“I’m literally the most awkward person ever,” Hailee Steinfeld admits. But she doesn’t seem that awkward. Today she’s sitting on a couch at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, about to start a full day of press for her latest film The Edge of Seventeen (out on November 18). It’s a genuine, layered, coming-of-age film about Nadine, a high school teen who doesn’t quite fit in.
She does have at least one advantage over the freaked-out Nadine. “I’m a little better at masking it than my character is,” the 19-year-old actress says. Plus, unlike her Edge of Seventeen character, Steinfeld didn’t have to forlornly traverse high-school hallways, because she was home-schooled after sixth grade. Her formative years were spent on the sets of movies like True Grit, Begin Again, Romeo & Juliet, and Ender’s Game. But neither does she think she got off scot-free just because she skipped the traditional high school experience: “That’s just growing up….the whole growing-up part, I think we all got.”
Her aversion to high-school trappings even extended to her graduation; she could have attended a graduation with other home-schooled kids, but Steinfeld felt too weird about it. “I don’t like social gatherings like that, so I begged my parents and my teacher to let me skip out on it,” she says. In retrospect, Steinfeld thinks she “probably would have liked to have the photo.” But still, there was no way she was going to get involved with all the traditional pageantry: “The whole cap and gown thing stresses me out. I was not about it.”
After doing Pitch Perfect 2 last year, in which Steinfeld played a college freshman, and after releasing her debut EP Haiz in November of 2015, the actress felt ready to move away from those uncomfortable high-school years. So when she was approached about The Edge of Seventeen, Steinfeld initially resisted.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to be 20 in a couple years, I don’t really want to be playing teenagers anymore,'” she explains. “Even though I was a teenager, and was going to be for a couple more years. Then, she took a look at the script. “I was pleasantly surprised,” she says. “I realized it doesn’t get more complex than this story and this character.”
In fact, taking on the role of outsider Nadine, who struggles with the news that her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) is dating her seemingly perfect brother (Blake Jenner), taught Steinfeld more than she was expecting. For one thing, she got to unleash all that pent-up high school angst in Nadine’s shoes.