From the first moment I saw Hailee Steinfeld in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit I knew she was destined for greatness.
At that press conference, I called her the most technically adroit young actress since Katharine Hepburn 80 years ago.
Her jawdropping, audacious performance, going toe to toe with Jeff Bridges, had to be seen to be believed.
And for that role, the actress won innumerable critics awards as well as an Oscar nomination.
Now six years later, fully matured, the 20-year-old scored a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Nadine in The Edge Of Seventeen in which again she plays a maverick mature beyond her years.
Did pursuing an acting career make school life difficult?
I don’t know if I have the answer to that because I have nothing to compare it to. I didn’t have a traditional high school experience (she was home schooled).
Your character in The Edge Of Seventeen, Nadine, has a problem getting along with her mother. Are you also a bit of a rebel?
Oh gosh no. I don’t know what I would do without my mother. Our relationship is so solid it cannot be broken.
In fact, it was hard to comprehend the dynamic that Nadine has with her mum in this movie, that full disconnect and constant misunderstanding, which is not the case with my mum. She is my best friend, and I would not be here without her.
Six years ago you told us that like Maddie (in True Grit) you stop at nothing to get what you want. Has that determination made you the actress you are today?
I’d like to think so.
When did you first realise you wanted to be an actress?
I was about eight years old. I had a cousin who was doing commercials, and we had a neighbour who was doing this play.
I was sitting a few rows back from the stage just watching her and was so amazed that somebody I knew could be so different on stage. And it opened my eyes to that possibility, so I went to my parents and asked them if I could start acting.
And what was their reaction?
They wanted me to study acting for one full year before we took it a step further, and that made me think twice about it.
Do I really want this because up until that point I had tried every type of dance class, every type of sport, and I never stuck with anything, but this was something I really wanted, and since then they’ve been very supportive.
Are you still taking acting lessons?
I truly believe that the learning never stops. I feel like I have been put through these master classes with the movies that I have made and the filmmakers that I have met and had conversations with.
So yes, I have been working constantly with different acting coaches and through (producer) Jim Brooks I was able to work with (acting coach) Larry Moss on this project, it was a dream come true.
I was 15 when I first tried to sign up for Larry’s class only to discover he was in New York; so when Jim asked if it would be OK to coach with Larry Moss it was a dream come true and the most life changing experience of my life.
Between that class and my first when I was 13, I have not stopped learning. I don’t think I will ever will. There is a lot that I don’t know that I can’t wait to learn.
Do you still live at home?
Yes I do. Shamelessly. And I don’t plan on going anywhere, until they kick me out. I plan on staying home for a long time.
Can you remember when you made that transition from being a teenager to a young woman?
I guess in a weird way, this film is sort of my graduation, for lack of a better word. I get to look back on this one and feel like this is my transformation from a teen to a young woman.
But I don’t know, I have been exposed to some incredible opportunities and I have travelled the world, and I have met some amazing people who have really shown me the way.
I have learned so much from everyone around me. I owe a lot to a lot of people for being a part of that trajectory.
Are you and your brother Griffin very close?
I am so close with my brother, thank God, and we definitely have gotten a lot closer over the last couple of years.
I started home schooling in the middle of sixth grade. He is three years older than me, so I watched him go through high school, and seeing him have this social life that I would never have, getting invited to parties, homecoming, prom, football games. Luckily I was a part of it because of him.
After watching The Edge Of Seventeen, minority audiences have remarked, “Finally an Asian guy gets the girl in at the end.” What was your response? (Although Jewish on her father’s side, Steinfeld is very proud of her Filipino ancestry on her mother’s side)
It’s a wonderful thing to realise that regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you are from, if you are a good person, you are capable of showing someone love and affection and loyalty and trust.
Hayden (Szeto, who played opposite Steinfeld in The Edge Of Seventeen) was so good at being painfully awkward, 100% of the laughter that came from me in response to whatever he said was real. He was awesome.
Despite your self confidence you must have fears.
The open world of judgment we live in – especially the social media – and the fear of falling into this hole where you look for validation from a number of followers, the likes or comments, and you don’t always get what you are looking for. That’s so scary.
What do you like to do in your down time?
I’m very athletic. I love being outdoors. I used to play basketball but I was getting too many injuries so I gave it up. I used to play soccer too.
Do you do any charitable work?
My mum and I are involved in a mother-daughter organisation called Charity League, and so we do volunteer work. We work at thrift shop which raises money for 13 different organisations. I’m very passionate about it, so that’s something I do in my spare time.