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True Grit - Hailee Steinfeld interview

True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HAILEE Steinfeld talks about playing Maddie in the Coen brothers’ True Grit and working alongside Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in her first role.

She also talks about comparisons to a young Jodie Foster and where she would now like to see her career go.

Q. This is an astonishing performance but were there times, maybe, when you felt like a swan gliding on the water while the feet worked furiously underneath?
Hailee Steinfeld: Well, sure, other than the fact that I was doing a scene with Jeff Bridges – that’s pretty good – it was pretty amazing just to have the opportunity.

Q. But did it take time to settle your nerves?
Hailee Steinfeld: I was very nervous on the plane ride there and just the thought was very intimidating but the minute I met Jeff and all the other actors and the Coen brothers, realising that they are just there to do a job and so am I, just made me feel at ease.

Q. What guidance from the Coens did you receive? Who decided to make her feisty?
Hailee Steinfeld: That’s how I naturally saw the character and when I first met the Coen brothers, where we first clicked was that my vision of the character was the same as theirs. I was fortunate enough to have the script and the book and I watched the original when I first heard about True Grit and so that set my whole mindset for the era and all the characters. I was fortunate enough to have that and then to get on set and have Joel and Ethan to direct me, it was really amazing. To get their take on everything was really… amazing, but they never really had specific ideas for me. They just let me know when they liked something. You knew when they liked something because they would just kind of giggle.

Q. So, how was getting to work with Jeff?
Hailee Steinfeld: You spend 10 minutes with him you just get to know so much about him and he’s such an amazing guy and you just fall in love with him. I love it when someone that inspires me is not only good because of what they inspire me for, but also because they’re just an amazing person.

Q. How did you find the physicality (the horse riding, etc)?
Hailee Steinfeld: I loved it. I’ve always been very athletic and I love outdoors. I used to ride horses a couple of years ago so the only real preparation for that was two and a half weeks of riding lessons before we started filming in order to pick up on that again. But it was a lot of fun.

Q. Was there any moment while on location, in the cold and wet, where you pondered about the glamour of the movie industry?
Hailee Steinfeld: [Smiles] Definitely. The locations were absolutely beautiful but it was either really hot underneath the wool or the wind – sometimes the sound guys weren’t able to pick us up – but other than that I loved it.

Q. Did you have to do any gun training?
Hailee Steinfeld: Before we went on location I had my dad take me to a shooting range because reading the script that was something that came off as a little bit intimidating to me, just the thought, and so I wanted to make sure it was something I was comfortable with and that I knew how to do it. So, I went to the shooting range with my dad and a friend of ours, who is an LAPD officer, and he told me exactly what I needed to know. It was interesting because when you’re shooting the real guns they have a kick, but shooting the blanks on set didn’t have a kick so I knew exactly how to play that.

Q. Did you mind being the lone female in the cast?
Hailee Steinfeld: I don’t think I ever felt `this isn’t fun because I’m the only girl’. That never really came to mind. I just had so much fun working with everyone and they’re all kind of big kids anyway.

Q. Would you work with the Coens again?
Hailee Steinfeld: Definitely.

Q. Have you asked them?
Hailee Steinfeld: Well… no [looks embarrassed] but ever since I’ve filmed True Grit I discover new actors and new filmmakers and I really realise how fortunate I’ve been to be given the opportunity. So, of course I would work with them again.

Q. Has there been a change in the kind of scripts you’ve been offered since the buzz about your performance?
Hailee Steinfeld: No, not really. Something I liked about the Coen brothers was that I felt they treated me the same as they treated Matt and Jeff and I really appreciated that. They let me use my own instincts and sometimes they would be completely wrong and that’s where they would step in. But that’s what is so great about them… they let their actors do what they were hired to do. They’re so easy going and open to suggestions, or any questions that I or any of the actors had and that was really helpful. They were always giving me ideas but in terms of directing me they guided me rather than directed me. But they were always giving me encouragement which helped me push through.

Q. Is there somebody… a favourite actress you’d like to emulate?
Hailee Steinfeld: Diane Lane is somebody that comes to mind, and Natalie Portman. I think what inspires me about them the most, and Jeff is another great example, is that they’ve maintained such amazing careers since they were my age.

Q. Matt Damon describes you as a young Jodie Foster, how does that make you feel and does it add pressure for your next role?
Hailee Steinfeld: That’s definitely something I’m really taking my time over to make sure I’m making the right choices. But that’s such a huge compliment from Matt and, again, Jodie Foster is somebody I look up to that is just so inspiring. So, to be able to get this opportunity for a first time is just incredible and [to get all] of all the advice that all of the actors have given me… there’s one piece of advice that I particularly remember, which is not to take anything too seriously. But they’ve all given me the most amazing example and watching them and being with them and [seeing] how they are when I’m in their presence says so much. I see exactly where I want to be when I’m at that stage.

Q. What is your abiding memory from the experience?
Hailee Steinfeld: The entire experience overall was very surreal but I’ll never forget the first day. It was just Jeff, Matt [Damon] and myself, it was a reaction scene, so there was no dialogue necessary, which meant it was very simple. But after the first take Jeff looked at me and said: “That’s your first scene in your first feature film.” I felt like that kicked it off and it’s something I’ll never forget.

Read our review of True Grit

Read our interview with Jeff Bridges