Haley Lu Richardson has just one request for our interview: no spoilers from last night’s episode of The Bachelor.”Don’t tell me about yesterday!” she says as the topic of Tuesday night’s finale comes up. “We did The View this morning and before we went on, I was backstage and I heard them say, ‘He had to say goodbye to two girls.’ But I still want to watch what happens.” (For the record, Richardson was pulling for Hannah G: “She was pretty and she was sweet and I thought they would go really well together.”)
The actress had missed Monday night’s episode for good reason—she had just arrived in New York City for a full day of press to promote her new film Five Feet Apart. It was only 2 p.m. in the afternoon, Richardson had already appeared on both The View and Good Morning America, and following our interview and photo shoot, was off to AOL. That means a lot of chatting, and, thus, no reality TV breaks. Not that Richardson minds. “I like talking,” she said. “Who am I kidding? I’m an only child.”
Richardson, who turned 24 just last week, was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. After appearing in regional dance and theater productions, she relocated to Los Angeles and has since appeared in films such as Split, The Edge of Seventeen, and as the lead in the 2017 film Columbus, for which she was nominated for Best Actress at the Gotham Independent Film Awards. It’s been a whirlwind eight years in Hollywood, a time period she confirms after counting it out on her fingers. “That’s a long time,” she said. “I don’t think I want to make it to 10 years.”
And where would she go?
“Sedona.” Richardson has a deep affinity for the Arizona city, which we won’t get into here, but trust that it is real. “Or Mars,” she continued. “If there was a spaceship to Mars, my boyfriend and I always say we’d move go there together. I’m scared. But I would go anywhere he would go.”
Richardson has been dating fellow actor Brett Dier for “over five years,” she said, after more quick mental math. “We met on this ABC Family show called Ravenswood, which was a spinoff of Pretty Little Liars that failed,” she said. “But it’s okay because we got to be in New Orleans for a few months, and we met.” It’s also through Dier, inadvertently, that Richardson landed her latest role in Five Feet Apart, which opens in theaters tomorrow.
The film, which centers around two teens with cystic fibrosis who fall in love (played by Richardson and Cole Sprouse), was directed by Justin Baldoni, Dier’s Jane the Virgin co-star, who immediately honed in on Richardson as his female lead. “Justin told me three years ago when he first made this movie, ‘I’m going to make this movie and you’re going to play the lead.’ And I was just like, ‘’kay,'” the actress recounted. ‘Then I’d hear that they were meeting with studios and they wanted, like, Selena Gomez to play the lead—I think they just wanted famous people. When I finally actually got the script, I read it and I connected to the story and what this girl is going through.” Still, she was hesitant to seriously consider taking the role, especially coming just off of Columbus. “The place where I was at personally and creatively in my mind, I was excited about doing super simple, grounded projects.”
She eventually met Baldoni for lunch on the set of Jane the Virgin, where together they pored over the script. Ultimately, Baldoni got his initial wish, with Richardson signing on to play Stella, the lead. In addition to the story itself, Richardson was particularly drawn to the director’s openness to collaboration on set. “When I met Cole, he, Justin, and I were really on the same page,” she said. “There was a lot of riffing and making things as grounded or lived in as possible within that magical world.”
To prepare for the role as a teenager with cystic fibrosis, Richardson spent almost two months researching the disease and meeting with people who suffer from the illness ahead of filming, as well as physically preparing to portray Stella. “Cole and I went on these diets—it wasn’t Dallas Buyers Club crazy—but when you have CF, your body doesn’t absorb nutrition properly,” she said. “We wanted to do justice to these people as much as we could and make our bodies look like somebody with CF…. [On the diet], I could have a tablespoon of seeds if I was feeling frisky.”
Filming took place in New Orleans over the summer (which, coincidentally, is where Ravenswood also filmed). In addition to the extreme heat—”I’m pretty sure I experienced heat stroke,” Richardson said. “The wardrobe ladies would get us ice vests, but then they’d melt within five minutes.”—the shoot was understandably emotionally hard on the actors, as well. “It was exhausting. Every moment is high stakes,” she said. “But any time I could possibly be not sad, I was not sad. I’m the type of person who can’t handle the much heaviness, so there was a lot of shenanigans. I give a lot of credit to our assistant director for essentially just dealing with me. But it was fun. It’s weird to say that filming this movie was fun, but the times that we had as a cast—when I watch the movie, I feel like I can see our relationships, and I think that’s important.
“It’s really important that people watch this and become aware of CF, enjoy an emotional and inspiring movie, and realize that CF doesn’t define these kids,” she continued.”They are kids and the problems about falling in love and feeling awkward and dealing with relationships are just as hard as what they deal with medically.”
The final product is an emotional rollercoaster, to use a cliched term, but there really is no way around it in this situation. Richardson alone will make you laugh, cringe, blush, and cry. Yes, you’ll cry at this movie, and probably more than once (four times, by my own estimation). But just embrace it—Richardson has. “I’ve seen the film three times,” she said. “I cried all three times.”