Hailee Steinfeld burst onto the scene in a big way back in 2010 alongside Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Jeff Bridges in the Coen Brothers’ celebrated update of True Grit. In the intervening years, she’s made her mark in cozy indies and in big budget ensembles alike, while maintaining a successful music career on the side and, somehow, also a personal life (that she keeps resolutely personal).
At just 21 years old in 2017, Steinfeld has made a serious, indelible mark on the entertainment world. This is her transformation from quippy, feminist mini-sidekick opposite some of the biggest actors in the world, to a bonafide multi-hyphenate in her own right.
She had humble beginnings but big ambitions
A true California girl, Steinfeld was born and raised in Los Angeles (first Tarzana, then Thousand Oaks) to an interior designer mother and personal trainer father. Local publication the Los Angeles Daily News enthusiastically celebrated her Oscar nod for True Grit with a run-down of the actress’s humble beginnings.
They note Steinfeld was first bitten by the acting bug around the age of eight, when a cousin was starting her career and a friend was performing in plays. Her sensible parents ensured Steinfeld studied acting for an entire year, while juggling everything else a regular kid has to do, before they’d agree to let her drop out of school and pursue acting full-time.
In an interview with Backstage conducted around the same time, Steinfeld admitted she’d never stuck with anything before acting. She also adorably described True Grit as her "birthday present" to herself (Steinfeld was on the cusp of turning 14 at the time). Speaking about the film, Steinfeld claimed the one thing she had in common with her super-strong character, Mattie Ross, was "we will both stop at nothing to get what we want."
Her breakout role landed her an Oscar nomination
Few first-time actors get the opportunity to show off what they can do alongside the likes of Bridges, Damon, and Brolin, but in 2010 that’s exactly what Steinfeld did, as she made her big-screen debut in True Grit. An adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, and sort-of a remake of the 1969 John Wayne vehicle, the movie saw Steinfeld take on youthful heroine Mattie Ross, a spunky kid and the story’s catalyst.
Chosen from an open audition of 150,000 young girls in her native California, which Steinfeld attended with practically nothing on her resume, the role was star-making for the then 13-year-old. She impressed critics on both sides of the Atlantic with her onscreen maturity. "Steinfeld more than holds her own in this high caliber company, shining in her role," said Giles Hardie of the Sydney Morning Herald.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, co-star Bridges enthused, "This is a hard role for a seasoned actor, and Hailee did it so well." Bridges also praised Steinfeld’s professionalism, which he had not seen in many other actors in her age bracket.
The Academy clearly agreed, nominating Steinfeld for Best Supporting Actress, thereby putting her on a list of youngest-ever nominees like Jodie Foster. Not bad company for a 13-year-old kid from L.A. with practically zero acting experience to her name beforehand.
Miu Miu tapped her as a muse at just 14
Following True Grit, Steinfeld took a year off to, as she told The Guardian, tackle schoolwork, decompress, and, naturally, attend a whole slew of glamorous awards ceremonies in support of the film. "The only words I think I spoke all that year were: ‘Thank you so much I had so much fun’" she revealed. It was during this time Steinfeld was tapped by none other than fashion house Prada to be the face of their younger line, Miu Miu.
The Daily Beast reported on the partnership in 2011, describing Steinfeld as a "veritable style star" following her many stylish public appearances, predominantly in support of True Grit. In particular, they noted Steinfeld’s Marchesa gown, which she wore to the Oscars that year (and also helped to design), as a "crowning moment" for the young starlet. Steinfeld’s stylist Karla Welch described the partnership to the Beast as a "perfect fit" for her charge, who reportedly caused an editor feeding frenzy in the FROW of Miu Miu’s fall/winter show that very same year.
She’s a proud member of Taylor Swift’s infamous squad
Taylor Swift’s "Bad Blood" music video was an absolute phenomenon. From the alleged references to her beef with Katy Perry to the stylishly over-the-top action scenes, it unleashed a flood of coverage, launching Swift and the accompanying record, 1989, into the stratosphere. The biggest talking point, of course, was the badass girl gang — basically a who’s who of famous, gorgeous women, from Selena Gomez to Paramore’s Hayley Williams.
Steinfeld plays butt-kicking triplets The Trinity. Following this very public appearance as one of T-Swift’s #squad members, she was questioned repeatedly, and aggressively, about their friendship. In a Glamour interview, Steinfeld extolled the virtues of empowering other women in response: "I think Taylor has done such an incredible job of making that known and showing that it is real and it does exist," she said. She later spoke with The Guardian about feeling "honored" to be a part of "Bad Blood," describing filming the video as "a day with friends."
Although Steinfeld frequently pops up on Swift’s social media, she’s been wise to sidestep the backlash that comes with being her friend, firmly telling The Guardian that questions about whether the friendships are "real" should be directed at Swift, not her. She further emphasized the positive angle with TIME. "It’s so surreal," she said, "this life we live and that we’re able to share these moments with each other."
She stole the show in Pitch Perfect 2
Scrappy teen movie Pitch Perfect came out of nowhere back in 2012 to instantaneously garner a legion of diehard fans — and also, somehow, make acapella cool. The Anna Kendrick-starring movie grossed $115 million worldwide ($65 million in the US alone) on a budget of just $17 million, meaning a sequel was all but guaranteed.
Pitch Perfect 2 wasn’t quite as well-received as its predecessor, though it blew up the box office, grossing more than double the original film — a whopping $287 million worldwide. Still, Steinfeld’s starring role as wannabe Barden Bella and Legacy (her mother was played by none other than Katey Sagal) Emily was a high point. Variety‘s Guy Lodge pointed out, in his review of the movie, that aside from Emily being gifted "the most sympathetic arc," she was also clearly being groomed to take over from Anna Kendrick’s Beca as the leader of the group. No small feat in a burgeoning, multi-million-dollar franchise.
The flick also showcased Steinfeld’s own impressive pipes, particularly in her cover of Jessie J’s "Flashlight." The track was even utilized by her character in the movie as a means to encourage the Bellas to perform original material.
Her debut single was super mature
With Pitch Perfect 2 out, it wasn’t long before a newly-matured Steinfeld (at least, in the eyes of audiences) took on the music world for real. The kid who was previously most well-known for starring alongside heavy hitters had made a name for herself in one of the biggest releases of the year. Coupled with her praised sartorial choices, this established Steinfeld The Woman in a considered, meticulous way. Then came "Love Myself."
Steinfeld’s debut single was a total ear-worm, climbing the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #30), but fans and media outlets alike were eager to point out its rather, er, mature content. The fan responses on Twitter to lyrics such as "I know how to scream my own name" were hilarious, with one user mock-indignant that Steinfeld had written "such a catchy song about masturbation." However, another suggested she wasn’t the type, saying "I just can’t see hailee steinfeld [sic] as someone who is obsessed with masturbating."
VICE’‘s music section Noisey christened the song a "mastur-banger" and asked Steinfeld directly whether she meant it to be taken that way. To her credit, Steinfeld handled it eloquently. She explained the lyrics are open to interpretation but that the song "just has a really strong self-empowerment message, and whether you take that as something physical or not, it basically means the same thing." The accompanying music video further poked fun at this idea, establishing Steinfeld as a young woman defiantly in control of her own narrative.
She graduated high school in style
After five years of living a glamorous, whirlwind life as an up-and-coming megastar, we were reminded that Steinfeld is just like any other teenager (sort of) when her brother threw her a surprise party to celebrate her high school graduation in 2015. Although she’d been home-schooled since 2008, Steinfeld’s family and friends took the opportunity to celebrate this rather normal milestone in style (echoing what the likes of what Kendall and Kylie Jenner would do in subsequent years).
The new grad took to Instagram to share details of the star-studded soiree, which, as E! News noted, was attended by celebs including Alli Simpson, Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke, and Austin Mahone. Steinfeld thanked her nearest and dearest for "the best night of my life," which was spent, according to the star, dancing, singing karaoke (of course) and laughing "until I CRIED." The celebratory cake for the 18-year-old was even embossed with a cute photo of Steinfeld in much the same way any parents would decorate a confection to celebrate such an occasion. Of course, most other kids’ grad parties aren’t covered by the likes of E! News.
Her debut EP left fans in a Haiz
An already busy and exciting 2015 for Steinfeld (still just 18 years old at the time) was made even crazier with the release of Haiz, her hotly-anticipated debut EP. Named after the nickname fans had gifted her on social media, it was a mature, catchy introduction to Steinfeld the pop star, her latest incarnation. The album art also showcased a more grown-up Steinfeld, to coincide with what she described as her "edgy pop" sound. In an interview with Glamour, she explained how music unfortunately became a "side project" thanks to the success of her acting career.
Although the emphasis is on hook-driven, fun pop songs, the EP also tapped into some darker elements of Steinfeld’s stratospheric rise. Speaking to TIME, she discussed how much she’s been exposed to over the course of her short career and how that influenced and, in some cases, informed the songs on the EP (particularly those about identity and bullying).
By opening up about her struggles with saying "no" to the dodgier elements of Hollywood ("This isn’t for me. This isn’t where I want to be") and the difficulty in finding herself between her public and private personas, Steinfeld again showcased maturity beyond her years. This core understanding of who she is, as noted by her True Grit co-stars, would inform the next few pivotal years of Steinfeld’s career.
She perfected awkward teen life in The Edge Of Seventeen
In 2016, Steinfeld had her biggest and most attention-grabbing role since True Grit in the instant-classic teen movie The Edge Of Seventeen. Again holding her own opposite acting heavyweights such as Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick, Steinfeld showcased a huge amount of depth and emotional range as unhappy high-schooler Nadine. Given she was around the same age in real life, Steinfeld’s casting imbued the character with a realism that would’ve been absent had a 20-something played the role.
The flick was universally well-received (it sits at 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing), with much of the praise heaped on Steinfeld’s skilled central performance. Time Out noted her ability to play Nadine "at peak a**hole with huge sympathy" while Cinema Scope gushed over her "charismatic" performance, which is "brimming with energy." The role even netted Steinfeld a Golden Globe nod.
Indiewire put it perfectly, reporting that "Steinfeld’s compelling turn comes at a defining moment as she wraps up her teen years with a successful range of projects and no serious missteps."
She showcased her low-key feminism via another hit single
At the peak of her fame, Steinfeld could have taken it easy, coasting on the positive reception to The Edge Of Seventeen and the jubilant fan reaction to Haiz. Instead, she dropped another take-notice single and music video for "Most Girls," a defiant, girl power anthem that takes a stand against women-hating-women, and for body confidence. The video even opens with Steinfeld turning down a bro who compliments how she isn’t "like most girls."
Speaking with The Guardian she took issue with coverage that focused on the different outfits she wears, rather than the underlying message. She explained, "I feel like there’s been this golden standard or rule that in order to be special you have to be different to other women." It was a quietly feminist moment for Steinfeld, who has spoken openly throughout her career in support of women’s rights (particularly given the responses to "Love Myself" and her friendship with Taylor Swift).
In a further move, again showcasing maturity beyond her years, Steinfeld also wisely opined, "I think this generation of women is more than ever banding together and really lifting each other up." Keeping in mind the interviews she conducted around the release of "Bad Blood," in particular, this certainly rings true.
She made giving back her mission
Although Steinfeld has mostly kept her work front and center, and her private life private, there are moments when she takes center-stage for entirely different reasons. In July 2017, Steinfeld again embarked on a fashion partnership, but this one was very different from her previous partnership with Miu Miu.
This time around, Steinfeld partnered with accessories and apparel brand MISSION for a charitable initiative in support of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Five dollars of each purchase of the partnership’s graphic t-shirt emblazoned with the simple phrase "What’s Your Mission?" benefits CHLA.
Steinfeld became a MISSION brand ambassador in early 2017, saying at the time, "I’ve been a longtime supporter of the amazing work and services Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles provides for families and children in need. I hope with this MISSION partnership, everyone can be inspired and motivated to extend their own hand in service of others." It was a shrewd move for Steinfeld, both in keeping with her brand and in further establishing her as a real voice for change.
She’s keeping it Pitch Perfect
Just two years after she stole the show in Pitch Perfect 2, and it was suggested she was being set up to take over the Bellas, Steinfeld is set to do exactly that in sequel Pitch Perfect 3, which hit US theaters December 22, 2017. The trailer for the flick is Steinfeld-centric, seemingly establishing her as the de facto leader of the all-new Barden Bellas before she corrals everybody, both ex and current members, into working together.
Although this likely won’t be a role as life-changing as True Grit or The Edge Of Seventeen, Steinfeld’s place in Pitch Perfect 3 brings her transformation from child actor with grit to full-fledged adult multi-hyphenate. The film represents the juxtaposition of her key movie, music, and fashion moments in one fell swoop. It also showcases how she’s a big enough draw to rival even that of her predecessor, Anna Kendrick’s Beca, who seems to be gearing up to exit the franchise shortly (if it does, indeed, continue).