Few actors ever reach the Academy Awards, let alone before hitting the legal driving age. But that was exactly where Hailee Steinfeld found herself after she earned a best-supporting-actress Oscar nomination for the Coen brothers’ True Grit in 2011 at age 14.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Take it all in,” people once advised Steinfeld, now 26, as she tells People in her new digital cover story. “Of course, at 13, I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely. For sure. I’m taking it all in.’ And while I do feel like I remember just about everything, I only now realize what people meant by that,” she continues. “It was such a rare experience, everything about it: the timing, the places I got to go to, and the people I got to work with. I was experiencing so many firsts, and I was surrounded by the best people that really took me under their wings and guided me every step of the way. I just remember being young and curious and so overexcited about absolutely everything.”
Her True Grit costar Jeff Bridges has been a particularly major influence, both professionally and personally. “Jeff has so much fun with what he does,” Steinfeld says. “With True Grit, I had a lot of dialogue, and the circumstances weren’t always smiley and bubbly. Yet somehow, in between takes, he managed to keep up an energy that made me feel so at ease and comfortable…. If we had 10 minutes in between takes, he would pull out this game called Pass the Pigs, which became a crowd favorite very quickly with the Steinfeld family.”
Although the actor says she “had moments of [feeling like I was missing out] when friends would send me pictures from winter formals and proms and homecomings,” she still had a chance to experience some typical teenage milestones—by filming a homecoming scene in 2015’s Barely Lethal and joining a sorority in the Pitch Perfect franchise. Plus, 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen allowed Steinfeld to “let a little bit of teen angst go that I didn’t even know I had.”
In recent months, Steinfeld has been touched by the personal battles that both Bridges, who is currently in remission for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and her Hawkeye costar Jeremy Renner, who survived a near-fatal snowplow accident, have endured. “I haven’t really talked about it, but it is a weird thing because I would be so moved by what has happened to them in any other case, and here I am lucky enough to have a personal connection,” she tells the outlet. “I’m just so beyond grateful that they’re both here.”