Haley Lu Richardson, born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, upon moving to L.A. aged sixteen, found her true calling in the form of acting. With an eclectic range of roles already under her belt, Haley Lu emits all the signs of an up and coming star in the making.
Haley Lu’s passion for acting emerged at a young age. Always wanting to entertain at family parties, and training dance extensively throughout her teenage years, the motivation to perform has always been present. Starting off in the world of TV, appearing in the popular teen drama Ravenswood, Haley Lu has recently been driven increasingly into the world of film. Recently starring in The Bronze and The Young Kieslowski, Haley Lu’s strong appearances have landed her roles in two exciting upcoming features. The first being The Edge of Seventeen due for release September 20th of this year, coming from first time director Kelly Fremon. Haley Lu shall also be starring in the eagerly anticipated Split, directed by none other than M. Night Shyamalan, due for release in January of 2017. These roles are but the tip of the iceberg for what we may expect from Haley Lu in the coming years.
We were lucky enough to catch up with the young actress in New York City, learning more about her past and present roles, as well as aspirations for the future.
What got you interested in acting in the first place?
I didn’t move to L.A. until I was sixteen, I am originally from Phoenix Arizona. I was always interested in the arts; acting, dancing, I tried singing but I sucked at it, performing in general, entertaining and all that kind of stuff. I always wanted to entertain when we had the family over for Christmas. I started dancing when I was really young. It sounds really stupid and mushy, but different people have different kinds of callings you know, and I guess it was always something that I considered my thing.
When did you realise it was something that you wanted to do full-time?
When I was a freshman in high-school, aged fourteen/fifteen, I just started having these huge cravings to just not be in high-school anymore. Instead I wanted to be out dancing or acting professionally, and to move to L.A. I didn’t really know why, because I had been doing competitive dance back in Arizona, along with community theatre and stuff, but at that point I had no idea what to expect if I was to move. So I think that is when something clicked in me, that it was something that I wanted to explore, and when I actually got out to L.A. my Mom moved with me, it is a very long story as to how I moved there, and my eyes were shot wide upon upon realising what this industry actually is out here. There are so many scary, negative things, and then there are so many frickin’ cool, wonderful things. On my first movie that I did, called The Last Survivor, an independent film which we did out in the desert in California, I got to play this really cool character which I was really fortunate to play as one of my first roles, as when I was doing that I learnt so much what it was like to be on set, and carry a movie, and carry a role. It was then that I realised that acting was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I will be happy doing this for the rest of my life.
So you have a significant background in dance. Given the opportunity is it something you would like to incorporate into your acting at some point?
Oh my God, that is my all time biggest ever dream in the whole wide universe. If I could look back at fourteen-year-old me, siting on my bed back in Arizona, getting ready to go to sleep, it would just be me laying there thinking about doing an amazing movie where I am dancing and acting together in it. It would be my all time dream. I miss dancing incredibly, as from the time I was eight years old until the time I was seventeen/eighteen, I literally danced around thirty hours a week. Almost my entire life, ten or so years of my life was spent dancing, and everything else like school, friends, all of that were in the background. So it was really hard when I actually started getting work acting, as I then realised there was no time to dance anymore, and I have to work really hard to muster up the energy or time to go and do a dance class.
What type of dance do you enjoy the most?
I love contemporary, and jazz, and lyrical. I trained in almost everything, besides ballroom. But I trained in jazz, lyrical, tap, hip-hop, pretty much ever single one. But I would have to say that contemporary and jazz have always been my favourites.
How do generally prepare for a role? Do you have any particular methods to get into character?
Tough question, because I definitely don’t consider myself any kind of method actor who has any specific ritual, I’m not someone who stays in character the whole time. At the same time, it depends really on the role that you are playing. Something which I have noticed about myself over the last couple of years, my preparation is fairly internal, through the thought processes that I have and the couple of weeks leading up towards shooting. The stuff that you go to bed thinking about the night before you shoot the next day, getting in the headspace of that character, and the envisioning things, through imagining life as that character, and seeing it through their eyes. So it is more about internal preparation, as opposed to doing anything regarded as method. As well as this you obviously you need to memorise the lines, which is always a tough task. I don’t know if memorizing lines is easier for some people but it has always been a struggle for me. It is something where I need to just sit down and talk to myself over and over again until I know them.
What has been your most challenging role to date, and why?
I think The Last Survivors was pretty challenging, mainly as I was so young, having just turned seventeen when we shot the movie. It was a really low-budget independent film, people were there because it was in the goodness of their hearts. There were no sets, so we were out in the desert, with the sand blowing in your face, and the scorching heat beating down. It was this post-apocalyptic movie, so I had to do all these fights, and it was a really heavy emotional role. At one point I had to submerge myself in crude oil, so it was pretty miserable, and I was covered in blood the whole time. That one was pretty difficult, but I am honestly really glad I got to do that first. Though sometimes it is hard not to complain, in certain situations, but when people are complaining about petty things, I am sat there rolling my eyes as I have experienced something really hard in the very first project I did.
To this point you have starred in films and TV series, which are fairly contrasting in genres. Do you have a preference for acting in comedy flicks like The Bronze, or the more serious roles demanded by the drama series, Recovery Road?
Oh, that is another tough question. I love scripts that are inherently good, when they affect me, and when they resonate within me. Sometimes it could be a comedy, sometimes it could be a drama. The Bronze was such an out there, crossing the line, rated R comedy. When I read it, it impacted me in a dramatic way, but also in this laugh out loud, jaw dropping, funny kind of way. The scripts that affect me when I am reading them, they will have a better chance of impacting the audience as well, when it is in theatres or on TV. So I guess it really depends most on the script, and the people that are working on it are passionate and caring and have a vision for what they want it to be.
You are starring in a couple of upcoming films. The first of which is The Edge of Seventeen, due September 30th of this year. What can you tell us about the character that you are portraying? How was the filming experience on the whole?
Yeah the name changed from Besties, to The Edge of Seventeen. It was really cool as it was all filmed in Vancouver, and I have never been there before, plus my boyfriend is originally from there so I got to go and see his home town. That personally was really fun. The character that I play is about Hailee Steinfeld’s character, which was also side note funny because there were multiple Hailee’s on set. Hailee’s character and mine are best friends, dealing with a lot of issues, both personal, and family related. And I am the only person in the world which she can rely on and who is there to look out for her. I end up falling for her brother, who she hates with all of her might, which puts significant stress on the friendship, and drama ensues. The movie is really fun as it isn’t melodramatic, but it isn’t just a stupid teen comedy. It was a really fun script on the whole.
It is Kelly Fremon’s first directing job. How was it acting under her lead?
I believe she has done some writing in the past, but this was her first directing gig. I was filming another movie at the same time as filming The Edge of Seventeen, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. So I was filming two movies at the same time, and I didn’t realise that Night has directed so many movies, and it was Kelly’s first time. So it suddenly dawned on me that before I had worked with Night, I had never worked with a director before on a feature film when it wasn’t their first time directing. So I was really used to that with Kelly, and there are positive aspects to both. In that with first time directors there may be more experimentation, since they are figuring things out. There is also more room for exploration. Whereas I realised with Night, having done so much more, he is really specific with the way he works and is therefore far more specific with what he demands from his actors. He is not afraid to tell you exactly what he wants, and if he doesn’t get it then he will tell you that it wasn’t what he wants. He would not be afraid to say that it was terrible, and that he wants it done again. So it was really cool comparing the two types of directors simultaneously.
Like you said, you are starring in Split, due for released in January of 2017. How was the filming experience on that movie? And how was it working with the esteemed director, M. Night Shyamalan?
Well, unfortunately I don’t think I can let you in on any hints on what to expect as I imagine Night would quite literally kill me. The filming process was intense, I will say that and I got to work with James McAvoy who is an actual genius. He is really cool to work with, a complete jokester off set, so it is really funny to watch him change from his character back to James McAvoy. As for Night, as I said he is very specific, and I have never worked with a director like him and you can tell he knows exactly what he wants. He wrote the script and put a lot of his own money into it, and has put a lot of time into the project. So it is all on his shoulders and on his mind, so he is very specific and confident and has a very specific vision for what he wants the scenes to be. Very different from other directors I have worked with, and I learnt some things, such as how to work with a director who is really specific. In some cases, it is great you are given a direction to go, but then sometimes you feel something different, and you have to make it work with what he wants, so there was a real learning curve. It was really intense, but there were some fun moments too which was great.
You have appeared in several TV series and feature films. What to you are the main differences between filming the two?
I have found with TV that things move a lot quicker, in that you can film an entire season of a show, which is like ten episodes, in four or five months. So you can literally shoot ten, hour long episodes, in the amount of time it takes to film one movie. So TV definitely moves along a lot quicker, which gives an added pressure. But also it can be fun as there is not a great deal of time left to over think things, you are just thrown into it and given an allotted time to do it, so you have to get on with it. Another thing I have noticed with TV is you develop relationships with the people you are working with, and that certainly lasts longer than filming a two-month movie. So sometimes, you develop a bond by the end of the movie, but then you have to say goodbye as there is no season two.
A lot of actors/actresses are not fond of seeing themselves on film. Do you enjoy watching yourself act?
Oh no, oh God no. It is probably the most torturous part of the whole thing. Acting and being in the movie is one thing, and whilst it is fun to get all dressed up and go to a premier or something, it feels very foreign and strange to do that. Going to have photos taken, and sitting in the film and then watch what you did a year ago, is really hard. Also something I have found is when you see a movie, sometimes a year or more you have finished filming, like The Last Survivor, is that you have grown as a person and an actress. So to look back and see that is like looking back at an awkward photo of yourself from when you were back in middle school, like “Oh my God who even is that!” It is definitely torturous, and I don’t think I know any actor who actually enjoys that part.
What valuable piece of advice would you pass down to all the young, aspiring actors/actresses out there?
I learn new things every day, so my advice would be constantly changing. But the one thing, that I have always had in the back of my head, is just to remember that, it is really easy to get influenced by people you admire, other actors, agents, managers, or producers. All of these are big influences, and it is easy to look at someone and say that is the path that I want to take. But at the end of the day, I just have to remember that it is your life, and your career, and whilst it is great to listen to people and learn from people, you have to take pieces of that and integrate it into your own thoughts and your own goals as to not be completely influenced by those around you.
Do you have any particular artist that you draw inspiration from?
I love John Lennon, and The Beatles in general. There are so many actors that I really admire, and I go through phases with my actor boyfriend and I where we just sit in the living room, and spend four nights in a week to watch Jennifer Aniston movies, or a whole week watching Jim Carrey movies. There are just so many actors that I look up to and admire, but the guy that I have always loved everything about has to be John Lennon.
Any TV shows or movies that you are really enjoying at the moment?
Oh my gosh, we just finished Daredevil. You should definitely watch it, it’s so great. I have to admit that some of the supporting cast do get on your nerves a little, but most of the characters, the actor who plays Daredevil, the villains, all make it a fantastic show as it is so well done. Every episode you watch feels like a movie, it is just that good.
Moving onto your own fans, have you had any comical or odd encounters with any of your own supporters?
You know I don’t get ‘recognised’ that often. I do get some strange comments on Instagram every once and a while. I also have a Facebook page, and every one and a while I go to check the messages to just skim through and look. And whilst there are lots of lovely messages from fans, there are a few that are just random people giving me their number and asking me to text them, or ask me on a date. I just think to myself why would people think that I would text someone that I have never met, and go on a date with the, I sometimes struggle to think what goes through people’s minds. I find that side of things pretty comical.
What are your favourite ways to unwind after you have finished your busy day of acting?
Lots of sleeping, eating good food, crocheting. I crochet, which is knitting with a hook instead of two needles. That is my main form of therapy. If I am not busy eating, or acting, or watching TV, you can normally find me crocheting.
Going back to the ‘dream scenario’ from earlier, are there any particular roles that you would love to do in the future?
I really got obsessed with Harley Quinn, even before the Suicide Squad trailers even came out. I would love to play her one day. Then there are obviously dance roles, but it would have to be the perfect movie or show, such as Black Swan. It’s really artful movie, that told a story, and the acting was really strong, along with the dancing. So it wasn’t just this stupid dance movie, it really had heart and soul, so something like that would be the ultimate thing.
Apart from The Age of Seventeen and Split, are you going to be appearing in any other upcoming projects which we may not already be aware of?
Well, I have two movies that are currently in the works. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say very much at this point, but I can say that they are both completely different from one another. I should be starting filming somewhat soon, they are really different and exciting because they are like nothing I have done before, which is something which is really cool and I don’t take for granted. To be able to do very different roles, and different projects, instead of being a type-cast, or doing the same role over and over. It really excited me to do different things.
Catch Haley Lu Richardson in Recovery Road on Freeform, The Edge of Seventeen due for release September 20th and Split by M. Night Shyamalan out in 2017.