Monday February 1, 2021


By Janet Susan R. Nepales

Los Angeles – How time flies! We have seen Hailee Steinfeld blossom into a confident, beautiful, and talented actress. The first time we met Hailee, she was just 13-years-old and received the Oscar nomination for her role as Mattie Ross in True Grit.

Now, the 24-year-old charming and lovely actress has grown leaps and bounds when it comes to her acting prowess, but has remained grounded and humble. The younger of two children of Cheri Domasin and Peter Steinfeld, Hailee is proud of her Filipino roots stemming from her maternal grandfather, Ricardo Domasin; a native of Panglao, Bohol.

Portraying Emily Dickinson in the TV dramedy-period piece, which is now on its second season, Hailee discusses with us how Emily’s writing spills over into her own life, as well as the influence of her Fil-Am mom, and the role of music in her life. We also touch on her next project, the TV series Hawkeye.

Below are excerpts of our conversation with her:

Emily had an ambivalent relationship to fame. Comparing that to present day, some millennials have easy access to fame through the use of social media. Talk about your relationship to fame.

My relationship to fame… Well, when I was 13-yearsold –12 even – I had a lot of people tell me that my life was about to drastically change, and I didn’t realize it then, but what they were talking about was fame. And the only thing that I quickly realized changed was my schedule. I got a lot busier. Other than that, my family remained the same, my relationship with my family remained the same, my friends through the years have changed but the core of them are still in my life, and my rocks are all there. Fame has always been something that I don’t… I’ve never really felt, weirdly. There are times, listen, when I’m trying to get Christmas cookies after the company says that they’re sold out, that’s when I’m like, ok cool, I feel the fame, you know what I’m saying? It helps in certain situations. But other than that, I get to do what I love at the end of the day. And I do think that, I started in a place, I started on a set, I started in a movie that I was surrounded by people who were there because of the work and the art, and they were there to do the best that they could, and they went home to their families.

And that’s what it was, and that’s what it’s always been about for me. I think now in the world we live in, like you mentioned, with social media and with fame being far more easily achievable than I think it ever has been, I’ve thought more about it in the last few years than in my whole life. And I’ve been doing this for more than half of my life now. And I don’t know, I do feel like I have a healthy relationship to fame, I feel like it’s not something that has made me love or hate what I do, it’s an element that sort of comes with it. Again, I think what I love to do and what I constantly remind myself of is how lucky I am to be able to do the work and be trusted, by the way, by all of these amazing filmmakers to do that work. So that’s where I’m at.

When we saw you last year on set, your mom and grandma were there.

That’s right.

Talk about the influence of your mother and grandma on your life.

I’m so lucky to be so close to my family. And I think that with everything I do in life; with everything I do through my work, I realize it more and more. I think this year especially has taught me to greatly appreciate the people closest to me. Not being able to see them, being separated, not being able to see their whole face, just half of it, it’s weird… I’ve grown to really appreciate the people that are closest to me and even through Emily Dickenson, growing up in a household where her parents didn’t even- they didn’t see her, they didn’t understand her, and I have…my mom, who drove me to sometimes four auditions a day, five days a week. We lived out of a car.

I would not be here speaking to you if it weren’t for my mom. And the research that she did, and the physical and emotional and mental effort that she put into all fronts of what I wanted to do, what I dreamed of doing and playing this role, and realizing that – my god – my parents to this day, one of the best presents they ever bought me was an amplifier and a microphone. And I think they regretted it the minute that I opened it up, but Emily was in that room and she was looking for more paper to write on, and my parents have always been there to love me and support me. And believe in me and I’m just eternally grateful for that.

How much does Emily Dickinson’s writing spill over into your own life?

Well, I think her writing specifically has just challenged my way of thinking on certain subjects. Like I said before, she talks about things that you wouldn’t normally talk about to people closest to you. And that’s what’s so wonderful about having to not only just read her poetry, but digging into specific poems that become our episodes and become the base of our storyline.

I think Emily in general, just as a person and as this character that I’ve now immersed myself in, I think her level of fearlessness has definitely influenced me in my career and in my songwriting. I used to sort of go into the studio with people, especially if it was a session where I hadn’t met the people before, I would feel hesitant to open up. I don’t know these people, I don’t really feel like telling them what I’ve been crying about for the last two months, and I don’t know what they’re going to do with this information. It’s hard. It’s like blind speed-dating, sometimes being in the studio with new people all the time. And I went from wrapping season two straight into the studio, and I wrote a project that I released at the beginning of the year. And it was the first time I felt like, I told myself in the back of my head, I can always make changes to this and nobody will ever have to know. But let me just write it all out, get it all out, put it all on paper, and see how it goes. And it was, I never went back in and made any changes. I felt like I was so honest with myself and with the people listening to the music. And I do feel like having come off of playing this character, who was so fearless and brave – and yeah, just courageous – gave me the ability to do that.

What is your relationship with poetry? Have you ever written poetry? Who is your favorite poet?

No, unless you consider – which I guess – songwriting in itself is a form of poetry, and that’s something I’ve always kind of done. Obviously now a lot more seriously than ever before. But I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always loved having a pen and paper to write on, never been a fan of jotting things down on my phone. I have to have the tangible items, there’s something about that that’s always been a thing for me. Growing up though my relationship to poetry was probably… As far as Emily Dickenson goes, I discovered her in high school as part of a bigger picture, a bigger lesson. But it wasn’t until this show that it became a part of my life to the capacity that it is anyway. So, I have this show really to thank and Alena Smith really to thank for introducing me – or reintroducing me – to a world of poetry.

One of the themes of the show is really about women’s roles, and one of the things we’ve all had a chance to reflect on through all of the protests and all the things going on is – while we are locked down, how lucky we are that we can do those things, and we can speak our voices. But that is in the show as well, even though it’s a little different. But a father saying, “I don’t want you doing this”, it just seems like having to break the mold. So, has it given you pause to reevaluate your appreciation of where we are?

Absolutely. Between this show, everything that’s happened this last year, and the time that I and we all have been given to think about it and process it all, has truly made me think and made me appreciate what I do have. The people I have in my life, the opportunities I’ve been given as a woman, as an actor, as a professional; I’ve absolutely, absolutely grown to appreciate it more than I ever knew I could. And what I find so amazing about this show is that it has challenged a lot of people, a lot of young people in the way that they think about certain things and by using a different time period. But through a modern lens it makes it feel like, although we have thankfully come a very long way, it’s a reminder of how much work we still have to do.

And I think with period pieces there’s this sort of stigma that comes along with it; as far as younger generations hear, a period piece – it’s kind of like, boring. Or it’s something that we can’t relate to, or it’s of the past, or whatever. But there’s something about this show, and by the way I’ve had that reaction to some things when they’ve come to me – and it’s another period piece – but there’s something about this… That you forget that it was a very long time ago. And that’s a scary thing, because the conversations that they’re having in the show, the themes that are running through it and the questions that it begs, are things we’re still figuring out now. So I again think that this show – and again, like you mentioned – with everything that we’ve seen this year, has made me greatly appreciate where I’m at right now.

With all the problems that the world is facing, from climate change to coronavirus, but also war, poverty, hunger, refugee crisis, what are your hopes for the future?

Oh my goodness. I have to say, I do feel like – and forever referring back to this year specifically – it’s been a huge eye-opener. And it’s given my generation, I think, the opportunity to really stand-up. This is our future we are talking about, and I think we’ve realized now, more than ever, what we have to do to make it the future we want it to be. The future that we want our families… Our families to live in, our future families to live in. We have that power to dictate what that looks like, and I hope for that togetherness and that stability within… People to people.

Having that; being able to band together and really face this together, because there’s no way… I think we’ve realized that even in the midst of a pandemic, there is no way out of this unless we all work together to make it happen. And that’s the only way we’ll see change and, I think, been something – a huge realization that we’ve all made and I hope for. Just that peace, and “civilness”, and understanding, and sympathy, and empathy, and that togetherness, and strength. I think that we are only as strong as we can be if we lift each other up. And I think we’ve done a lot of that this year, and I think we’ve got a lot more to do. But I think that we’re all motivated and ready to do that.

Can you talk about the role of music in your life? For a singer and a musician, to be in a position where you cannot tour or sing live, how do you deal with that?

Well, what’s been the challenge – ever since I started making music on a more professional level – is balancing it with my acting career. It’s always happened simultaneously. And that’s always been the challenge. Now, in this new world that we’re living in, it’s “listen, taking myself out of being an artist for a moment”. As a fan of music, one of my favorite things in the world is live music, and going and experiencing what it’s like too; from waiting in line to finding your seat. Even being/ sitting in a movie theater, it’s the best thing in the world. And to experience live music is one of the most special things I think we get to experience. And as an artist, being able to do that and be on that stage and be on the other side of it; it is the coolest thing in the world.

Now, walking into sort of unknown territory as to what that’s going to look like for us is, it’s scary, and it’s upsetting. It’s gonna get back to what it needs to. I know that, I have no doubt. It just is going to take a minute. So I think it’s really challenged my creativity. As far as these home performances, I’ve got to come up with some different backgrounds and get some new flowers every now and then, which isn’t a bad thing. But I miss that live interaction, that live audience, that instant gratification that you get from that, and that only. But I think we’ll – I mean – I know we’ll get back there eventually. So I’m just looking forward to that.

You also joined the superhero universe in Hawkeye. Can you please talk more about that?

Ok. Well, starting with Hawkeye, it’s quite the diversion from Dickinson, so it’s been very fun. To just jump into a whole new universe… Literally, and it’s been really exciting just to bring this character to life. This character who people are really looking forward to hearing her story. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, another rollercoaster ride to say the least. Which is why I love what I do. And, yeah, we’re in it. So, we’ll see what happens. Very honored to be a part of the MCU, and be Kate Bishop nonetheless. And, with co-directing, I co-directed a video of mine right before the pandemic actually. Which… So crazy when… It is just so wild how everything has changed and how we think about how – if I were to do that now – and how different it would be. And how lucky I feel to be able to do it… The normal way, if you will? And it was a great experience.

I’ve always been interested in directing. I’ve worked with some of the best and I’ve been so inspired since I started working in this business; by the directors and other filmmakers that I worked with. So it was just really fun to just sort of put that hat on for a moment, and bring a little that I had to life. And I hope to maybe do it again sometime in a different space and on a different scale.

How good are you with a bow and arrow in Hawkeye? How much are you enjoying the action? How much are you enjoying that world?

Again, I always love when I get to step into a universe that exists because there, it just feels like there are endless amounts of references and information. And it’s always exciting to see what the filmmakers choose to take from what we know and turn it into what it becomes. As far as a bow and arrow, pretty damn good. All right I’ll tell you that much. And I’ll say it’s something that I genuinely really enjoy. Not something I’ve ever picked up – a bow arrow – before this project. So something I definitely recommend. It’s a sport that anybody can play and start at any point in their life. And it’s truly therapeutic and just really amazing. Not – again – not something I’d ever think or see myself doing. But here I am. And I absolutely love it.

As far as the comics go, yes. Again, it’s kind of like Emily and her poetry; having this sort of world of endless information. Comics, I’ve always loved comics, I’ve always been a very visual person. And a large book with anything over 200-250 pages has always intimidated me. Comics have always been something I’ve been drawn to because of the visual aspect of it. So, I’ve had so much fun reading these comics and going through them and discovering these elements of Kate Bishop that are in there that we’re bringing to life in the show, and other elements of the comics.

Hailee in Dickinson

Janet Nepales with Hailee

(L-R) Sistine Stallone, Jennifer Flavin, Sophia Stallone, Sylvester Stallone, Hailee Steinfeld, and Scarlet
Stallone. The Stallone girls were named Golden Globe Ambassadors (GGA) at the 75th Golden Globe Awards in 2018.

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