At just 21-years-old, Hailee Steinfeld already has a career that entertainers thrice her age would be envious of. She was nominated for an Academy Award—at 14-years-old, no less—for her breakout role in True Grit, and starred in a string of box office hits ever since—and just so happens to have a wildly successful pop career on the side. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t so long ago that Steinfeld was just a teenager, embarrassed to be going to the movies with her parents to see the acapella comedy Pitch Perfect. Cut to just five years later, and Steinfeld is starring in the film’s third installment, after a leading role in the sequel in 2015. But despite all her successes, Steinfeld remains delightfully grounded—a quality she attributes to her parents—and still geeks out on certain things just like your average college age girl—namely, the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Here, Steinfeld talks Pitch Perfect, her love of Paula Abdul, and more.
When did you see the first Pitch Perfect?
I distinctly remember seeing the first Pitch Perfect in theaters with a friend of mine and my parents actually, and at that time it was a little cooler to sit in a different row than your parents. So I was with my friend, and if we weren’t singing along to a song that we loved, my parents were, and I just thought like “How great is that a movie like that can bring every one and anyone of all ages together.” I was obsessed with it and immediately thought, “If there is ever another movie like this, I have to be a part of it,” not even realizing that there would be a sequel at that point. The minute I found out that it was a thing and that it was happening, I called my agent and said “I don’t even know if there’s a part in this for me, but I want in.” So that’s where it started.
Your singing career came before that second movie came out—were you always planning to have the singing career, or did Pitch Perfect sort of jumpstart you?
Singing has always been a part of my plan, and as an actor, I always wished and hoped that it would happen through a movie so that it wasn’t a matter of “Here I am dropping an album and this is now what I wanna do,” but instead it would make sense, and the timing was right. It became the perfect opportunity to segue into music.
Do you get to sing more in the latest film?
I do sing a bit more. It was cool, obviously coming into the third one as more of an artist than I did with the second one, and music in the movie is awesome.
And last year you were nominated for a Golden Globe for your role in The Edge of Seventeen. What was that like?
Going as a nominee was pretty incredible. I mean, just to be there alone, period, and having gone before, that was enough for me. It’s really incredible to be in a room with people that you admire and aspire to be like, and just to be in their presence. It’s really crazy. I was nominated for my film The Edge of Seventeen which means a great deal to me, and I’m very proud of that performance. To be recognized in that way was quite an honor. I have yet to fully comprehend it.
How do you decide what to wear for things like that?
There’s really no method to the madness of picking or choosing what I’m gonna wear. It tends to either happen last minute. With the Golden Globes, I saw this beautiful Vera Wang sketch, and I knew off of that. I knew that it was gonna be beautiful. I had no doubt. And it was.
You were nominated for an Academy Award at 14-years-old, and now you are 21. How was it been growing up in the spotlight?
I guess in ways it’s hard, obviously. I feel like my normal is different than others my age, what their normal is. But I really feel like I owe it all to my family for keeping me grounded, and where I got my start. I started on a movie called True Grit with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, and I was reminded every single day on that shoot how lucky I am to be able to do what I love. It’s a real privilege, and you go to work every day, do the best you can, have fun, and go home to your family. It’s work, but it never really feels like that, which is the best part.
Who do you look up to, or consider a “royal” in the entertainment industry?
Oh, goodness gracious. Paula Abdul. I just saw her live, and she would definitely be one of them. I mean, the whole time I was watching her, I was hitting the person next to me saying “Oh, my God. Yes.” She’s so amazing. I was late to the game. And Diane Keaton.
Do you have a favorite Diane Keaton movie?
Annie Hall. I made a movie years ago with Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener—who I will also add to my royals list—and they would have these conversations constantly about filmmakers and actor and films that I didn’t know that I was unaware of. I wasn’t really in the conversation, but I was there. I was like “You guys need to make me a list of these films so that I can go back and watch them.” They went out and got me a ton of old movies, and I have yet to get through them. It’s been a couple years, but they gave me so many.
Beyond Pitch Perfect, have you ever thought of doing a musical?
I have thought of doing a musical.
Do you have any favorites?
I don’t know that I do. I love seeing them, though, especially when I come to New York. Going to Broadway shows is one of my favorite things to do. I try and do it every time I’m here, if time allows. I think as an actor, it would be the ultimate challenge and the ultimate commitment, and I’ve heard nothing but unbelievable things from actors I know that are in plays. They just love it, and so I feel like once I do it, there’s no turning back. I would love to do that sometime.
Who is your current cinematic or on-screen crush?
I just finished the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and I’m hardcore crushing on every guy and girl in that show. I crush pretty easily, so anytime I see something or someone, I’m like “Hello.” But that was the last thing I saw, and there are a lot of cute guys in that, and girls. Those girls are freaking beautiful, by the way. Now I’ve got to wait for the second season. I’m thinking I’ll just re-watch the first one in the meantime.
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