Hailee Steinfeld: The Star-Struck Star

Thirty-two years after the original film version of "True Grit," there's a new Mattie Ross in town . . . and she's been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Tracy Smith has BOTH their stories.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams . . . a few are actually coming true.

When asked if the Hollywood Walk of Fame excited her, Hailee Steinfeld said, "Yes, of course. The funniest thing, too, I get so star struck, it's like not even funny. Like, it's bad!" she laughed.

Fourteen-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld is all sparkle and giddiness, and nothing at all like the character who is making her famous.

In the Coen brothers' version of "True Grit," Steinfeld is Mattie Ross, the taciturn, 14-year-old who hires a cranky marshal - played by Jeff Bridges - to hunt down her father's killer.

She's just been nominated for an Oscar, as Best Supporting Actress.

When asked how she was able to deliver her performance, Steinfeld said, "I had to get rid of all my, you know, teenage habits, you know what I mean?"

One of her biggest habit was an inability to stand still: "I had like a big problem, like, I don't know - just kind of dancing around with my feet, like I couldn't stand still. It was just distracting, and it wasn't right.'

But Steinfeld's Mattie Ross is rock steady.

"I mean, you're very still," said Smith.

"Yes," she laughed. "Not anymore!"

She really did seem to come out of nowhere: Just a year ago, Hailee Steinfeld's biggest screen credits were for short films like "She's a Fox," and a quick shot in a k-Mart ad.

"I had more auditions for that k-Mart commercial than I did for 'True Grit,'" she laughed. "Seriously. Eight times I went back for that k-Mart commercial. I had three auditions for 'True Grit.'"

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Steinfeld's parents insisted she study acting for a year before going out on auditions.

Did they think their daughter was going to give up on it? Hailee was asked.

"I have to say up until that point, I tried every type of sport, every type of dance. And I mean, and I never stuck with everything. I mean, I was only eight! So I was jumping around to a bunch of different things. And my parents would invest so much time into what I wanted to do. And I would just give up on it.

"And so, when acting came along, knowing that it's something that's a little bit more serious, that was my chance to prove to them that I really wanted it."

"And you kind of proved that," said Smith.

"And I kind of proved it!" she laughed.

She is, after all, just a kid. But if you spend time with her - as we did at Lucky Strike Lanes in Hollywood - we could see hints of the intensity that made her performance in "True Grit" such a success.

But winning the part of Mattie Ross was a long-shot at best.

(Paramount Pictures)
It's estimated that Hailee Steinfeld beat out as many as 15,000 others for the role.

And now, of course, everything has changed. For one thing, she is now home-schooled. (When asked if she misses school, she laughed: "Not really! No, I don't.")

And what has her friends' reaction been to all of this?

"I don't really think they get it," Hailee said. "It's hard for them. I mean, as hard as it is for me, it's hard for them, too. But it's interesting. This past year I've really been able to realize who my true friends are. I've had, you know, the people who've, you know, come out of the woodwork from years ago, and it's hard. But I really do have some really amazing friends that I'm very thankful for."

"That's interesting, that at 14, there are still those people who come out of the woodwork, like from elementary school?"

"Believe it or not, yeah," Hailee said.

(Paramount Pictures)
Also coming out of the woodwork: Comparisons with the original 1969 movie, in which 21-year old Kim Darby (left) made a big splash herself as Mattie Ross.

Darby told Smith that after HER version of "True Grit" came out, people were telling her "that I was hot, that I was the best actor of my generation."

But she went on to make some forgettable movies, and her star power quickly faded.

"Do you think, looking back, you would have made different choices after "True Grit'?" asked Smith.

"Oh, my God, yes," Darby said. "Oh my goodness sakes, yes. Absolutely, in every area of my life."

Darby became a drama teacher after her movie career waned.

But she has wonderful memories of making "True Grit."

The two Matties - Kim Darby and Hailee Steinfeld - actually met at a screening of "True Grit."

Darby says she gave some advice to the young actress: "Well, I really told her agent, 'Listen here now: Be really careful about picking the project she does next. Because that's really telling, what you do next.'"

Darby wasn't surprised by his week's announcement of Hailee's Academy Award nomination. "Absolutely. I knew she was going to get Best Supporting Actress. I think she'll win, too."

No word yet on what Hailee Steinfeld's next project will be, but whether or not she takes home an Oscar, it looks as though she is already a winner.

For more info:
"True Grit" (Official Movie Website)