Hailee Steinfeld on grabbing the chance to take on edgy role as cynical teen
In The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, an awkward high-school pupil who carries the woes of the world on her young shoulders.
Her main childhood memory is the death of her beloved father, her mother is overprotective, her brother is a goody two-shoes and her best friend, her only friend in fact, turns out to be a disappointing traitor.
This is the world according to Nadine, the kind of teenage cynic who believes a dark cloud follows her around.
What is refreshing about this debut film from director Kelly Fremon Craig is that these usually negative and unlikeable traits are turned into positives, with Steinfeld’s dry-humoured Nadine presented as a sort of a teenage-girl version of Lenny Bruce.
“I worked on this character alongside [Fremon Craig],” says 19-year-old Steinfeld.
“We worked on finding her voice, finding out who she is and getting that balance between being a character who is unlikeable at times, but you still root for her somehow.”
If any teenage actress was going to be able to pull off such a difficult balance it is Steinfeld, who was only 14 when she received an Oscar nomination for her role in the Coen brothers’ western remake, True Grit.
She has also built a music career – her song Love Myself has been viewed more than 150 million times on YouTube and she is in the process of recording an album. She is also friends with Taylor Swift and appeared in the infamous Bad Blood music video.
It seems, therefore, that Steinfeld’s life could not be more different from Nadine’s. She is part of the in-crowd, while Nadine is an outsider who spends most of her time alone.
“Yeah, I’m very lucky to have found something I love, something I’m good at, from a young age,” she says. But the actress only had to recall her own school days to get into character. “I was very awkward at school,” she adds.
Steinfeld began acting at the age of 8 in short films and on television. Part of her plan was also to launch a singing career, but as her acting took off, she had to put that on hold.
“The acting just happened first and took up all my time,” she says. “Then an opportunity presented itself, which made sense to me, and that was Pitch Perfect 2.”
She played a college freshman in the musical sequel. Yet in many ways her younger role as a high-school student in The Edge of Seventeen is much more mature, while the tone is darker and more realistic than one might expect of the high school-movie genre.
“I was 18 when I made the film and it was probably the most complicated role that I could have taken on at that age,” she says.
One of the highlights of the film, she adds, was getting to work with Woody Harrelson, who plays her acerbic teacher, and sometime life coach. Steinfeld is positively in awe of her co-star.
“I have yet to form a sentence on how I feel about this man,” she says. “He really is so incredible. His timing is so incredible, and watching somebody who puts every single piece of themselves into every word of every line is something I’ve never seen before.”
Harrelson might very well say the same about her.
• The Edge of Seventeen is in cinemas from Thursday, December 1