“Well, this is a weird place for an interview,” Hailee Steinfeld laughs. That it is. This is the actress’ first time in Berkeley, and the first place she gets to visit is the theater manager’s utilitarian office at the city’s Shattuck Cinemas.
She’s attending a screening of her new film, “The Edge of Seventeen,” for UC Berkeley students. She plays Nadine, a painfully awkward high school junior, whip smart but emotionally immature and caught in the angst of sibling rivalry with her popular older brother Darian (Brody Jenner), as well as boy, best friend and mother troubles.
She was a best supporting actress Oscar nominee at 13 for her role as vengeful Mattie Ross in “True Grit,” her first feature, and the titles of teen movie classics roll easily off her tongue: the holy trinity of John Hughes/Molly Ringwald collaborations, “16 Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink”; Cameron Crowe’s beloved directing debut, “Say Anything”; and “Clueless,” the Alicia Silverstone comedy that provided Paul Rudd with an early breakout role. It is a list that she hopes “The Edge of Seventeen” will join.
“Being a part of bringing that story to life is really what felt most important to me,” Steinfeld says. “Giving my generation a film that they can call their own, giving them a story that they can feel like they can watch and not feel alone.”
Inside the theater, the audience reacts enthusiastically to the tale that unfolds onscreen. Just how much they come to embrace Nadine becomes clear late in the film when a character she’s been at war with offers a tentative olive branch and several people shout back at the screen, answering on her behalf.
When Steinfeld enters the theater at the end of the screening to do a Q&A, it’s not just to applause but the type of hoots and hollering that greets rock icons. It’s only one preview, but in her quest to have “The Edge of Seventeen” capture young hearts and minds, the reaction is a good sign.