Category Archives: Interviews

HAILEE STEINFELD ON “THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN”

“I started studying acting at eight years old and made my first film at thirteen,” said Hailee Steinfeld in a Dallas interview for her new film, “The Edge of Seventeen,” referring to her debut in the Coen brothers’ 2010 remake of “True Grit,” for which she received an Oscar nomination. She is now nineteen, but felt right at home in Kelly Fremon Craig’s high school comedy-drama in which she plays Nadine, a cynical girl at odds with her family and the world.

“I felt, when I read the script for the first time, that it wasn’t a teen movie or a high school movie—it’s a movie of growing up and figuring out who you are and where you’re at in life, what your place is. It’s a true coming-of-age story that represents growing up in this generation. That is what I related to,” Steinfeld said. “With this, I felt that I was able to just be a teenager…able to express so much of what I’ve gone through and have never had the outlet to express myself about. This role was really liberating, and I was able to just let it all go.

“Some days,” she added, “I wake up and I’m like, ‘I’ve got the answer to everything, and I don’t need anybody’s help. I’m figuring this out for myself.’ [What’s important is] realizing that’s not the best approach, and learning that you can go to [your family] and learn from their mistakes, and they’re willing to help you—to be open to them. Learn to love and learn to be loved.

“I had just turned eighteen when I made the movie, so it didn’t feel like I was that far removed [from Nadine]. But I’m nineteen now, and I still feel like I’m trying to figure out life. So I have a lot in common with her—I didn’t feel a gap in age at all.

”It all started with the script. It was so honestly written that as an actor all you feel you have to do is just bring to life what’s on the page, and nothing more. You know you’re in a good place. But luckily, I was given great freedom by Kelly. She trusted me, and to have that kind of trust and freedom from a director is a dream. But it also came from a lot of conversations between us…developing this character and figuring out how to make every moment count.”

Steinfeld was also blessed with an expert supporting cast in the film, ranging from veterans like Woody Harrelson, who plays her teacher, to newcomer Hayden Szeto, who plays a shy fellow student she comes to embrace as a friend.

“Hayden is so talented, it never felt like he was new,” Steinfeld said. “With Woody, I think a lot of it had to do with the characters’ dynamic, but he and I personally developed a banter off-screen right away that was just natural, and when it came time to shoot with him, there was this level of intimidation that I had, but at the same time I was, ‘Oh, I can take this guy—no problem.’”

Steinfeld had fun shooting the scenes with Harrelson. “There was a lot of improv,” she recalled. “Even if we had done a certain number of takes, the last one was like, ‘Okay, do whatever you want,’ and that’s when the magic would happen, and we would just riff for minutes, and Kelly and Jim [James L. Brooks, one of the movie’s producers} would be in Video Village around the corner laughing. We’d [ask the sound team], ‘Are you sure you can’t hear them, because we can.”

Asked whether she thought teens should see the movie, Steinfeld replied, “I heard it was rated R, and I was surprised by it, because I don’t think it’s rated R for a specific thing—like overuse of unnecessary language. But I do feel that this movie does a teenager’s life story justice, and if you walk through the hallways of a high school, the way the kids talk in this movie is how most likely you’re going to hear them talk. This is what high school is. Some kids thrive, others don’t, and this movie captures all of those moments. And what I want [is for] my generation to see this movie and feel that they’re not alone. It’s reality, a movie you can watch and think, ‘This is what my life is, and I feel that my life is understood by this character.’ It’s the universal things in it—trying to figure out who you are, what their place is, what their life is, what they’re good at. Finding those things is never easy, especially when you don’t have anyone to help you find the answers, which is what this movie is about.”

“The Edge of Seventeen” was shot in Vancouver, in November. “It was freezing outside, sometimes pouring rain,” Steinfeld recalled. “And I was wearing a dress with no jacket half the time. That happens often when you make movies in the winter. I was cold.

“Maybe I should have told you I wasn’t cold—it would have made my acting more believable.”

“The Edge of Seventeen” is an STX Entertainment release.

TIKA SUMPTER AND PARKER SAWYERS ON “SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU”

“It was never Richard Tanne’s objective to write a political script. He was inspired in 2007-2008 by the look that they gave each other. He wanted to understand it,” said Tika Sumpter, who stars with Parker Sawyers in “Southside With Me,” writer-director Tanne’s film about the first date that Barack Obama had with his future wife Michelle Robinson in 1989, when both were working for a Chicago law firm. Sumpter and Sawyers stopped in Dallas recently to talk about the film.

Sumpter also served, along with Tanne, as one of the movie’s producers. “From the beginning I knew that I wanted to do it and help get it made. I saw a synopsis of it, which was basically two paragraphs, and it was so well-written that I thought I had to meet the writer. The script wasn’t even written, but his perspective and vision were so clear that I thought it was amazing—taking two people whom everyone knows almost everything about, but you didn’t see them when they were twenty-five and twenty-eight years old, going back to the origin story of why they look at each other like that.

“It’s also two roles that any actors would want to play, so rich and fulfilling. We don’t always get offered these kinds of roles. I knew that this was an opportunity to show a different side of me.

“Obviously in order to do this,” Sumpter continued, “we had to get the Barack correct or it would not work. It was all about that casting. There were names being thrown out, and where studios sometimes mess up is that a name doesn’t necessarily mean money…”

“Tom Hanks tried for it,” Sawyers interjected.

“…but when we saw the tape of Parker,” Sumpter continued after the laughter had died down, “and then he came in for a screen test, everybody was speechless. All the executives were in the room, and he walked out, and I was like, ‘It’s him. He’s it.’ He was brilliant. And I feel that if we didn’t get that right, it could have been a really bad movie.”

How did the actors approach their roles? Sawyers said, “I’d been working on an impersonation for a while. I myself enjoy smooth R&B! And then this popped up, and it was more about dialing it back and being just a young man who’s in school. He doesn’t have the weight of the world on him yet, and he just wants to get to know this woman a little better. Michelle was Barack’s boss, superior, but he had the confidence to ask her out to a community meeting. [I thought about] the humble beginnings—to see how simply they lived, even with their education. I just assumed he’s an intern, he probably reads a lot in his spare time, and he had so much on his mind. Adding all of that into it, you just develop a certain posture.

“I read nothing about Michelle. He barely knows her at the office, so I didn’t want to know anything about her school or family, but wanted to learn through what was in the script. It’s so well-written that I think all we had to do was just focus on the script, and we would find out things that way. [Richard Tanne] pulled from their biographies and books in his research.”

Talking about how she saw Michelle, Sumpter said, “For me it was her reluctance at first—the fact that she was so focused on her own career. It wasn’t about this hotshot guy who came in from Harvard Law, the first black editor of the Review. I thought that was pretty amazing, because at lot of times in these romantic movies you see the woman who’s always chasing after the guy or crying in the corner, or her clothes are off in the first ten minutes and then they get to know each other afterwards. It’s refreshing that the woman is a five, and she knew she was a five, and she knew that adding him on to her greatness would make them even better.

“I had to really go back to the South Side of Chicago—who is this girl? What was her family like? Her brother’s book, ‘A Game of Character,’ really helped me. She was so focused and driven, and didn’t take people’s nonsense and incompetence.

“[So] yes, there was some research, but I think the less I knew about Barack overall, besides him being first black Harvard Law Review editor and all the hotshot stuff, it was just getting to know him as it was unfolding.”

“Southside With You” was actually shot on location, and the residents reacted enthusiastically. Sawyers recalled shouts of “Yo, Barack!” from passersby, and Sumpter said, “They were so happy we were doing it. We literally shot on the south side, and sometimes we see images of the south side of Chicago, and hear about the murder rate, but we just felt love and warmth. The people were just normal, everyday people—they’re part of that story.”

When asked whether the President and First Lady approved the project, Sumpter said with a laugh, “The blessing was that nobody shut us down—as could easily happen in Chicago! Hopefully, they’ll love it—but we did it because it was just a good script, done with integrity and love and respect.”

She added that John Legend came on as an executive producer after seeing some early footage: “When he saw it, he said that he forgot it was us and felt like he was watching Barack and Michelle. And he thought it was such a loving story, and positive, and he was inspired to write an original song and be part of the team. He’s been very encouraging and helpful.”

Sumpter emphasized again the essentially non-political character of “Southside With You,” saying, “It’s a love story, an origin story. I think a lot of people see themselves in these two. I think this story is pretty universal.”

Sawyers remembered a showing with a mixed-race audience and said, “After that screening, it wasn’t a black film, it was a film, and it wasn’t a film about two black characters, it was a film about two characters.”

Sumpter added, “People go in thinking one thing, and come out saying, ‘That was refreshing.’ I’m just proud…that it’s being loved by so many different kinds of people. That makes me feel we did something right.”