back in February on the casting of 13 year old Hailee Steinfield in the Coen Brothers remake of the classic John Wayne Western True Grit.
Now turning 14, in an interview with ABC news, Hailee gives more details on the casting process that she went through to get the part.
To find their Mattie, casting directors Ellen Chenoweth and Rachel Tenner knew what they were looking for: "We had a prototype: Linda Manz from 'Days of Heaven,' or a young Holly Hunter, Tatum O'Neal, or Jodie Foster," said Chenoweth. "We didn't rule out better-known actresses - not that there are that many in that age range - and we did see some, but they weren't right."
The pair traveled to 10 cities throughout the South and Southwest, seeing more than 5,000 actors. "In the end, they found me in their own back yard," said Hailee.
She had heard of the job through her mother's cousin, who is younger than Steinfeld but also an actor. After sending in a tape, Steinfeld was called in to read with the casting director and went through two auditions over a five-week period until she met with Joel and Ethan Coen. The meeting between her and the filmmaking brothers occurred on a Saturday; the following Tuesday, Steinfeld learned she had won the part. A week later, they were on location. Though it sounds like it all happened very fast, Steinfeld notes, "Those first five weeks felt like five years."
Steinfeld says she knew she wanted to be an actor since she was 8 years old and saw a neighbour in a play. "It was so amazing to see someone acting up close," she recalls. "And my cousin started doing commercials around the same time. I just found all these different inspirations that drew me into acting."
But her parents told her she would have to wait a full year and take acting classes before trying to get an agent. "Up until that point, I had tried every single sport and every type of dance and everything there is, and I never, ever stuck with anything," she admits. "But as soon as I turned 9, I got an agent, and things started to pick up from there."
When she got an agent and started trying out for roles, like many actors, child or adult, she spent years auditioning with little to show for it.
“The most frustrating part was, I would get very close to booking things, and the biggest thing that was held against me was I was always too green,” Steinfeld said. “I would be up against girls who had been acting since they could speak."
She did several student short films for the experience before moving on to commercials and guest spots on shows such as "Back to You" and "Sons of Tucson."
Once she got the part of Mattie, Steinfeld took two weeks of riding lessons and visited a shooting range with her father to make sure she was comfortable holding a gun. She had watched the 1969 film before her initial audition, since she wanted to get a feel for the role and hadn't been given a full script, and she read the book on the plane on her way to the Texas location.
Once on set, Steinfeld says she felt as if she "won the lottery," working with Bridges and Damon. "There was never a time where they made me feel intimidated; they were always helpful," she notes.
Of the Coens, she says, "They were always making sure to check if I had questions, wanting to make sure I was comfortable with what I was doing. There were a couple scenes that I wouldn't say were difficult, but challenging. And they were always there to guide me through them."
Steinfeld adds that she loved her time in Mattie's skin, that it was a fun role to play. Asked if she has anything in common with her character, Steinfeld replies, "We will both stop at nothing to get what we want."
Steinfeld is reading scripts and trying to decide her next move. "Obviously, this has opened a lot of doors for me, and I'm excited to see what's next," she enthuses. She has been suggested as a likely candidate for the role of Katniss in the up-coming Gary Ross feature The Hunger Games and has apparently spoken to the producers about her interest in the role.