Only 16, Hailee Steinfeld’s CV already boasts an Oscar nod and roles alongside the likes of Bridges, Ford Streep and Kingsley. How did she find herself in such illustrious company? “I never really found something that I loved as much as I love acting,” she tells Tara Brady
Under normal circumstances, you’d expect a 16-year-old girl to be intimidated by the hoopla that surrounds the promotion of a major motion picture. And Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game – a gung-ho space opera concerning teenage space cadets – is no sort of boutique production. Co-starring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, the picture has all the bash and flash you expect from an autumn tentpole. Ford, chief grown-up, is on his way to Graham Norton. Meanwhile, the juvenile cast have gathered for conversations in a glamorous West-End location.
You couldn’t honestly say Hailee Steinfeld looks fazed. Oscar-nominated for her performance in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, Steinfeld has, like so many young American actors, a slightly eerie maturity. Maybe, we are the ones that should feel intimidated.
“My first round of all this was for True Grit,” she says. “I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into in terms of the press and junkets and interviews. It’s definitely weird. I do find it interesting. I love the travel. And I’m talking about stuff I like to talk about. So, I don’t complain.”
Then there’s all that red-carpet stuff. She has to swan past legions of idiots flinging lunatic questions in her general direction. Nobody can be prepared for that.
“Red carpets are part of the job,” she says. “But they do also make for some of my best film memories: the getting dressed up: the cheers, the beautiful clothes.”
Steinfeld already radiates quiet professionalism. Raised in a comfortable section of the San Fernando Valley (the same neighbourhood that gave us Paul Thomas Anderson), she certainly trades in relaxed California vowels. But you wouldn’t identify her as any sort of vacant Valley Girl. Rather than peppering her conversation with “you knows”, she punctuates each answer with careful qualifiers such as “somewhat”.
Her dad is a fitness instructor. Her mother is an interior design. There are no obvious family connections to the entertainment business. So how did she find herself where she is today?
“Well, I never really found something that I loved as much as I love acting,” she says. “Before I asked my mom if I could start acting I asked her if I could start basketball. That was just a week before. So it just came about as the thing that I wanted to try at that particular moment. That was what interested me that week.”
Clean of diction and with a striking, round face, Steinfeld began appearing in the odd short film when she was just eight. Then, in 2010, she landed the sort of role that makes careers. There have been few more absurd examples of category fraud than the one that found Hailee receiving a best supporting Oscar nomination for True Grit. She is in virtually every scene of that western and she is magnificent throughout. Solid, articulate, righteous, the 13-year-old came across as the adult to Jeff Bridges’s petulant child. It is estimated that as many as 15,000 girls tries out for the role. Did she understand the significance of the audition?
“I was somewhat aware before I shot the film,” she says. “I have much more awareness of who the Coens are now. I remember reading for them. And it’s one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Those guys are so amazing. They are geniuses. To have been a part of their film family for three months was an honour.”