Hailee Steinfeld Has Officially Left Her Comfort Zone
The 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' star opens up about surviving child stardom, taking risks—and shares her rules for living
It’s an overcast day in Los Angeles in early May, but not even the clouds can dim Hailee Steinfeld’s shine on the set of her People shoot. As Britney Spears’ “Toxic” plays in the background, the actress, wearing a Namilia cut-out jumpsuit and sky-high Casadei boots, skillfully poses around—and lying on the hood of—a yellow vintage convertible.
The moment Steinfeld gets a break between shots, she slips a cozy white robe embroidered with her name over her outfit.
“My main goal is to be comfortable, always,” she explains later when she sits down for her interview, for which she also changed into fuzzy slippers. “I laugh, because whenever I pack to go away for a shoot, it's just suitcases filled with oversized sweats and sweatpants, and that's it.”
While comfortable is her goal when it comes to what she’s wearing, in all other aspects of her life, she aims to be anything but. For a long time Steinfeld—who had her breakthrough at age 14 in 2010 in the film True Grit, for which she earned an Oscar nomination—“played by the rules,” she says. But a shift came during the nearly two-and-a-half years Steinfeld, now 26, portrayed famed 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson on the Apple TV+ show Dickinson, which ran from 2019 to 2021. “That character challenged me in a lot of ways, emotionally, professionally, personally,” she says.
Channeling the elusive real-life Dickinson, whose passion for writing made her an outcast in a patriarchal society where women were expected to tend to the home, “was incredibly inspiring,” she adds. “She broke out against all of the constraints that she was faced with. If a woman could do that in her time, then we sure as hell should be able to do it in ours.”
While starring in and producing Dickinson, Steinfeld took on the challenge of playing heroine-in-training Kate Bishop in the 2021 Disney+ miniseries Hawkeye, a role for which she pushed herself by learning archery and doing some of her own stunts. “Archery is a skill I never thought I’d pick up,” she says. “It was a blast.”
Steinfeld is next set to return as strong-willed Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse—the sequel to the 2018 hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—out June 2, and she says she is now very “conscious” about what roles she takes: “I want to feel like I’m constantly being challenged and taken out of my comfort zone. I think it's easy to feel like, ‘Okay, you've nailed something. I can totally do that again. I can do it five more times!’ But I want to do something that feels new and different and fulfilling in a way that I haven't quite felt before.”
Steinfeld is taking risks in her life and work now, but she notably has not gone down the path that many child stars have gone before her: no scandals, no trips to rehab, no hasty marriages or family emancipation dramas. Instead she not only survived child stardom, but gracefully transitioned into adulthood.
“I feel so grateful for everything that has happened in my life,” she says. “I'm doing what I love, and I never thought that I would be doing it to this extent.” How did she pull it off? Here are Hailee Steinfeld’s Rules for Living.
Lean on Your Family
Born outside of Los Angeles to mom Cheri, an interior designer, and dad Peter Steinfeld, a personal trainer, she credits her family with keeping her grounded.
“I would not be who I am or where I am if it weren't for my mother and my father and my brother [Griffin, 29],” Steinfeld says. “They have kept me in check every step of the way. I’m especially close with my brother, and we only get closer as we get older. I just feel very lucky to have not one but three people that I can call no matter where I am in the world and know that they'll pick up and talk me through whatever I need them to at that moment. They have just made so many sacrifices for me to be where I'm at, and I am forever grateful.”
Accept the Sacrifices You Make to Follow Your Dreams
After True Grit, Steinfeld continued to grow up onscreen. While she “had moments of [feeling like I was missing out] when friends would send me pictures from winter formals and proms and homecomings,” she says she would “quickly remind myself why I was where I was instead.”
Plus, she got “little replacements here and there” for those “quintessential life moments,” including getting to go to homecoming in her 2015 film Barely Lethal. Then in the 2016 film The Edge of Seventeen, she got to “let a little bit of teen angst go that I didn't even know I had,” she says.
She even had her own version of a college experience while being part of the Pitch Perfect franchise between 2015 and 2017. “I was essentially in a sorority with Pitch Perfect,” she quips.
Don't Let Anyone Put You In a Box
While making a name for herself as an actress, Steinfeld also established herself as a musician with the release of her debut single “Love Myself” in 2015. A string of successful singles—including “Starving,” "Most Girls" and "Let Me Go" (which has now been streamed more than a billion times)—followed.
Most recently, she released the song "SunKissing" in March and the song “Coast” with Anderson .Paak in 2022. While she’s done a good job of keeping her private life out of the public eye, her music has offered a rare glimpse into her world.
“Coming off Dickinson, I was inspired by her ability to write anything and everything,” she says. “She wrote knowing that no one would ever see it, and I feel like that's the way you have to do it.”
As she looks to the future, Steinfeld is dreaming without boundaries.
“I would love to produce more,” she says. “I would also love to direct, but I think that would be later down the line. I really just want to act a ton.”
During her True Grit era, Steinfeld says she was often told: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Take it all in."
“Of course, at 13, I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely. For sure. I'm taking it all in,’” she recalls. “And while I do feel like I remember just about everything, I only now realize what people meant by that. It was such a rare experience, everything about it: the timing, the places I got to go to and the people I got to work with [including her Oscar-winning True Grit costars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon]. I was experiencing so many firsts, and I was surrounded by the best people that really took me under their wings and guided me every step of the way. I just remember being young and curious and so overexcited about absolutely everything.”
Choose the Right Mentors
Steinfeld considers herself “lucky” to have gotten her start working with legends like Jeff Bridges.
“Jeff has so much fun with what he does,” she says. “With True Grit, I had a lot of dialogue, and the circumstances weren't always smiley and bubbly. Yet somehow, in between takes, he managed to keep up an energy that made me feel so at ease and comfortable.”
“I look back on that experience and think, ‘I don't know how I came up with a lot of the emotion that I did because I was having a blast that whole time,’” she continues. “Literally, if we had 10 minutes in between takes, he would pull out this game called Pass the Pigs, which became a crowd favorite very quickly with the Steinfeld family.”
Offscreen, Steinfeld says Bridges is a great family man.
“Him and Matt Damon and Josh Brolin—they would come to work and they would make their entire life about what was in front of them in that moment. And then they would go home to their families, and they'd come back and do it again,” she says. “That, to me, is what this is all about.”
Related:Hailee Steinfeld Says 'Hawkeye' Costar Jeremy Renner's 'Miraculous Recovery' Makes Her 'Emotional'
Pay Attention to How Others Overcome Obstacles
Steinfeld has also found inspiration in watching Bridges overcome his health struggles (he is currently in remission for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system).
“I get to love people like Jeff as a fan, but I also get to love them based on experiences that I've had personally with them,” she says. “I mean, it's safe to say he has made an incredible impact on me personally, and I feel so grateful to be able to stay in touch with him and with people who I feel have been a big reason for where I am in my life and in my career. He's wonderful, his daughter Jessie is incredible, and she was on set with us during True Grit, and I will see what she's up to every now and then.”
Steinfeld feels similarly about Renner, who suffered more than 30 broken bones and required multiple surgeries after he was run over by a 7-ton snowplow in January.
“I haven't really talked about it, but it is a weird thing because I would be so moved by what has happened to them in any other case, and here I am lucky enough to have a personal connection,” she says. “I'm just so beyond grateful that they're both here.”
Focus on the Work, Not on Awards
While filming True Grit, Steinfeld says the Oscars were the furthest thing from her mind.
“During filming, I never heard anybody talking about awards season,” she says. “It was never a part of any conversation that I was involved in or privy to. We would go to work every day and do the best job we could possibly do to create the most beautiful piece of art, and every single person involved was so incredibly dedicated and passionate and driven to doing just that.”
Still, she was nominated in 2011 for the best supporting actress Oscar, the same award her childhood idol Tatum O’Neal had won at age 10 for her role in the comedy Paper Moon 37 years earlier.
“What a full circle moment,” she says. “I was around 7 or 8 when I watched Paper Moon for the first time, and it made me think anything is possible. The fact that it all happened when it did, I couldn't have dreamt that up.”
Steinfeld continues to keep an open mind about accolades. “Whatever comes, comes, and it's a blessing just to be recognized in any capacity,” she says.
Define What Self-Care Means to You
As she’s gotten older, Steinfeld says she has “learned what taking time for myself really means.”
“It could be anything from a walk around the block or a night without my phone,” she says. “I think before I may have brushed that off more than I do now. I consciously am trying to check in with myself and make sure that I'm good because it is so easy to keep going and going and going until you burn out. And then you have a whole new set of problems. So I try to catch myself before I get there.”
When she needs a time-out, she can also always count on going home for a reset.
“I live where I grew up, and that's so special to me,” she says. “I am so grateful that I can be anywhere in the world and always come back to that safe place.”
Surround Yourself with Strong Women
Steinfeld says she’s never had to look far to find “shining” examples of women who exemplify what it means to be “unapologetically yourself.”
“I've had a lot of incredible women in my life from a very young age,” she says. “So, I've never had a problem speaking up for myself. It starts with my mom and my grandmother. I have my cousins who I've always felt like I could look up to. They're incredible mothers and incredible businesswomen.”
Beyond her family, “I've had the opportunity to work with some incredible female filmmakers who have inspired me within the field that I'm in by owning their power,” Steinfeld adds. “Not abusing it by any means, but understanding that they have it. Learning from them and how they use it has been incredible to experience firsthand.”
She also counts Florence Pugh as an inspiration. They connected when Pugh made a guest appearance on Hawkeye.
“I'll never forget the moment I met Florence,” she says. “We were well into shooting Hawkeye at this point, and obviously, she had Black Widow at that time, but I could see how it could be intimidating to walk into a show and a foundation that's already been built. Watching Florence walk on set like she had been there since day one was incredibly exciting and inspiring. She is so wickedly talented and has the best sense of humor. It's just amazing to be around. We hit it off very quickly. It's always fun to find friends in all of this, and to be able to stand back and watch her and cheer her on from afar has been a very exciting thing for me.”
Another friend Steinfeld will always lift up is Taylor Swift. In 2015, Steinfeld appeared in Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video after meeting her at a pre-Oscars party several years earlier.
“I mean, you get a call from Ms. Swift and you run to the phone,” she says. “It doesn't even matter what's about to be said on the other side. You run to the phone, you pick it up. It was the coolest to be a part of her music video with so many incredibly talented, empowering women. There were three of me that day, too, which was quite cool. To be a part of Taylor's world and her vision was an honor, truly. I’m literally chasing the dates of her Eras tour trying to figure out when I can make it.”
Control Your Social Media, Don't Let It Control You
Steinfeld grew up during a time when tweens and teens were taking silly photos on Photo Booth, rather than making videos on TikTok.
“I joined social media when it was on the rise, but I had a good chunk of my life where I wasn't on any social media,” she says. “I look at the kids in my family now working an iPad like it's nobody's business. It's a good thing that wasn't me because I did go through a phase when I was younger taking photos on Photo Booth and making dance videos at home. I send those videos to my friends all the time, where we’re in eighth grade and it’s the most cringe, embarrassing thing. Meanwhile, eighth graders now are, like, professional dancers and killing it.”
These days Steinfeld constantly reminds herself one thing about social media: “Not everybody is going to like everything. That is life.”
“I love going away and disappearing into my work and staying focused and immersing myself in whatever world that I'm in at that moment and then coming out of my little cave and sharing with people what it is I've been working on,” she says. “It’s a balance. But I've always had a healthy relationship with social media. I just have fun with it.”
Find a Partner Who Meets You at Your Level
Currently single, Steinfeld looks forward to meeting the right partner—but she’s not rushing into anything.
“I ultimately want someone who supports me and who I can support and cheer on and be their biggest fan,” she says. “I've been lucky enough to spend so much time with my family recently, and I have so many shining examples of what it should feel like to be with someone that makes you a better you and happy. I'm not really looking, so I don't have a list of things. But I think the right person comes along when they do, and I imagine that's the greatest thing ever.”
“It’s an exciting thought to me, that part of life happening when it does, and I can only hope that it emulates what I grew up around,” she adds. “Right now, I feel more confident in who I am than ever, and I just feel so grateful to be doing what I love.”
Stylist: @robzangardi & @marielhaenn
Red jumpsuit: Bronx and Banco; Shoes: Jessica Rich
Black jumpsuit: Namilia; Boots: Casadei
Green jacket and black gloves: Namilia; Dress: Aya Muse; Shoes: Christian Louboutin
Yellow top: Sergio Hudson
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