Currently headlining the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour and working on a new album, while promoting her new teen comedy, Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld couldn’t be busier. A newly-minted Golden Globe nominee, Steinfeld will compete against the likes of Emma Stone and Meryl Streep with her turn in Craig’s charming film. Busy as she may be, as the actress sits down in a booth at Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons Hotel to discuss her latest cinematic offering, she’s happy to take a moment to smell the roses.
A warm coming-of-age story with its share of drama and biting exchanges, Craig’s directorial debut follows high schooler Nadine, a student with a penchant for melodrama who takes issue with the budding relationship between her best friend and older brother. Speaking with Deadline, Steinfeld discusses the path her career has taken thus far, her work across various genres, and the challenge of finding a balance between two entertainment worlds.
What went through your mind when you read this script for the first time?
I remember feeling like, this is for me. I have to do this project. I’m sitting on my bed reading these lines and I can see them coming them out of my mouth. I can hear them, I can see this working, as me. There was so much to this character and this story that I felt that I felt I connected to.
What was it like working with Kelly Fremon Craig? Is there an exciting energy in working with a relatively new writer/director?
Absolutely. There’s always that sense of extra excitement, I guess. It’s her baby. It’s her first project. Therefore, I feel she had an understanding of this script and this person that I played, more than anyone could have. She was just amazing. She dug deep for this movie and her approach to making it was so bold. To be a part of that was an honor.
Craig went deep in research of teenagers to complete her script. Can you recall conversations with her about particular scenes, or the scenes that changed the most through the filmmaking process?
I really truly feel like the moment I met Kelly, even up until this point, our whole relationship is like this never-ending conversation about life and about experience and knowledge and wisdom and ideas. That all started with, who are you and how do you feel, and what do you want to say? I felt like there’s some people you meet and you’re like, I don’t know how I feel about opening up to this person just yet. With Kelly, there was something about her that I was like, hey, I’m about to pour my heart out here. I just felt this connection with her and I knew that she would understand what I was trying to say, even if what I was saying didn’t make sense. Our conversation went from that to her saying to me, “Honestly, if there is ever anything in this script that you don’t feel is authentic, change it and make it your own.”
You’re still a teenager. Generally speaking, what did you tap into from your own life experience for the role?
I feel like as a teenager, you’re sort of searching for answers. Luckily, I don’t ever feel like I’ve been alone in that, but this character is. She is searching for the answers to the questions, who am I, and what am I good at? How and what am I supposed to do to fit in? Do I even want to fit in? She has no one to really turn to for that. She has her brother—she doesn’t want to go to him because he’s got it all figured out. Her best friend, who I don’t think she is willing to admit to, until a certain point when we see her emotionally break down. Then her mom, who she just does not feel understood by. Therefore, it kind of leaves her swimming in her own thoughts.
It would seem difficult to establish a family rapport in a film like this, where you have to demonstrate a certain intimacy, but also a distance.
That came into play, I would say, with me and Kyra, and me and Blake. We met and instantly hit it off. Everything was great. Big fans of them both. We would have great, funny conversations and then really getting into the dynamic of the mother-daughter thing. I’m so lucky and so thankful that I have the relationship I do with my mom. Trying to even understand what it would be like if I felt that disconnected from my own mom, or my brother even, that was definitely not easy for me. Yeah, I would imagine they feel the same to a degree.
What was the thought process when it came to developing that mother-daughter relationship?
I think the beauty of the relationship is they’re both sort of in the same place, just at different times in their life. One moment I love so much is when Nadine is at Erwin’s film festival. Her mom’s calling her, and calling her. She just ignores the call, and she finally has the decency to write, “I’m okay.” Then, we’re with Kyra, sitting with her and she’s writing back, “You call me right now.” Deletes it. “I am not happy with you.” Deletes it. She finally comes to the realization of saying, okay. It’s okay to just be okay with certain situations. That’s a moment that they both come to in this movie, which I think is pretty special.
You’ve run the gamut of different genres in your work thus far. Does working on a comedy present its own unique set of challenges, and how does that feel for you?
Always. I mean, always. I could have never planned to jump around the way I have in terms of genres, going from a western to a sci-fi to a Shakespeare film to a contemporary piece. It’s been really crazy, when I look back on it. Especially the balance between period pieces and contemporary pieces. I do feel that with this one there was the challenge, because it’s contemporary, of making it feel real and honest. I guess I feel like I’ve had a hard time with finding that contemporary piece that is real and honest and raw, not fantasized in any way. I don’t know. It is what it is.
You have quite the comedic rapport with Woody Harrelson. Are there moments on set with him that you recall most vividly?
Oh, man. We spent a lot of time in his classroom. There is a moment, I believe they finally released this… I’ve been begging them to show me. I’m pretty sure it was like a solid six-and-a-half minutes where, God love Kelly for keeping the cameras rolling, but it’s literally Woody and I just laughing for six minutes. He would be laughing, laughing, go into character and it would just totally throw me off. I’d start laughing, he’d start laughing. His face would be beet red and mine would be beet red. I couldn’t breathe. It was so much fun.
In your experience, how have young people responded to the film so far?
I feel honored to be a part of the story and to play a character who has a message that needs and should be heard. One of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience has been going to colleges and listening to young women my age ask me questions. I never felt like I’ve had a movie that has connected me with people in the way that my music has. Music is such an instant connection with people—there’s more of a live, instant reaction you get, whether you’re on stage or you’re uploading it to Spotify, or whatever.
I’ve never felt like I’ve been able to have that sort of live instant reaction with a film, with anybody. You make it. It takes a year to come out. It comes out in this many theaters, and then goes unseen. You know what I mean? I feel like I’ve had a real true connection with my generation, and with young women especially, that I don’t feel I’ve ever had through a movie. I feel lucky to be the voice of so many situations I feel girls are afraid to speak out on. Obviously, that’s not me, that’s Kelly’s writing. I’m honored to have played a role that young women feel represents them honestly.
Has it been a challenge to figure out a balance between your separate paths in films and in the music world? Do you have any intention of integrating your two artistic outlets at some point?
Yeah, I definitely do. It’s definitely been a balancing act for the last couple of months. It’s challenging. I’m finding the more I do both at the same time, I see how they conflict. Timing wise, it’s hard. Luckily, it’s been pretty seamless up until this point. I’m happiest when I’m doing both at the same time. I don’t see myself doing one and not the other. Whether it’s creating a soundtrack for a film or singing, whatever it is, I would love to integrate the two in the future.
You’re on tour at the moment. How has the experience been?
I am currently on a radio tour at the moment. The iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour, which I went on last year. We played Staples Center, I believe it was December 1st, last year. It was my first big show ever. Staples Center, no big deal. I say that and it’s like, oh my God, let’s take a minute. It’s crazy to think last year I had just put out my first single, “Love Myself,” and I was on this tour singing in front of thousands and thousands of people every other night. I’m back again this year with a song that just went Platinum and it’s my first Top Five record. This whole last year of being involved in music, in no way could I have ever planned it to go like this.
You’re also working on a new album?
Yes. It feels like a never ending process, in the best way possible. I feel like I’ll know when it’s done and when it’s ready. I’m so in the thick of it right now, though, that I feel like one idea just leads to another. I don’t know. I’ve got a lot left in me that I want to say and that I want to do. It’s coming, it’s coming.
What are your goals looking forward from this point?
Right now, making an album, headlining my own tour, just making more movies like Edge of Seventeen, that connect me with people. Like we said a minute ago, integrating the two. I would love to learn how to produce music and instruments, and I’m involved in the writing processes with my album. I can’t even describe it. It’s just been amazing. On the film front, working with a director like Kelly who is so incredibly passionate about what she does, and being under the voice of James L. Brooks. I work with them and I’m like, I want to direct a film tomorrow. Why don’t you come up with an idea real quick? I’m constantly and continuously inspired by the people that are around me, and they make me want to do absolutely anything and everything, all the time.