Hailee Steinfeld is the 14-year-old actress who plays Mattie in the new Western movie, True Grit (rated PG-13). We got to interview her and ask her life was like while making the movie, riding horses, and what books she is reading. Hint: It’s also one of my all-time favorite books!
Q: Where did you film?
Hailee: We filmed two months in Santa Fe, New Mexico and about a month and a half in Austin, Texas.
Q: Did you ride horses before the movie?
Hailee: I used to ride English about two years ago. So I did ride. I had ridden Western before, so it wasn’t too big of a stretch or anything. But that was definitely a highlight of filming. That was one of my favorite parts. I loved it.
Q: Did you have a favorite horse?
Hailee: Oh my gosh. I haven’t thought about that. You ask good questions. They were all so amazing, and I think it’s hilarious because a lot of the horses that were in True Grit were in Secretariat (rated PG), which I’m excited to see. I would have to say the one I rode – his name was Cimarron – only because I spent the most time with him. But there was another horse – his name was Popper – and if I could buy that horse I totally would, because he was amazing. They’re all such beautiful animals.
Q: Did your mom or dad accompany you on the set?
Hailee: My mom. My dad spent the last week with me. I have an older brother who is 16. His name is Griffin and he was in school the whole time, so it was really hard for him and my dad to come out. They came out I think about four times total and then my dad finished up with me. But it was my mom who had been with me the whole time.
Q: Was that the first time that you had been away on a location set?
Hailee: Yes. It was, and I was crazy because, you know, it’s hard, but at the same time all you’re thinking about is just being there and you’re in the moment. But it was at the end of the day hard being away from the rest of my family. But yeah, that was my first time.
Q: You beat out 15,000 other young actresses. How did you find out that you got the role?
Hailee: I came in at the very tail end of it. I was one of the last to audition. It was the kind of thing where they’ve got to cast this person because they’re filming in three weeks. So it all happened really fast. I auditioned on tape the first week in January, and I got a call back two days later to read with Ellen Chenoweth, and then it wasn’t until five weeks later that I got called in to read for the [directors]. That was on Saturday and then I found out I got the job on Tuesday.
Q: Did anyone tell you why they picked you out of all these other young actresses?
Hailee: They have not said anything to me. I know that somebody later in the process had told my mom that it was just something that clicked when I walked in. I mean, you know, you hear all those kinds of stories. But I think on my part, I really feel like I was 210% prepared and I was ready to take on the challenge. Everything all kind of fell into place, and that’s kind of how it happened. I want to know what they have to say. [Laughter]
Q: When did you decide that acting was what you wanted to do?
Hailee: It was when, I believe I was eight. I was eight years old and my older cousin – she was acting as well and she was doing Barbie doll commercials. So I saw my cousin on TV and that was it. I had to try that. So my mom made me study for a year to make sure I was consistent with it, and after that I got an agent and things just kind of started to slowly pick up from there. The very first thing that I did was a commercial.
Q: What project would you like to do next?
Hailee: Honestly, I mean I’m really happy with where I’m at being on kind of the movie route and I’d love to stay on that. I would love to do everything. I mean there are so many amazing things out there. I’d love to do another drama, and a comedy – that seems so much fun. I don’t know. I’m just so open to doing anything now. And I’d love to do something that’s for kids my age, and just stuff like that.
Q: Why do you think reading is important? How would you convince a friend that it would be a good thing to do?
Hailee: I like it because I feel like it increases my vocabulary. I mean that’s how my parents have convinced me to study. So that’s probably what I would tell my friends. But probably just. . . I mean if it’s a good book, it’s fun. It can be fun.
Q: Are you reading anything right now?
Hailee: I just finished the first Hunger Games book (for ages 12 and up) and I’m going on to the second one. I’m obsessed with the series. It’s amazing. And then I have a couple of books for school that I’m going to be reading that I don’t even know what they are yet.
Q: Do you have a favorite book of all time?
Hailee: Oh gosh, that’s hard. I have to say that my favorite book is always kind of the last one I read. So I would say The Hunger Games.
Q: Is there any other character from a novel that you would like to portray in a movie?
Hailee: I feel like that’s the way I read books. I feel like that’s how I get through them. I always kind of try and picture myself doing it, only for myself when I’m reading. I make it more visual for myself. So I guess I do that anyways with any book I read, but there are very few that really capture my attention in that way.
Q: What is your favorite subject in school?
Hailee: I’m going to have to say history. Well this year I’m doing U.S. History. With the curriculum that I have for history the books are so amazing and the activities I feel are just. . . you know I remember when I was in school having a really boring history teacher and it always made it seem like you were in the class for like two hours, and it’s like now I can come home, I can read twenty pages and take a test on it, and I learn so much more than sitting in a classroom just listening to a teacher talk. And I love that it’s US History. Last year I did World History, and I love that when I go into my parents room and they’re watching the news, I can somewhat know what’s going on.
Q: Do you have any particular historical era that appeals to you?
Hailee: Not really. I mean just this past couple of months I learned, not a lot, but I learned a good amount of the 1800′s because of True Grit and because I did some research and that kind of stuff. But I mean I just started school about last month or so. So I’m just starting to get into all of the subjects now.
Q: Do you have a pet?
Hailee: I do. I have two doggies, Gucci and Paris. My dog Paris – she’s a miniature goldendoodle and she’s very like antsy all the time. One time she broke her leg by tripping over something. It was sad but it was kind of, you know, funny.
Q: What is your most treasured possession? Like if you travel this is something you have to take with you.
Hailee: I’d probably take my blanky that I sleep with every night and my phone.
Hmm. . . Hailee likes The Hunger Games. . . She might be a great pick to play Katniss in the movie. What do you think?
Interviewed by Marie Morreale