gets cast onto a project until she jets off to set. I find it refreshing to hear this in a landscape where most actors claim to not bother with anything of the sort and that it all comes ‘naturally’ to them.
“I’ve gained the confidence over the years to where I feel like I don’t necessarily have to [use a coach] but where I want to, which is a good place to be.” She compares her coaching to her decision-making process when it comes to picking roles. In the beginning, her team helped her navigate through her choices much like her coaches would help give her direction when it came to a part. As she’s grown in her career, she’s developed an understanding for the craft and the industry and has felt more and more comfortable making her own judgment while utilizing the finesse of her team as a sounding board before cementing her decisions. “With my coaching, it’s turned into a matter of me doing the work on my own, bringing it to somebody and getting the thumbs up from them so that I can go and feel confident about what I have in mind.”
If there’s one thing to note about Steinfeld, it’s that she’s willing and dedicated to put in the hard work. Prior to booking her first audition, she was required by her mother to take a year of classes to ensure her interest in acting wasn’t another youthful passing fancy. After completing her year, Steinfeld’s mother took it upon herself to match her efforts by taking on the role of agent. She created accounts on casting websites and submitted her to student films and other projects at nine years old, kicking off years of auditions. Her first on-camera experiences began in a string of short films where her mother would also act as her hairdresser on set in addition to chaperone.
“It was about nothing but the work,” Steinfeld reflects as we discuss her original foray into film. “You would live in this environment every single day for however long and everyone was so passionate about the work and everyone wanted to make a great film. That was the only reason why they were there. I’ve been on sets where it’s not like that and I think that it’s always awesome to look back on where you came from.” Nowadays, Steinfeld is marking off her calendar for her upcoming press tour for Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to the surprise international hit based on a college acapella group and a departure from her usual heavier tone. “I find that with the more dramatic things that I do there’s a sense of creativity that you just cannot get tired of and there’s this sense [with] Pitch Perfect where you just can’t believe you get to wake up every day and call that work. It’s crazy but it’s been a nice comic relief between these other projects.” She plays a newcomer to the Barden Bellas who are determined to win a worldwide competition. “I knew walking into it I was able to just go and be myself and have fun.”
Her next project is a film entitled The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, adapted and to be directed by Dustin Lance Black from the novel of the same name. “The script is so well-written and there’s something about it… I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it months ago,” Steinfeld gushes on the upcoming project. “It’s just this incredible story of how much you can learn about someone in such a short amount of time in such a confined space and then there’s all these crazy things.”
The story takes place over 24 hours, about a girl flying to London for her father’s second marriage who has a chance encounter on her journey there. Steinfeld and I swap myths we’ve read about love (example: you’ve already met the person you’re going to marry to which we both disagree) and this discussion is exactly the sort of thing she hopes the film is able to inspire with its audience.
She sings high praises of the people she’s been able to work with, from Elizabeth Banks taking her through the storyboards, post-it notes, and performance to get her up to speed when joining Pitch Perfect 2; to instantly falling in love with Sophie Turner after watching her freak out over something inconsequential on YouTube; to finding a perfect kinship and understanding with her stylist Karla Welch who—even after Steinfeld’s lackluster description and admittedly worse drawing while trying to describe the kind of dress she wanted to wear to the Oscars—put together the perfect custom Marchesa gown that was exactly what the actress had envisioned.
That gown was lauded by many. And while it’s clear that Steinfeld’s work ethic and visions of evening-wear have her ascending the Hollywood ranks, it also reminds us she’s still a giddy teenager readying for the big dance.
Photographer: Stevie & Mada at StevieMada.com.
Stylist: Sean Knight for JedRoot.com.
Hair: Rick Gradone for AtelierManagement.com.
Makeup: Kate Lee for StarworksArtists.com using Chanel.
Manicure: Whitney Gibson for NailingHollywood.com using Nars.
Photography Assistant: Logan Bingham.
Hailee Steinfeld was featured in 2016 in Flaunt: A Few Favorites from a Fabulous Year