When Hailee Steinfeld is left to self-shoot her GLAMOUR UK cover, she certainly doesn’t hold back, including herself devouring cupcakes in a pink ballgown and skyscraper heels, sitting on her kitchen floor. But you wouldn’t expect anything less from the 24-year-old multi-hyphenate, who rose to fame as an Oscar nominee at 13 years old in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, before going on to star in the Pitch Perfect franchise, receiving her second Golden Globe nomination for The Edge Of Seventeen and launching her own solo music career with empowering bangers Love Myself and Starving – notching up 1.4 billion Spotify streams. Oh, and she has over 13 million Instagram followers who are equally obsessed with her selfies and activism, with Hailee recently joining the #ArtistsForBlackLives movement, which saw her raising awareness of police violence and the detrimental treatment of the Black LGBTQ+ community.
But like many of us, faced with a global pandemic, Hailee was forced to sit still and be alone with herself in a way that she hasn’t been able to since the tender age of 13. What has she learned about herself from this experience? “A whole lot,” Hailee exhales, talking from her Los Angeles home, where she has been in lockdown with her parents – Cheri, an interior designer, and Peter, a personal trainer – and her older brother, Griffin, a professional car racer.
“I’ve gone through phases where I’m either going crazy or I’m not. I hadn’t had this kind of time since before I started working when I was young, so I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person – emotionally and mentally. I’ve also been able to take time for myself and care for myself in ways I can’t when I’m on the road. I’ve never given myself the opportunity to reflect and appreciate how far I have come. I wasn’t aware of that before, so I do feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin and in my life,” she says proudly.
Becoming ‘OK’ with her own company has equally been a revelation for Hailee. “I have learned how to just shut everything off and put the outside voices on pause by turning devices off,” she continues. “Whether I’m writing music, reading or going for a walk, I’ve done so many more things by myself that I’d never felt comfortable doing alone before.”
“I’ve realised, there’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. I’ve learned that being alone isn’t a bad thing, and it can actually be really great.”
Lockdown aside, Hailee also credits her own journey towards understanding herself with playing Emily Dickinson, the underrated 19th-century poet who was only published after her death, in Apple TV’s award-winning Dickinson – which Hailee also produces. Reborn as a Lizzo-loving rule-breaker who is stifled by her corset and the societal expectations of women, Emily embarks on a secret love affair with her best friend and writes at length about her darkest thoughts, which even leads to Wiz Khalifa, the show’s personification of death, arriving late at night at her front door for a carriage ride. It’s the most surreal period drama you will ever watch, but its message is clear: don’t f*ck with an empowered woman.
“I’ve reminded myself in certain situations, ‘If Emily Dickinson got through this in her time, there’s no way I can’t get through it in mine,’” Hailee says, as we discuss the impact the character has had on her, both professionally and personally. Portraying Emily’s morbid obsession with death has, in fact, affected Hailee’s own mental health.
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“Playing this character crosses into every crevice of your brain’s thoughts,” she remarks. “There are some that are confusing, some you would call strange and there are others that are dark and scary. In her poetry, she talks about everything that goes through that brain of hers, from demons to murder, the grave, death itself to nature, butterflies and bees. It’s been fun to dig into those small spaces in my brain, because she talks about what a lot of people are afraid to and that you don’t even want to think about when you’re in a room by yourself. I’ve had a lot of moments of self-discovery in that.”
She’s managed the mental impact of the role by working out with her dad, who has a gym to rival Barry’s Bootcamp in the family’s home, and leaning on her Dickinson castmates – most notably Anna Baryshnikov, who calls Hailee a ‘biological sister’. “The dynamic of being a part of this Dickinson family is that we’ve all gone to those dark places together. I’ll go to a place and sometimes it’s hard to pull myself out of it,” Hailee divulges.
Can it be healing as well? “Sometimes the moving on part isn’t necessarily easy and as I go back to play this character again and again, those thoughts come back up. It’s weirdly similar to writing music about something in your life. I recently wrote about something I didn’t feel I would ever talk to anybody about. Every time I have to sing those songs now, it brings those feelings back up,” Hailee says, referencing her latest EP, Half Written Story, which includes her very personal tales of love and break-ups. One of the songs, Man Up, notably contains the lyrics, “My brother hates you, my mother hates you/ My father and sister, too/ Wait, I don’t even have a sister/ But if I did, she’d hate you.”
Much has been made of Hailee’s private life, from a rumoured long-term relationship with Niall Horan, to multiple column inches penned about suspected relationships with Justin Bieber and her Romeo And Juliet co-star, Douglas Booth. How does she feel about the fact that, in 2020, people are still defining women by their relationships? “Here’s the thing, I’m equally as invested in that world with other people as I am with the individuality of what they do and what they bring to the table. I think that is something that the person gets to choose; how much or how little they want people to know about.
“I was going to talk about being in control of it, but the issue is, a lot of people don’t feel they have control over what people know about them or find out about them. Some of our most private moments can be somehow publicised or leaked and we have no control over that, which is a tough thing to comprehend. I just feel so fortunate to be in the place that I’m in. I feel blessed to be working and to be playing unbelievable parts, producing an amazing project, and that’s what I want to talk about, that’s what I’m most proud of; that’s what I want people to know, and they can choose to be on board with it or not.” Preach, Hailee!
For all the public ups during Hailee’s meteoric 10-year career, there have also been downs, including narrowly missing out on the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games to Jennifer Lawrence. Although Hailee will finally get to add an arrow to her weaponry, as it has just been announced she will star alongside Jeremy Renner in his character namesake series Hawkeye, where she will play the iconic Marvel comic archer Kate Bishop in a new Disney+ series – set to be released next year. What has she learned about the price of success and concept of failure? It turns out, keeping up with herself is Hailee’s greatest battle. “With Dickinson specifically, becoming a producer, as well as starring in the show, was a lot for me. There’s no denying it was a challenge,” Hailee says. “I was releasing music at the same time and there was just a lot going on, and I’ve always been one to devote 210% of myself to whatever is right in front of me, and when there’s 472 things, it’s very hard to do that.”
How does she contend with criticism and her own self-critic? “I don’t think that’s ever going to go away,” Hailee replies. “When I saw True Grit for the first time, I went with my family and we sat in a small theatre that had been set up for us. When the movie was over, the lights came up, and people started standing up around me and I just sat glued to the screen because I watched every single name that went down the credits. I felt so connected to all of them – from the costume department to the grips – I knew all of them, they were my friends. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised there were so many people that worked so tirelessly to make this movie. We’re all in this together, we’re also passionate about this one thing and regardless of what people think, we are proud of something that we made and that’s a really cool feeling.”
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With an award-winning multi-hyphenate career to her name, I wonder whether she ever feels restricted by our world, that still tries to pigeonhole women. “Honestly, I feel I am a part of a generation that is constantly breaking down walls, pushing the envelope and jumping into new territories, and that’s becoming more accepted,” Hailee says. “I feel like, in my head, I’ve put myself in a box more than I feel society has. I think that there are definitely societal standards that are ridiculous, and I don’t feel any pressure to live up to any of those. I feel like I’ve got my own and it’s very easy to get carried away with them.
“I am still one to get inside my head, whether it’s my work or personal life,” she continues. “I have encountered certain people in my career that have said, when I was making a switch into music, ‘Well, are you an actor, or are you a musician?’ That was when I came back with the answer that I’m an artist. Look at artists like Halsey, who is an unbelievable poet, an unbelievable painter, she’s a dancer – she’s an artist. There are so many facets within so many of these, so why should they just have to sing and stand behind a mic?
“I questioned those things myself before I started putting out music, and there is a weird sort of elephant in the room sometimes when you see somebody making a crossover or a step into new territory, which is ridiculous. It’s maybe less putting myself in a box in my head, but just questioning myself because of the boxes that people are known to put other people in.”
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I assure Hailee she has served more bangers than a good greasy-spoon café. “I know – screw them,” she laughs. And there lies the secret to Hailee’s success: her unique, gusty spirit and her inability to see any obstacles placed in her way.