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Posted at 1:25 PM ET, 12/21/2010

Q&A with Hailee Steinfeld, the 'True Grit' star who made the Coen brothers giggle

By Jen Chaney

Hailee Steinfeld, on the set of "True Grit" with Ethan and Joel Coen. (Wilson Webb/AP)

Hailee Steinfeld celebrated her 14th birthday eleven days ago. Even though she's not old enough to obtain her learner's permit -- or, technically, to see any of the Coen brothers' R-rated films without being accompanied by an adult -- she's currently starring in the Coens' latest: the critically praised "True Grit." (The Post's Ann Hornaday calls Steinfeld's performance "uncommonly assured.")

Steinfeld has been making the press rounds, appearing on late night TV and -- despite all the buzz about the potential for her to receive an Academy Award nomination for her performance -- seemingly keeping her head on exceptionally straight. Can a teenager who's suddenly been thrust into the spotlight really be so poised?

I spoke to Steinfeld via telephone. And, as much as one can judge from a 15-minute phone call, the answer appears to be yes. Our conversation -- which covers such topics as the Coen brothers' propensity to giggle, what Jeff Bridges is like on-set and a certain movie star that she'd love to work with but might be "too distracted by" -- follows after the jump.

Jen Chaney: I understand a happy birthday is in order. Wasn't it recently your your birthday?

Hailee Steinfeld: Yes, it was. On the 11th.

JC: I only know that because I was talking to ["True Grit" co-star] Barry Pepper for another story I was working on, and he mentioned that there was a celebration for you during the L.A. press tour.

HS: Yes, there was. It was so much fun. They actually were like, okay, Hailee, now we're going to go sign some posters. So I was walking into this room and everybody started singing "Happy Birthday" and there was a big cake on the table. So that was definitely a surprise.

JC: I know you're probably getting the same questions 800 times--

HS: No worries!

JC: --and I know you've probably talked a lot about the fact that 15,000 girls auditioned for the role of Mattie Ross. But was there a point in the process where you sensed you had the part even before you got the official word?

HS: I do have to say I felt very confident walking into the whole thing and I mean, I really was prepared. I had five weeks not knowing whether I was going to be called in or not to study, and I worked with a coach on the material and we really took advantage of that time and went over the sides and I had it down. I was really excited walking into that that I actually was prepared and I could really show it.

I do have to say the minute I started reading the lines, I kind of got off right. The first thing that hit me with the Coen brothers is that if they like something, they kind of giggle. I heard them giggling throughout the whole thing, so that kind of was reassuring.

JC: How many auditions did you go through?

HS: I actually only had three auditions.

JC: How much of the Coen brothers' work were you familiar with before you did this film?

HS: I was more familiar with who they were than their work because of the fact that a lot of their stuff is rated R, so I'm not allowed to see most of it. But of course I was definitely familiar with who they were. And of course, I've seen some of the Coen brothers films.

JC: I think I read that you've seen "The Big Lebowski"?

HS: Yes. [Laughs] That's a movie that my older cousins -- one of whom is with me -- are so into. That's my excuse.

JC: Did you see "Lebowski" before or after you met Jeff Bridges?

HS: Before.

JC: It just seems like if you've seen that movie before you meet Jeff Bridges, you can't help but try to compare him to the Dude.

HS: Right!

(Paramount Pictures)

JC: Tell me about your relationship with him. He has a reputation for being a laidback guy. Is that how you found him on set?

HS: Absolutely. He's just so humble and so down-to-earth. He's seriously just the sweetest guy you'll ever meet. He's just always having fun and never taking anything too seriously, and that's probably the best advice he's given me, along with the other actors as well. I learn more from his actions than his words. Just by watching him -- he's just so incredible.

JC: You had so many challenges to face in this movie: a lot of complicated dialogue, you had to ride a horse, handle firearms. And you had to work with these actors who are exceptional, veteran actors. Of all those challenges, what was most daunting?

HS: I guess at the end of the day, it just kind of hit me that I was working with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, you know what I mean? But I do feel, when I was walking into the whole thing, it was definitely a very intimidating thought, working with actors of that caliber. I was just thinking to myself, I really have to do this now. And it was kind of nerve-wracking and everything. But I feel like the minute I met them, it was so -- they never once made me feel intimidated. And I mean, realizing that they were just there to do their job and I was there for the same reason, just really made me feel at ease.

JC: What about the business with the guns and horses? Did you have any experience with that?

HS: Yeah, I used to ride horses a couple of years ago. So the minute I got back up on a horse, everything kind of came back to me there. And the shooting the guns -- I had my dad take me to a shooting range before I went on location with a friend of ours', he's an LAPD officer. It was perfect because he told me everything I needed to know and it was very helpful. I'm glad I did it.

JC: Did you always know you wanted to be an actress? How did you get interested in it?

HS: I was about 8. My cousin Tru, at the time, was doing commercials and so to be watching my shows and have my cousin come up on the TV screen -- I would just freak out. Obviously, it kind of hit me through stages: oh my gosh, my cousin's on TV, I have to call all my friends. You know what I mean? And then it was kind of like, that's my cousin, I know her. Seeing her made me think it was actually possible that I could do something like that.

When I went to my parents and asked them if I could start acting, they made me study for a full year before we took any steps further than that so they would make sure I was consistent with it.

JC: Where did you study?

HS: Just taking classes over the summer. And I was down in Studio City taking classes every weekend.

JC: You've been getting a lot of attention because of this role, and probably will continue to as awards season moves forward. Have you been getting a lot of offers, or has that not happened yet?

HS: Not too many. I've been told it's because the movie hasn't exactly come out yet. I guess more will come. But there's some scripts we've been looking at -- the team and myself and my family. We're really just taking it one day at a time and making sure that the next project is the right project and, you know, we're making the right choices and everything.

JC: Are there specific actors you'd really like to work with?

HS: Well, I'd love to work with Johnny Depp but I think I'd be too distracted because he's so amazing. I would love to get the opportunity to work with the actors I worked with on this. That's a genuine answer. I do realize how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to work with them. I'm so spoiled because they were very awesome.

JC: There's been a lot of talk about the potential for you to get an Oscar nomination. How much of that buzz are you paying attention to and can you even process that?

HS: Well, I can't, really. I try not to think about it. I'm so excited. My birthday was on the 11th and the movie's coming out and I'm here in New York with my friends and my family -- that's, like, all I'm focused on.

JC: Wise girl. You're keeping things in perspective.

Out of curiosity, do you have any sense of how many interview you've had to do?

HS: Oh my gosh. How many interviews I've done. Oh my goodness....

JC: You've already lost count.

HS: Well, definitely. I don't think I've been keeping count. But weeks worth.

JC: How has the interview process been? Have you gotten any questions you didn't know how to answer?

HS: Oh, I was in Europe last week -- well, I got back last week -- and so I feel like, there were just some crazy, random questions. Like randomly, what's your favorite kind of ice cream? You know what I mean? So I have to just think, okay, come on, come on -- because that would be the last thing I'm thinking about. So I've gotten some crazy questions like that.

I don't know, it's fun. I feel like the more I talk about [making the movie], the more I remember it and it's fun.

JC: Well, I won't ask you about your favorite ice cream, but I will thank you for talking today. Good luck with everything.

HS: Thank you. Thank you so much.

By Jen Chaney  | December 21, 2010; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Movies, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Q&As  
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Great interview! She seems like a really cool person- I'll be following her career with interest.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | December 21, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

She was absolutely adorable on "Late Night" last night. It seems like she has pretty wise parents as well.

Posted by: Aloe9678 | December 21, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

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