Over the past year, Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld has established herself as a legitimate popstar with songs “Love Myself” and her current single, “Starving,” with Grey, featuring Zedd. As “Starving” continues to climb Billboard’s Hot 100, the nearly 20-year-old phenom returns to the big screen starring in the highly anticipated coming-of-age feature film The Edge of Seventeen.
Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a seemingly average teenager, who gabs about her crush with her best friend since childhood Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Nadine leans on Krista to vent about her home life, especially when it comes to her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). In the film, Nadine’s world is rocked when her BFF and Darian start dating, leaving her to navigate the world of high school on her own. The Edge of Seventeen cast is rounded out with Kyra Sedgwick as Nadine and Darian’s well-intentioned, often vacant mother and Oscar-nominated actor Woody Harrelson as Nadine’s history teacher and confidant.
During a recent promotional stop in San Francisco, Academy Art U News had the opportunity to sit down with Steinfeld to discuss the film that could just be her generation’s Breakfast Club.
Steinfeld shared that after reading the film’s script for the first time, there was so much that she was able to connect to. “There were so many situations in this movie that felt so right on, that I finished reading it and it felt like I hadn’t even started it,” she explained. “It was just like a story of life. … In the past, I’ve always read contemporary pieces and I’ve always been confused by them and I could never figure out why, and it turned out, it was never real. It was never honest; there was always some sort of plot twist, there was always some sort of superficial element, or something that didn’t feel like this, in terms of from beginning, middle to end. This is just a true coming-of-age story of what being a teenager really feels like today.”
What especially struck Steinfeld about Nadine was a shared connection with her character relating to identity and “the sort of daily questioning: Who am I? What am I good at? What is my place in this world? How and where do I fit in?” Steinfeld was candid in sharing that she too has struggled with these questions during the past couple years and that the story of the film is Nadine attempting to find the answers without her best friend by her side.
“It’s just a constant struggle, and [the film] really touches on how life is not perfect,” explained Steinfeld. “I think a lot of the time, we wish we could go back and be like why didn’t someone say, ‘Look, it sucks. It’s going to take a couple years to get better,’ not ‘Tomorrow’s a new day! Everything’s going to be fine.’ Because in the moment, it’s like, nothing is fine! Tomorrow is going to be the exact same thing! But [the film] has no shy approach, it’s unapologetic, and it’s just honest.”
Nadine does find solace in the form of her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Harrelson), who she vents to during his lunch hour. Steinfeld shared that she and Harrelson hit it off very quickly and had a great rapport from the beginning. “We found a great banter within our personal conversations,” she remarked. “The timing that we found together, and just the dynamic alone is something so cool.”
Steinfeld appreciated that Nadine had Mr. Bruner to turn to—because not only did it give her someone to go to, he was someone who would be honest with her. “He’s going to tell her like it is, not how she wants to hear it in any way; it’s only what she needs to hear,” she explained. “She starts to become attracted to that idea. She doesn’t want people to just feed her B.S., she wants the real deal. And that’s what she finds in [Mr. Bruner], and he’s great. He mentors her, he’s there for her, he listens to her—not always, but at least makes her think that. He’s sort of this figure that she’s been missing for a while.”
The Edge of Seventeen takes audiences back to high school in an authentic way, which made Steinfeld feel like the story was “one that was made for us.” She explained: “We have John Hughes films, we have Say Anything, we have Clueless. We do have those films, but they’re of a different generation. And so the thought of being a part of what could be my generation’s Breakfast Club was when I was like, ‘I will do anything [to bring this story to life].’”
The Edge of Seventeen is now playing in theaters.