Oct. 09--So, where has Hailee Steinfeld been since the Academy Awards more than 2 1/2 years ago?
The "True Grit" nominee, now 16, sat out acting for a year while waiting for the right role to come her way. There's been a veritable flood since the first one she accepted, the iconic female lead in the latest filmed version of "Romeo & Juliet." Steinfeld has worked on six features since, and two more are in preproduction.
Easy to see why Shakespeare's classic romantic tragedy was irresistibly attractive. Not only were the last two more-or-less straight film adaptations hits -- Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version was scandalous for its slight nudity, and Baz Luhrmann's 1996 modernized Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes swoonfest -- name any teenage actress for whom playing Juliet has not been a lifelong dream.
Steinfeld takes that notion even further.
"I truly believe that not only does every girl want to play Juliet, but every girl, I think, wants to have a Romeo," the Thousand Oaks resident says, noting that she's yet to find that kind of love in her life. "This story is so universal and there are so many themes that are so relevant that the story can be told over and over again and it doesn't get old."
This generation's version was adapted by the Oscar-winning screenwriter and "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes and directed in Italy -- partially in Verona and Mantua, where Shakespeare set his play more than 400 years ago -- by Carlo Carlei.
The cast is composed primarily of Brits, including Romeo (Douglas Booth). Paul Giamatti, who plays the catastrophically incorrect Friar Laurence, was among Hailee's few Yank colleagues on location.
She was too busy to feel isolated, though.
"I was reading 'Romeo and Juliet' as part of my school curriculum while we were filming the movie," the home-schooled Steinfeld explains. "It was really interesting, because you can watch and reference the other films, or read the play and books about it. And there's so much access to anything Romeo and Juliet on the Internet; it's all at your disposal. But reading it in school, you're learning about it from a literary standpoint.
"In some ways, because school is one thing and working is another, sort of having those two worlds combined for a moment was the coolest thing ever. It was all one, and going in and reading why Shakespeare chose to do this instead of this, and just having that in the back of your head was so helpful."
Steinfeld even made additional work for herself.
"Every line in the script, she took down in her own handwriting exactly the meaning of the line if she had said it in modern English," Fellowes says. "So there wasn't a single moment in the play when she didn't know exactly what she was saying. I found that very admirable because it was so workmanlike. Being creative and talented and artistic is all very well, but the structure it must rest on is hard work and analysis. I thought, in someone of Hailee's age -- she was 15 when we were shooting it -- that was really rather remarkable."
Italian director Carlei was even more impressed.
"I didn't choose Hailee; Hailee, to me, was like a default," Carlei says. "She was the most talented young actress close to the age of Juliet. And she is beautiful, you know? And she was about to blossom into a beautiful woman, so she was just the right age and at the right emotional point for the role."
Steinfeld credits some of the impression she makes as one of literature's greatest lovers to a fantastic wardrobe and all the Swarovski regalia a girl could ever want (the high-end crystal brand's entertainment division helped produce the movie).
"I love doing period pieces mainly for the reason of the clothes, because I feel like they have such a strong impact on the performance," Steinfeld says. "The dresses that I wore for this, they're so structured in a way that really affects the way Juliet carries herself. And I didn't have a separate corset. I had a built-in, tie-up situation, which was good because I've worn a corset and it wasn't a good experience."
From elaborate costumes and detail-filled, natural locations, Steinfeld was almost instantly whisked away to a bare, New Orleans green-screen stage for her next assignment, "Ender's Game."
The futuristic spectacular, slated for a Nov. 1 release, stars Asa Butterfield ("Hugo") as a gifted young recruit training to stave off an impending alien attack on Earth. Steinfeld plays Ender's fellow cadet Petra Arkanian.
"This was my third film, so right after 'Romeo & Juliet' I think I had just a few days at home," she recalls. "It was interesting going from these beautiful gowns and these incredibly large monasteries in Italy to in front of a green screen. It was definitely a culture shock, but it was really incredible. It teaches you to use your imagination and run wild with that. That's something that I hadn't really done before, so that was very exciting, just to be able to think the impossible."
Coming up are roles in John Carney's festival hit "Can a Song Save Your Life?" the Kevin Costner thriller "Three Days to Kill," "The Keeping Room" with Brit Marling, Tommy Lee Jones' Western "The Homesman" with Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank, and "Hateship Loveship," based on an Alice Munro story.
But while those and upcoming jobs send Steinfeld all around the world, Thousand Oaks is still home.
"I've lived in the area most of my life," she says. "I have so many homes away from home now, I've been traveling so much lately that, I don't know, going home is always nice. It's great fun out there. I really love it."
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