A truly gritty teen

Fifteen minutes after Josh Brolin met 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld for the first time, he was pinning her down with a blade to her throat.

No, this was not another shocking case of “When Celebrities Attack.” Brolin and Steinfeld were on the set of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “True Grit” remake, which opened Wednesday, and their introduction preceded the rehearsal of one of the movie’s tensest scenes.

Steinfeld, playing Mattie Ross, the precocious, fiercely determined heroine of “Grit,” seemed unfazed by the prospect of grappling with the bearlike Brolin. She approached the scene with the same uncanny poise she brought to the rest of her time on set.

“I think it was more nerve-racking for me than it was for her,” says Brolin, 42. “She’s very comfortable in her own skin. That scene was about her talking and being super-confident and this man-child hating her purity.

“You know, everything she did was easy. The rest of us searched a lot in rehearsal for character and all that, but she already had it. She was the one person who had it down before the rest of us really started.”

Despite her age and relative inexperience — she made her TV debut in 2007 on the FOX series “Back to You,” and has since appeared in just a few shows and short films — Steinfeld, now 14, easily held her own in scenes opposite co-stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Barry Pepper.

Did she ever feel intimidated by all the testosterone?

“It wasn’t bad,” says Steinfeld, a Thousand Oaks native whose father took her to a shooting range with a Los Angeles cop so she could learn to fire a gun for the role. “I was surrounded by women the entire time — the hair, makeup and wardrobe people. My mom was with me, so was my tutor. But I feel like all [those guys] are like big kids, so it was a lot of fun.”

Steinfeld’s greatest challenge, besides learning to roll cigarettes and performing most of her own stunts, involved mastering the film’s baroque Old West dialect and finding some emotional value in it. That it didn’t take long came as no surprise to the Coens.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the hundreds of girls who read for this part washed out at the level of not being able to do the language,” says Ethan. “Right from the beginning it was clear that Hailee was completely comfortable. She had it from the get-go in a very, very natural way.”


IF YOU GO

True Grit


Starring
Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Rated
PG-13

Running time 1 hour 50 minutes

artsentertainmentEthan CoenMoviesSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Syd Mandelbaum created the home run tracker, which revolutionized statistics in major league sports. (Courtesy photo)
Home run tracker, with roots at Candlestick Park, marks 30 years

When Giants first baseman Brandon Belt slugged a solo home run in… Continue reading

Talika Fletcher, sister of Roger Allen, is consoled at a vigil to honor her brother, who was killed by Daly City Police on April 7, on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supporters march for SF man killed by Daly City police

Struggle over fake gun ends in shooting of 44-year-old Roger Allen, DA says

Curfews on indoor dining have been lifted as The City continues to reopen business. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City to allow expanded indoor dining, limited indoor concerts and small conferences

With new COVID-19 cases remaining stable, San Francisco will continue to expand… Continue reading

Johnny Cueto P was the starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants against the Cinnanti Reds, Wednesday. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Cueto leaves with injury as Giants take series from Reds

A latissimus dorsi injury to Johnny Cueto cast a dark cloud over… Continue reading

Tenants’ rights laws are often mysterious and written in language that confuses. (Shutterstock)
It’s not a good time to be a bad landlord

Tenant Relief Act, at last, is one positive thing for renters

Most Read