When the Coen brothers, (The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men) , decided to take on the daunting task of adapting the classic western film True Grit little did they realize that they would be creating their own cinematic version of television’s American Idol. The most critical element in the development of the film and the crux of its ability to come across on screen and tell the story was the casting of the role of young Mattie Ross, the pivotal character in the film responsible for hiring a man to seek out and find the men responsible for her father’s murder.
Approximately 15,000 young actresses were screened for this career maker and after the dust settled the one left standing was a relative unknown with only a few acting credits to her name. It was 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld from Thousand Oaks, California. According to producer Scott Rudin part of Steinfeld’s immediate appeal was that:
“She’s a very poised, clever girl. She could handle ornate language, which a lot of the kids couldn’t.”
She showed up for the interview in a costume she and her mom made for the part, but it was her delivery that sealed the deal. She told NPR:
“I went in dressed in character, and [showed] what my vision of this character was. And I really think that’s what it was, is my vision kind of clicked with theirs.”
About the home-made outfit:
“She got — I guess you could call it like a corduroy/burlap kind of material [for the] skirt, and she sewed it together. And I wore boots, and this ruffled up, 1800s-looking shirt from a thrift shop. That was it.”
And how did this excitable and sometimes awkward just-barely-a-teenager handle this incredible news. Here’s a brief interview with EW in which you get the answer straight from the up and comer herself:
EW: “When you hear that fifteen-thousand-girls auditioned for the role do you know how to process that?”
Hailee Steinfeld: “No, honest I don’t. It’s so really overwhelming and if I can give any advice to any of those girls it would just be to not give up and if it’s what you love it can never be the wrong choice.”
Ever since the announcement that Hailee landed the role buzz has been growing around the unassuming and talented young girl plucked from obscurity and thrown right into the middle of a world of Coen brothers creation. While this post is being written her name is being tossed around for best supporting actress consideration for her turn as young Mattie Ross, portrayed in the original by Kim Darby.
Here’s a taste of Steinfeld in the official trailer for True Grit alongside Jeff Bridges as the iconic Rooster Cogburn originally played by the cinematic embodyment of the archetype of a rugged individualist American hero, Mr. John Wayne:
That was peppered with almost too much stuff I love. Coen brothers imagery, Jeff Bridges, a facial haired Matt Damon, a steel eyed young talent like Hailee and Johnny Cash singing about the gift that waits for us all.
Anyways, for a proper idea of just how “unknown” little Miss Steinfeld was here is one of her more accomplished parts pre True Grit as she bestows the wisdom of “blingatude” to her classmates in a Kmart commercial:
While that commercial called upon Steinfeld to preach about blingatude all signs point to a humble young woman, appreciative of her great fortune, and far from any ‘tude bling’ or otherwise. In an statement to New York Mag she said the following about drawing inspiration from the original True Grit that speaks volumes about her character and approach to her craft:
“The main thing that inspired me about Kim Darby’s performance was that she held her own next to all these guys and the Duke,” says Steinfeld. “And I felt that I wanted to bring that to the role of Mattie Ross: holding my own next to the Dude.”
Oscar can be a devilishly hard man to land on your mantel but whether she wins big awards this season or not it’s apparent that Hailee Steinfeld is a refreshing star in the making bound for possible stratospheric success while being grounded in things that are important to her personally.
Please feel free to click on any of the following thumbnails for full screen images from the Hailee Steinfeld photo gallery I have pieced together. Most are screen captures from official True Grit trailers etc. but I had to toss in a couple from that Kmart ad. The blue light demanded it!
Top Photo: Splashnews.com