‘Music allows me to be vulnerable and open’

Hailee Steinfeld. Photo: PA Photo/Handout
Hailee Steinfeld. Photo: PA Photo/Handout

Hailee Steinfeld was just 13 when she landed a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 2011 Oscars.

Her response to the news?

“Being cast in such an incredible film was an award in itself,” the ever modest star insisted.

By then, she was already five years into her career - and today, at 18 (she turns 19 on December 11), she’s a veteran. Now she’s launching a music career, too.

While conducting interviews to promote her debut EP, Haiz, she’s sitting on the set of her latest film, in Vancouver. Besties, in which she’s starring alongside Woody Harrelson, will have finished filming by the time you read this. Steinfeld is currently on the Jingle Ball Tour around the major cities in the US.

“I won’t lie, I lose track of where I am,” she admits. “With the promo and travel, I don’t know what’s happening. Movies aren’t so bad because you’re stationed in one place for a while and that’s good, but music, I’m all over the place. But I love being busy. It’s certainly better than the alternative.”

While she has been singing since she was very young, and film fans will have seen her earlier this year in Pitch Perfect 2 playing newcomer Emily, she didn’t perform on stage until much more recently, although it was something of baptism of fire.

While most aspiring artists recount their stage debut in the upstairs room of a local pub, in a youth choir or karaoke, Steinfeld’s first time on stage was in front of 20,000 people at the iHeartRadio Festival at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“I got to perform with Shawn Mendes, one of my favourite artists, and I performed my single Love Myself. It was a surreal experience, people singing a song of mine back to me. They knew the words, it was amazing.

“I remember thinking beforehand that I was ready and prepared, but the second I got on the stage, I thought, ‘I am so not ready and I am very under-prepared, what am I thinking? Who put me up for this?’ I was completely thrown into it, it was on TV, my first live performance ever... The concept is something I am still getting used to. That was my favourite performance yet,” she adds. “But then I’ve only performed five times so I don’t have much to go on.”

She says her music career got going when she met with the people at Universal subsidiary Republic Records in New York around a year ago. That led to four or five months of meetings, writing sessions and days in the studio, the results of which can be heard on her EP.

She’s still recording her debut album, which she hopes will be released in the spring, and enjoys the contrasts between that and her acting.

“It’s constantly changing and evolving, and that’s something really different to films,” she says. “Films go from project to project, and you move on, but music is one long project that’s constantly different, and I love being in the studio.

“It’s a place where I’m allowed to express whatever’s on my mind and not be ashamed or afraid of it. It’s all usable. I’m able to go into that environment, can look however I want, be vulnerable, be open, and encouraged to be so.

“It’s incredibly freeing,” she continues, “and very different to acting where you’re given lines and get instructions on how to act.”

Her first single was released in August, and Steinfeld believes it really set the tone for what people can expect.

“I hope that any fans would set their expectations or assumptions based on that track. But then I know people heard me sing in Pitch Perfect 2, so that’s what a lot of people have to go off, and I can’t blame them for thinking that I’ll sound like that. It’s hardly a bad thing to be associated with.”

Indeed, Pitch Perfect 2 is the highest-grossing comedy musical of all time, and the perfect vehicle to launch a music career off the back of.

Continuing to combine the two will be more difficult, but Steinfeld is a smart cookie and all too aware of the pitfalls.

“I would say that right now it’s going well, doing both films and acting, but it’s a new thing. I’ve just done the first movie since I started making music. I know it is challenging, but there are multiple people involved in helping me, and both the music and acting sides are working together. These are two things I love so much and I couldn’t do one and not the other, I don’t want to. I’ve been given such a great opportunity, so I’m going to take it.”

Of course, ‘actor-turned-singer’ is a tag not everyone sees as a good thing. Two other words, ‘vanity project’ spring to mind, and for every Jennifer Lopez, there’s a Russell Crowe, Bruce Willis or Keanu Reeves, whose exploits on stage pale into insignificance when compared to those on screen.

“I think it can be done, acting and singing, and in terms of what I’m doing I just have to focus on one then the other,” Steinfeld says wisely. “I’ve really focused on music in the last year, but now I’m making a movie. So I hope the music does well, and then I’ll have the movie to promote and then we’ll take it from there.”

Justin Timberlake is an artist she admires for balancing groundbreaking music and credible acting roles. “And on top of that, he’s such a stand-up guy, I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s just great. Everyone likes him.”

Having achieved so much already - and she can now add an appearance in Grammy-nominated video in the shape of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood - you might think Steinfeld is ticking items off a to-do list too fast. Not so.

“When I first got into this whole world, there was never a plan to achieve anything. When I told my parents, it was the performing and entertaining that I liked, that was the interest, but ever since I got the opportunity to do those things, I’ve realised how many other opportunities there are to do other things.

“There’s writing and producing and directing or whatever, there are so many outlets within this one world,” Steinfeld continues. “There’s so much left for me to do, so you might say that I’ve done a lot already, but there is plenty left for me to achieve.”