Hailee Steinfeld’s eyes are focused on her phone as she scrolls through her calendar during a break on set for her FASHION cover shoot. She has an overwhelming number of events and appointments, one of which is heading to the studio to record her debut disc. “It’s a little intense,” she says, looking at her schedule, which includes premieres, TV interviews and appearances to support her latest film, The Edge of Seventeen. “I’ve got to be careful. Everything I do has an effect.”
With two careers on the go, it’s wise for the 19-year-old to be particular about how, and with whom, she spends her time. “It’s a good kind of busy to be right now, but it’s about to get crazzzy,” she says, looking at the next few weeks ahead, which include flying to Paris for Valentino’s Spring 2017 fashion show, then to London and Tokyo for a few public appearances and finally to L.A. to prepare for her part in Pitch Perfect 3. Steinfeld credits the role in the film series with giving her the confidence she needed to enter the pop-music scene. It helped that her character, a crass a cappella singer named Emily who was introduced in Pitch Perfect 2, has Anna Kendrick (who plays Beca) as her singing partner. For a while, most people thought that Steinfeld’s singing was just a side hustle—that is until she hit the charts with three major hits: “Love Myself,” “Rock Bottom” (featuring funk-pop band DNCE) and “Starving” (featuring Grey and Zedd).
Even before Pitch Perfect, Steinfeld used music and created playlists to help prepare for parts. At 14, she was even granted a lifetime membership to Taylor Swift’s famous squad, which includes other pop stars like Selena Gomez, Zendaya, Lorde and Haim. “Banding together—whether it’s a group of women or a group of men or both—is awesome,” she says. Steinfeld also developed a meaningful relationship with Shawn Mendes after the pair recorded an acoustic version of his hit “Stitches.” “I remember meeting him three years ago when I was just dipping my toes into the whole music thing and he inspired me to stay on,” she says. “He’s so kind, [and] even then, I knew he was going to be a big star.”
“I want to live in a world where we get jobs because of our hard work and our talent, not our Instagram followers or Facebook numbers.”
In terms of what to expect from her first album, Steinfeld wants it to be a surprise for fans. She does confirm, however, that the lyrics aren’t based on any of her own romantic relationships. “Bad boyfriends make for great songs,” she says. “Luckily, I’ve never really had a bad boyfriend, but I have watched friends go through it all.” Another source of creative inspo is her older brother, Griffin. “He’s a couple of steps ahead of me,” she says. “So, because of him, I’m able to open up my mind.”
Steinfeld doesn’t look to family or friends for advice on navigating the complicated world of social media. She has a sizable following—3.8 million Instagram followers, over 640,000 Twitter followers and 845,000-plus Facebook fans—but she doesn’t want it to influence her professional opportunities. “I want to live in a world where we get jobs because of our hard work and our talent, not our Instagram followers or Facebook numbers,” she says.
She’s not naive about the adoration she gets in return. In December 2015, MTV posted a story online declaring that Steinfeld is “the fearless pop star we need in 2016.” The article said that her music, specifically “Love Myself,” shows that she’s “an artist who doesn’t need a dude to make her feel celebrated or validated.”
“I do [feel fearless] more and more every day,” she says. “I’ll have moments when I think ‘What am I getting myself into? How am I doing this? This is insane,’ then I have moments when I’m onstage in front of thousands of people and I feel like I’m on top of the world.”
When it comes to setting personal expectations, Steinfeld stresses the importance of perspective. “It is important to have the mindset of ‘I can do anything I want. I can be anyone I want. I can take on any challenge without anyone holding me back,’” she says. “But knowing you’re allowed to mess up and break down and make mistakes…. Words [like] unbreakable, untouchable, perfect—that’s so much for one person to handle.”
Steinfeld, who considers herself a feminist, does, however, want to do something meaningful with her fame. One of her missions is to promote gender equality. “For some time, feminism was the elephant in the room,” she says. “Being a young female who has the honour of reaching thousands of people with one message is incredible. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
“It is important to have the mindset of ‘I can do anything I want. I can be anyone I want. I can take on any challenge without anyone holding me back.’
Steinfeld was widely praised for her performance in the 2010 western True Grit. In the film, she played a gun-toting teen named Mattie who sets out to find the man who killed her father. More than 15,000 young actresses auditioned for the role, so it wasn’t easy for the Coen brothers, who directed the film, to go with an unknown. Their decision changed Steinfeld’s life: At just 14 years old, she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. Film critics, such as Roger Ebert, praised Steinfeld for standing out among a master cast that included Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon. The Los Angeles Times called out Steinfeld’s power to “intuitively connect with Mattie’s no-nonsense stubbornness” and The New Yorker commended her acting style for being “forthrightly eloquent.”
Accolades for her latest role as a sensitive, sex-curious, F-bomb-dropping teen named Nadine in The Edge of Seventeen (in theatres November 18) are equally flattering. Critics have already hinted that Steinfeld could earn another Academy Award nomination.
Surprisingly, Steinfeld says her latest role didn’t require much research. “I have a lot in common with my character,” she says. “She overthinks everything; I overthink everything.” In other words, the old adage “Don’t sweat the small stuff” doesn’t apply to her. “When the camera is rolling, I’m thinking about how I breathe, how I walk, how I listen to other characters—my actions should be impactful. Being simple isn’t really an option.”
Steinfeld credits fellow actor Mark Ruffalo with helping her develop her approach to acting. While working together on the 2013 musical drama Begin Again, Ruffalo provided Steinfeld with a list of must-see films, one of which was Annie Hall. “It’s like a documentary,” she says. “That’s how real it is. There’s this one scene where Woody [Allen] goes off on a tangent while he’s in line at the movies. I’m obsessed with that scene, but the movie has this spur-of-the-moment spontaneity throughout that makes you want to be a better actor.”
Understanding the importance of style has also been a part of her on-set schooling. In the video for “Love Myself”—her now-famous body-and-soul-positive anthem—Steinfeld wears a leotard embossed with the words “Self Service.” “That [outfit] was a conscious decision,” she says. “It’s fashion’s job to make statements.” Her stage, video and red carpet clothing choices are all strategic. She explains: “I think it’s fun as an artist to use fashion, in addition to words, to show what you’re feeling.” And Steinfeld’s recently launched apparel/merch line aims to do just that. The collection’s beanies, tank tops, T-shirts and hoodies are printed with the words “Love Myself.”
For The Edge of Seventeen, Steinfeld says her wardrobe was instrumental in bringing her erratic, endearing and slightly unhinged character to life. “I want girls to see this movie and know that it’s OK to express yourself, and that means you can put different socks on and not match outfits,” she says, laughing. “Let me tell you: Putting on a shirt with a deer on it [and] orange socks with ripped skinny jeans was so different from getting ready for the red carpet…. No glamour can be so cool, too.”
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