Six years after 'True Grit,' an­other break­out for Ste­in­feld

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Does Hailee Ste­in­feld know how good she is? It's a ques­tion writer-di­rec­tor Kelly Fre­mon Craig and pro­ducer James L. Brooks would of­ten ask them­selves after watch­ing the young ac­tress shoot a take while mak­ing their high-school com­edy "Edge of Seven­teen." "Jim and I would sit there and go, 'Holy god!'" says Craig. "And after we'd call cut, Jim and I would be star­ing at each other with our mouths open and she'd just be on her phone like she didn't even know she did some­thing that great." Ste­in­feld, an Os­car nom­i­nee at 14, is hav­ing an­other break­through at 19. In Craig's much-lauded di­rec­to­rial de­but "Edge of Seven­teen," the young star of the Coen brothers' "True Grit" proves that she's ma­tured into one of the finest (and fun­ni­est) ac­tresses of her gen­er­a­tion.

It's a comic and heart­felt com­ing-ofage movie in the John Hughes mode in which Ste­in­feld stars as Na­dine, a Job­like high-school ju­nior plagued by a se­ries of em­bar­rass­ments. She's a self­de­scribed "old soul" who re­sents her fel­low high-school­ers as "mouth breathers"; she's equal parts nar­cis­sis­tic and self-loathing, and al­to­gether witty, hon­est and orig­i­nal. "This was one big lib­er­at­ing role for me," Ste­in­feld said in an in­ter­view ear­lier this fall. "It was amaz­ing to be able to ex­press all of that be­cause I feel like, in a way, I haven't re­ally been able to be­fore. This char­ac­ter is so much like my­self."

Ste­in­feld was mak­ing a brief stop at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, where "Edge of Seven­teen" (in the­aters Fri­day) was the clos­ing night film. It was brief be­cause in be­tween act­ing, Ste­in­feld is try­ing to be­come a pop star; in Toronto, she was in be­tween con­cert stops, fresh from Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall, on a tour as the open­ing act for Me­gan Trainor. Mu­sic, she says, was al­ways part of her plan. The tran­si­tion was partly en­abled by her singing turn in 2015's "Pitch Per­fect 2." Shortly after its re­lease, Ste­in­feld landed a record con­tract and put out her first EP, "Haiz," last Novem­ber. Ste­in­feld, a pal of Tay­lor Swift's (she ap­pears in Swift's "Bad Blood" video), has had some suc­cess; her sin­gle "Starv­ing" got up to no. 14 on Bill­board.


"It's def­i­nitely some­thing that re­quires go­ing in head­first and not look­ing back," says Ste­in­feld. "When you stand on that stage, it's you. It's me go­ing out there and be­ing vul­ner­a­ble in front of a bunch of peo­ple and hav­ing fun. And it's scary be­cause it's so dif­fer­ent than hav­ing that pro­tec­tion of be­ing a char­ac­ter." The irony is that Ste­in­feld, in char­ac­ter, is such a gen­uine per­former and po­tent force of na­ture. That was first ev­i­dent in "True Grit," Joel and Ethan Coen's Charles Por­tis adap­ta­tion in which she played the scrip­ture-quot­ing, pig­tailed Mat­tie. The Coen brothers searched and searched for an ac­tress for the part be­fore find­ing the then 13year-old Ste­in­feld; she was the only one could han­dle Por­tis' or­nately formal di­a­logue.

Ste­in­feld vividly re­mem­bers the Coens gig­gling at the spot-on pre­ci­sion of her au­di­tion. In her fea­ture film de­but, an un­canny com­mand of lan­guage came nat­u­rally. "I would get the feel­ing that I was in it, that I had switched on. But I never got the feel­ing that I switched off," she says. "In a way I felt like I had con­trol but at the same time didn't know where it was com­ing from." The ex­pe­ri­ence of "True Grit" re­mains un­matched for Ste­in­feld, she says; rare are di­rec­tors who so trust ac­tors. She was among the youngest ev­ery nom­i­nated, but after the Os­cars, life more or less went back to nor­mal.

Dozens of teenagers

"I re­mem­ber a lot of peo­ple telling me: 'Your life is about to change, so much is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, blah blah blah.' After it all kind of set­tled down I was like: Noth­ing's dif­fer­ent. I have no idea what peo­ple are talk­ing about. I'm still me, wak­ing up in the same bed," says Ste­in­feld, who grew up in Los An­ge­les. Her next film didn't come out for more than two years. She has since done Shake­speare ("Romeo & Juliet"), YA ("En­der's Game") and thrillers ("The Keep­ing Room"). But it wasn't un­til Craig and Brooks, after au­di­tion­ing a thou­sand other girls, that Ste­in­feld found her next great part.

"We al­most didn't be­lieve our eyes," says Brooks. "Sud­denly we had a movie." With Brooks ("Terms of En­dear­ment," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show") serv­ing as her men­tor, Craig set out to cap­ture a more re­al­is­tic view of high school, in­ter­view­ing dozens of teenagers. But it all de­pended upon find­ing the right Na­dine. "Hailee can just turn it on in a way that I've never seen any­body be able to do be­fore," says Craig. "There's an ef­fort­less to it. At least it looks very easy for her, which in a way makes you feel like you're wit­ness­ing some type of magic." Her rap­port with Woody Har­rel­son (who plays a sar­donic teacher) is so good that Brooks says, "They'd be do­ing Tracy-Hep­burn movies to­gether the rest of their lives if he was younger." "I feel Hailee can work and make movies for the next 50 years," Brooks says.

— AP

Photo shows Hailee Ste­in­feld, a cast mem­ber in the film ‘The Edge of Seven­teen,’ poses for a por­trait at the Park Hy­att Ho­tel in Toronto.

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