Entertainment & Arts

Hailee Steinfeld: From child actress to pop star

Hailee Steinfeld Image copyright Republic Records
Image caption Hailee Steinfeld: "Being in the studio has become one of my favourite things ever"

Most people know Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old actress whose precocious turn in The Coen Brothers' True Grit earned her an Oscar nomination.

In the four years since, she's starred in Romeo and Juliet, worked with Harrison Ford on Ender's Game and showed off her singing skills in Pitch Perfect 2 - the highest-grossing comedy musical of all time.

After a cameo in Taylor Swift's star-studded Bad Blood video, the 18-year-old fulfilled a long-held ambition by releasing her own single in August.

Love Myself is a full-blooded anthem to female empowerment, fuelled by a not-so-subtle double entendre (Steinfeld drove the point home in the video by wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the legend "self service").

The song is also the lead track on the star's debut EP, Haiz, which came out on Friday, ahead of a full album in 2016.

Speaking to the BBC on the phone, Steinfeld talks about her transition from child actress to pop star, and why neither occupation is as glamorous as it seems.

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption The actress starred alongside Anna Kendrick (left) in Pitch Perfect 2, which highlighted her singing voice for the first time

Hi, Hailee! It's the dead of night here in London. Where are you and how are you doing?

I'm great, thanks. It's almost 11 in the morning in Vancouver, but I'm working on a film and we're in night shoots - which means you generally start at sundown and go until sun-up.

It's weird. You said it was pitch black in London and I thought, "wait, it is here, too" then I realised my shades are just drawn!

What's the film?

The working title is Besties. It's with Kelly Fremon and [Simpson's producer] James L Brooks. We're about two weeks in.

How are you finding the balance between film work and pop music?

It's really kind of crazy because this is my first time physically doing both at the same time. I pinch myself constantly. I get to do what I love and that's really rare.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's obvious that Pitch Perfect 2 was a segue into your musical career. How hard did you chase that role?

I saw the first movie when it came out and I thought it was the best movie ever made. I remember saying "if there's ever another movie similar to this, I have to be a part of it".

And then, of course, a couple of years later there was the sequel. I went to the audition thinking music is really the reason I want to do this. Not necessarily thinking what would come out of it - but, yeah, that was one of the main reasons I wanted to get involved.

Image copyright Republic Records
Image caption The star began her career at the age of eight, and was home-schooled from 2008 until her high school graduation this year

In a very basic sense, acting is pretending to be someone else and singing is baring your soul. How did you handle that transition?

I do find that distinction. Any character I play in a movie, I am masked behind their name and their story. With this music, I'm really able to tell my own story. It's slightly terrifying but, at the same time, incredibly rewarding to know that there are other people in the world who have experienced the same things I have, good or bad.

You've been asked a lot about the lyrics to Love Myself, and the X-rated interpretation in particular. Your answers are always very diplomatic - you told one interviewer it was about "taking care of yourself and indulging yourself, whether that be emotionally or physically". How much did you prepare yourself for those questions?

I am fully aware of the speculations that were being made around the song, so I don't know if [that answer] was completely spontaneous... But there's nothing like actually being asked that question then actually having to answer it!

What's your connection to the lyrics?

Overall, the self-empowerment message is really what I was drawn to.

When you live in a world that is so full of judgement - and social media takes it to a whole other level - it is so important to realise that self-confidence starts with you.

No matter who says what to you, about what you look like, or what you sound like, it shouldn't matter - because you're doing what you're doing to make yourself happy. That's not always a message… I find it very easy to forget that very often.

Image copyright Paramount / Rex
Image caption Steinfeld received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress as self-possessed farm girl Mattie Ross in True Grit

One of the other songs on the EP is called You're Such A... What's the word you're leaving out?

Oh well, there are a couple!

I had such an incredible time recording that song - it was very hard for me to get through a take without laughing. That song is, for me, the ultimate revenge fantasy, where you can actually say: "I've moved on. You had your chance and you blew it." and mean it.

At one point you sing, "You're such a difficult little devil". That's like the ultimate Downton Abbey insult.

That's amazing. I haven't seen nearly as much Downton Abbey as I wish I would have. I started watching a couple of years ago when I did a film version of Romeo and Juliet with Julian Fellowes - but I am really bad with being consistent with TV shows. I'll watch a good amount of it, then skip a couple and try and pick it up - but it never works.

But that's great. I'm going to describe this song now as a reference to Downton Abbey.

Now that you've experienced a career in music and film, which is the most glamorous?

Oh wow! They're both pretty gruelling!

As an actor, after you make the movie, you do the press and walk the red carpet and that right there is what people see as the most glamorous part - the award shows and the whole dressing up aspect which, obviously, I enjoy so much.

Image copyright Associated Press
Image caption Steinfeld joined Taylor Swift to accept the video of the year award at the MTV Awards in September (L-R: Martha Hunt, Hailee Steinfeld, Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Serayah, Lily Aldridge, Gigi Hadid, and Karlie Kloss)

In music, performing is pretty glamorous. I get to wear outfits that generally you wouldn't, or shouldn't - although I now wear them down the street because I love them so much!

But people forget about the hours that are spent in the studio. You go in at daytime and you come out and it's night time. The same with filming - there's so much that goes into it. I think they're both equally as gruelling and glamorous.

You joined Taylor Swift for a night on her 1989 tour. Did you look out over the audience and think: "One day, this will all be mine"?

Oh, I mean, I don't know about that! But of course you go out there and you think: "This is literal gold, right here, right in front of me. It's Friday night, I could be at home watching a movie, like normally I would be, but this is what's happening right now."

I remember thinking: "I'm going to take everything in, I'm going to remember all of this," and then I got off stage and thought: "What the hell just happened?!"

But I'm in constant awe over Taylor and what she does as a person and as an artist.

They've recently announced that Pitch Perfect will be back for a third instalment. What do you know about that?

Um, I do know that they announced a release date. But that's all I know, and I don't even know the exact date! I don't know what the shooting schedule is, or when it's coming out but I do know it's happening, and I'm really excited to do it again.

Will you continue to juggle acting and singing?

Doing both music and movies has always been part of my plan, and I love them both so much that I don't see myself doing one not the other.

I pinch myself constantly. I get to do what I love and that's really rare.

Hailee Steinfeld's debut EP, Haiz, is out now on Republic Records.

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