Interview: Hailee Steinfeld on playing a (sort of) normal teen in ’3 Days to Kill’

Hailee Steinfeld plays a teenager reconnected with her assassin father (Kevin Costner) in "3 Days to Kill." Credit: Getty Images
Hailee Steinfeld plays a teenager reconnected with her assassin father (Kevin Costner) in “3 Days to Kill.”
Credit: Getty Images

So far Hailee Steinfeld has played in movies set in the distant past (“True Grit,” “Romeo and Juliet”) and the distant future (“Ender’s Game”). “3 Days to Kill” has her playing a normal teen in the present. Well, not that normal: She’s Zoe, an American in Paris whose estranged father is a government assassin, played by Kevin Costner.

“I was able to identify with her very easily,” she says. “I think her situation is very similar to a lot of situations that teenage girls go through all over the world — just growing up and finding yourself. She acts out a lot. I’ve gone through phases in my life where you’re somewhere in the world and you don’t know what you’re doing and you have to fit in or else you’re a nobody.”

Still, she doesn’t being normal makes her character too different from Mattie Ross in “True Grit” or Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.” “I think with all the characters that I’ve played, all of them have strength, even if it’s an underlying strength, that you don’t necessarily see but you know they have. Then there’s ‘True Grit,’ where Mattie had nothing but strength and courage and she just exuded that. Whereas with Zoe, she has it and you know you’re going to see it but she doesn’t let you see it until the right time.”

After “Ender’s Game,” “3 Days to Kill” was Steinfeld’s second film with action elements, though she wasn’t a part of those. “It was very exciting reading the script and coming across the words ‘a car races into a building’ — those crazy action things you can only imagine,” she says. In fact, she isn’t introduced till over a half hour into the film. “I remember, when I saw it, there was the first half of the movie I felt like I had no idea I was even a part of it. It was so thrilling and action-driven.”

The crux of the film, though, isn’t about action, but about Zoe reuniting with her long-lost (and, unbeknownst to her, dying) dad. The growing affection between her and Costner, if not the initial acrimony, is real. “We shot the movie In order, so we were able to start out like our characters, not really knowing eachother, but wanting to get to know eachother but sort of holding back,” she says.

But on-screen isn’t where they got close. “Our bonding mostly happened in between takes, in a car, warming up. In between set-ups we were stuck in a van with a bunch of people, the heat turned all the way up. We shared each other’s gloves and hand-warmers.”

That wasn’t, thankfully, the most exciting part for her. “The one thing that stood out right away to me was the wardrobe. I remember my first fittings I was like, ‘Oh my God, I hope I get to keep this stuff!’ I did not necessarily feel that way about ‘True Grit.’”

Steinfeld’s director on “3 Days to Kill” was the so-named McG (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol). He’s known for his boundless enthusiasm. “He was constantly referencing things that I would pull my cellphone out and Google. He was Just spitting out references, from historical to music to movies to everything.”

McG is of a different countenance from her first directors, “True Grit”’s Joel and Ethan Coen. “They have a very different style,” she says. But she confirms that they’re not as mysterious as their enigmatic public persona would suggest. “They’re so easy to talk to and so down-to-earth. They have an amazing team and an amazing family that comes together to make a great film.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



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