“Goofy” seems like such an old-fashioned word, but after a 30-minute conversation with Haley Lu Richardson, we felt it was the most apropos adjective to describe the 21-year-old—that and “delightfully, disarmingly unaffected.” This is one young
actress who is not “cool,” and she’s not even pretending otherwise. Case in point: Within 30 seconds of our getting Richardson on the phone, she’s laughing as she tells the story of her ill-fated tenure on the high-school track team. “It was my first race at my first meet,” she recalls. “I looked behind me to see if anyone was catching up to me…and then I just dove into the ground and did like five somersaults. I finished rolling a few inches from the finish line. I sat there criss-cross apple sauce as all these people ran by me.”
Richardson, an Arizona native, has lived in Los Angeles since she was 16, wedging her foot in the door with momentum-building-type roles such as a lead part on the short-lived TV show Ravenswood, a critically acclaimed turn in indie film The Bronze and most recently as Hailee Steinfeld’s BFF in the buzzy The Edge of Seventeen.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” she says of her career thus far. “I see people who work really hard and don’t get a break until they’re 50, and then I see people who book the first thing they audition for and then get really busy and overworked and burned out.”
Next stop on that path? A lead role in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, Split, out now. “I thought you were supposed to call him ‘M. Night,’ so in all my emails to him and on the phone before we met I was calling him that,” says Richardson of working with the director best known for The Sixth Sense…who goes by “Night.” “I was an idiot.”
In the film, Richardson plays a woman abducted by a man with dissoci-ative identity disorder. If this sounds a bit like 2015’s Oscar-nominated Room…. “It’s very different,” protests Richardson, unfortunately hamstrung by not wanting to give away the twist. “It’s really cool and creepy.”
When she’s not on-set, Richardson says she can be found “eating and crocheting”—usually at the same time. “Right after a meal I’m full, and then I burp and it kind of releases and I’m hungry again,” she says. “And I crochet pretty much all the time too. I always bring my yarn on-set.” (In fact, she stocks an Etsy store, called Hooked by Haley Lu, with her handicrafts.)
If you’re wondering about the “Lu” in her name, so is she. “I honestly don’t know why, but my dad came up with it,” she says. Like Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas? “Exactly!” she says. “I kind of look like her because I’ve got one of those noses with a ball at the end. If they do a remake, I could definitely play her.”
Actress Haley Lu Richardson
On Nightly Routines, Barre Workouts & French Toast
Haley Lu Richardson is the kind of woman we want as our new best friend. We’re not exaggerating when we say that her ideal food day matches up perfectly with our’s (She even makes us want to start taking regular barre classes). We sat down with the up-and-comer to get the scoop on her new movie, Split (from the amazing M. Night Shyamalan), her favorite on-set snacks, and nightly routines. Read below for more from Richardson; she’s officially an honorary Potatohead…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Oh my God, this is the best question I’ve ever been asked. I’m so passionate about food.
For breakfast, I’d go all out and make two fried eggs with sweet potatoes (diced really small so they get crispy) and bacon. Also, I’d make a side of stuffed French toast filled with cream cheese and berries!
Then, I would take an hour to digest and eat some sort of sushi for lunch. I love eel.
After that, I would probably just keep snacking all night until I fell asleep. My boyfriend makes these amazing roasted beans on a cookie sheet in the oven, so I’d have about three cans of that. Then some goat cheese and wine. If I get really hungry later I’d go to some steakhouse and order crab and lobster mac n cheese.
That just made me so hungry.
How do you practice beauty from the inside out?
I really do think the better you feel the better you look, not the other way around. So, I just try to not focus on the outer stuff and just do things that make me happy! I feel like I’d be miserable if I had to lift weights under the fluorescent lights at the gym every day, so I do things like dancing and hiking, which makes me sweat, but more importantly make me a happier person.
What are your morning and nightly beauty routines?
My friends have always made fun of me for having such a specific nightly routine! Even in high school if we would come home in the middle of the night and be sleeping at a friend’s house everyone would just pass out with their makeup on and I was that one kid who had a huge organized toiletry bag with my retainer, electric tooth brush, special toothpaste “for sensitive gums” and all my facial products.
I have been using the same products since I was twelve. I really love the oil-free Olay moisturizer, it also has sunscreen in it. I used to think that the more lotion I put on, the more oily I would get and the more zits I would get. But, I figured out that the more lotion I use the more my skin doesn’t feel like it has to overcompensate for the dryness and I don’t break out as much. I use coconut oil now too – you can use that stuff for everything.
What is a beauty mainstay that hasn’t changed since your teen years? Are there any beauty products you can’t live without?
I had my braces removed in 8th grade and I pretty much have worn my retainer every night since then. I swear I’m going to be eighty-five and still using that same one. It has the Beatles on the plastic part.
What are some of your go-to workouts? Workouts you find overrated?
I did competitive dance for ten years before I moved to LA so that is definitely still a big part of my life and how I stay healthy. I go to this place called Cardiobarre, which is a ballet inspired workout class with no impact. I have a couple of injuries from dance so I’m really thankful for that place.
How did you prep for your role in Split?
There honestly wasn’t much prep time because Night was really secretive, and I didn’t get the script until after I had accepted the role. By that time, we were filming in a couple of weeks. When you are doing a movie as crazy and intense as this, with a director as specific and experienced as Night, you just have to know your character inside and out and then show up and go with it.
The Split trailer has us totally spooked – Was shooting ever scary?
I never felt scared doing any of the scenes. Everyone around you makes it very clear you’re in good hands and you feel safe. But when the stakes are that high and you’re working against an actor that is so in it like James [McAvoy], it does feel pretty real. There were moments when I was off camera for someone’s eye line and at the end of the take I would be crying because I was so affected by everyone’s acting and the world we were living in.
What was it like working with M. Night Shyamalan?
Night is the first director I’ve done a movie with that has so much prior experience. He is an honest director who knows what he wants and gives specific directions.
How do you always start your day? What’s your go-to breakfast?
I try not to look at my phone first thing in the morning. I’m working this year on being less brainwashed by those things. I always drink a huge glass of water in the morning and either make a peanut butter smoothie or eggs.
Where do you love to travel? What won’t you travel without?
I love traveling with my boyfriend; it’s the best. Wherever we are we always want to do the same things and see the same places, so it’s like traveling alone but a lot more fun. I love nature and seeing different spots of the actual earth – not just a bunch of concrete and bricks.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I think the best advice is to just remember everything passes. You can and will get through anything – which automatically makes you feel strong and capable.
You didn’t like X until you tried Y….
I didn’t like Birkenstocks until I tried Birkenstocks.
In the same vein as what is the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato right now?
Having a butt and thighs AMEN.
Where are you from?
I am from Phoenix and I definitely have an Arizona vibe; I like nature and heat. I feel like Arizona in general is way more chill than anywhere else. It’s laid back and spread out and there are mountains. I’ve lived here in LA for like five years now and every year I realize more and more that I’m not made for a city environment. I get really intimidated by big cities. In New York, I have a panic attack after two days.
Are you a Sundance virgin?
Is this list only for virgins? Are you guys finding all the virgins? And gathering them on one list? [laughs.] I went two years ago for a movie called The Bronze, and it actually opened the film festival.
So how does it feel to be a Sundance sensation?
I won’t 100% reject you saying that, but I’m not identifying with it, either.
What’s the buzz?
It reminds me of Lost In Translation. We filmed it in a small town in Indiana called Columbus which is a supercool because it’s number 5 or 6 in the world for modern architecture. So it has modern buildings but small town vibes. The architecture is the lead character in the movie.
How would you describe your character?
She’s a dreamer but she’s been through a lot. She’s the kind of person who has potential everyone else can see but she doesn’t have time for because she has so many responsibilities and worries and she’s only nineteen.
Do you relate to your character?
I definitely feel like I relate to her — that’s why I really wanted to do this movie so bad. I’m a dreamer almost to a fault. I wouldn’t say I’m super-confident because I’m really hard on myself and I have a lot of problems. But when I dream something, I dream really big and that’s the only thing that I want to do. There’s no plan B, no other option. I get something in my head and I just have to do it: Go big or go home! When I moved to LA, I met all these people who said: “Don’t get your hopes up, honey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” So I’m like: I don’t need you to tell me it’s gonna take 20 years. I’m not going to think about time and focus on doing it. Mindset is such a huge part of getting anywhere. We all create our own realities.
And look at you now! You’re a Sundance sensation.
I am a Sundance sensation. I’m pretty much the best!
What was your first acting experience?
My big acting debut was Chicken Little in a school play when I was in first grade. I was covered in feathered boas with a little chicken beak on and I said: “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” My parents even have it on videotape.
What was your big break?
If that ever happens, I won’t even maybe realize it. I broke my ankle once when I danced — does that count?
Did you ever have a normal job?
I baby sat friend’s younger cousins. Here’s the thing with me and kids: They really like me for the most part because I kind of am a kid still. But after a certain amount of time, I become a bad influence. I’m like that fun aunt who teaches you the word poop and then you go home and the parents are mad at me for doing that. As a babysitter I sat around and ate Otter Pops with them and baked cookies and talked about farting. So at the end of the night, the kid would be on a sugar high and say to his parents: “I learned a new word: Penis!” And I’d be like: Sorry. And then I’d peace out and take my hundred bucks and leave.
What are you going to pack?
I crochet, so I will bring a bunch of hats and scarves that I made. My mom taught me to crochet when I was eight. Now I sell them on Etsy. So when people ask me what I’m wearing, I say: Me! I’m wearing me! I make fun little pom-pom hats and beanies and cozy scarves. I might even make a sweater but they’re very time-consuming.
What’s more important: Looking stylish or staying warm?
I don’t ever really care about looking stylish. I care about looking like me — how I feel on the inside.
And how do you feel on the inside?
It changes. Every second. I do outfit changes for every different emotion.
What do you think of Robert Redford?
Honestly, I hadn’t seen any of his films before I went two years ago. Then when we found out that the movie got in, my parents were like: “Hailey we need to sit you down and show you all of Robert Redford’s movies!”
Haley Lu Richardson lost “True Grit” to Hailee Steinfeld, but now stars alongside her in “The Edge of Seventeen.”
Haley Lu Richardson first learned of her future costar, rising multihyphenate Hailee Steinfeld, like much of the world did: when the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” was released in 2010. Yet the casting stuck out to Richardson not only because Steinfeld earned an Oscar nomination, or because they share the same name; she, too, had auditioned for the part, all the way from her childhood home in Arizona.
Several auditions and a move to L.A. later, the 21-year-old Richardson is capping off a year of breakouts in critical darlings celebrating the awkwardness that is coming-of-age. Earlier this year it was gymnastics comedy “The Bronze,” and she now delves further with ‘The Edge of Seventeen,’ where she plays Steinfeld’s best friend as they find their way through high school.
Up next, she’ll star in M. Night Shyamalan drama “Split” with James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy; she chatted about her background in dance and what her parents “fangirl” over.
WWD: You grew up competitively dancing; when did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
Haley Lu Richardson: I just celebrated my five-year mark [in L.A.] a couple of months ago. I really had no clue what [being an actor] meant — I hadn’t really acted much in Arizona. I did competitive dance really seriously for nine years in Arizona, and I was always entertaining — I was always sort of a ham as a kid, just always wanting to entertain and to get people to laugh.
When I was eight until I was 17, my life was dance — sorry this is a complicated answer, I still haven’t figured out the simple answer to this question. But when I was 16, my friends and I were all starting to think about what we were going to do with our lives, and I started picturing myself majoring in dance at college traveling around with a contemporary dance company, and it didn’t excite me as I thought it would all those years. I was just thinking about the things that I loved most about dance, which was entertaining and telling a story, and that’s when I kind of opened my eyes again to acting.
WWD: Has the acting career intersected with your dance background at all?
H.L.R.: Oh my God, like, I hope it does! It doesn’t come up as much as I want now, but my biggest dream is to be able to be in a movie or some great TV show where I get to dance, and it’s about a contemporary dancer of some kind. I love how much dance is sneaking its way back into society. Dance is so prominent, now more than it’s been before, but I still feel like there’s this void that needs to be filled that tells the story of a contemporary dancer who is in a company — I don’t know, just that’s my dream to do that.
WWD: What stood out to you about the “Edge of Seventeen” script?
H.L.R.: It was one of those scripts where you don’t put it down and go make a sandwich and check Instagram a bunch while you’re reading it — I was in it the whole time and read it straight through and laughed and cried along with the characters. I think there were no cons — it was all just pros leading me to do the movie. I started reading the script and I kind of saw what was going to happen: Krista, my character, is going to end up being a b—h and ruining the friendship and the boyfriend is going to be full of himself and all these things. There were all these immediate stereotypes that went into my head, and then by the end of the story, all of the characters had kind of proved otherwise. And I just thought it was really real and really cool because what you kind of expect, isn’t — that’s the best kind of script to read.
WWD: How did you first meet your now costar, Hailee Steinfeld?
H.L.R.: I met her at Sundance Film Festival a couple of years ago — I had loved her in “True Grit,” and I actually auditioned for “True Grit” from a self tape in Arizona when I was 15. That was one of the first things I ever auditioned for, so when it came out that this other Hailee booked it, my parents always had a place in our minds for “True Grit” and Hailee, the two Haleys. I finally met her and my mom and dad were like fangirl-ing over her because of that story.
Apart from her high-profile career and her ascent within it, Haley Lu Richardson seems like a typical 21-year-old. She goofs around with her friends, reads books on spirituality, and shifts back and forth between fulfilling the responsibilities of adulthood and remaining a kid at heart. But with a handful of prominent upcoming roles, including in the acclaimed new coming-of-age film The Edge of Seventeen, the actress’s youthful exuberance is guiding her to a breakthrough in Hollywood.
Richardson was raised in Arizona, and was a serious dancer growing up. “I danced for like eight or nine years,” she says. “I was super focused and committed to that; all I did was go to school and then dance and get no sleep. That’s when I learned about self-motivation and committing to something, and also about how much I love entertaining and telling stories. And I think dance and acting have those things in common.” During her junior year of high school, as her classmates were thinking about where they wanted to go to college and what careers they wanted to pursue, her instincts led her towards acting. “That’s when I realized I want to try this acting thing,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know what it was, I didn’t know what LA was like, or what acting even felt like, to do it at a deep, real level, but I just had this calling. I know it sounds cheesy, but I just had this really strong obsession with going after it and learning about it.”
She convinced her parents to let her move to Los Angeles and her first film role came shortly after. She played a seventeen-year-old girl in a post-apocalyptic, drought-stricken world who got to save the day. “I was the hero, I was badass,” she exclaims, appreciative that the start of her acting career was so fulfilling. “I feel like it’s something that I do take for granted sometimes, the fact that I get these chances to play such interesting, three-dimensional people that aren’t just there to make a guy look funny or move the story along or be hot. I get those scripts sometimes and they make me so mad, and I don’t audition for them, but I get a lot of auditions where I really get the chance to be an actual human and explore someone that doesn’t fit in my type of stereotype. I feel like I wouldn’t love acting so much if I didn’t get to do that.”
Richardson’s bright-eyed demeanor has only helped her career thus far, where she has often had to play high-school-aged characters. “I really think there’s always something new to discover about that time in your life,” she explains. “Every time, I get an opportunity to go back and think about where I was when I was fifteen or sixteen and what I was going through and what I was feeling. It’s really cool because different characters bring different kinds of memories and experiences you actually went through at that age, and it’s a really complicated time.”
In The Edge of Seventeen, Richardson got to explore that age once again as Krista, who begins to date her best friend Nadine’s (Hailee Steinfeld) brother. “I think Krista really made me think of how I was in friendships,” Richardson says. “I see myself one way as kind of being crazy, and I do weird things and make stupid jokes, and all my friends are embarrassed of me, like I’m the twelve-year-old of the bunch. But I feel like friendships and relationships—especially when you’re so young—you go through things and you kind of need that rock.”
Following The Edge of Seventeen, Richardson will have a major departure from her past roles next January in the new M. Night Shyamalan film Split, in which she plays a teenager who is abducted by a man who has around twenty-three different personalities. “It’s hard doing a horror film or a thriller where the stakes are so high that it’s life and death,” she says. “Because—knock on wood—I’ve never had a near-death experience. But it’s really easier than people think to just be moved by words and by imagination, and sometimes when words are written—and Night wrote such a specific story—when you read those words and imagine yourself in your situation, it’s kind of hard to not respond and not have an actual emotional reaction to that.”
In another new twist for her, Richardson will also be appearing later next year alongside John Cho and Parker Posey in Columbus, in which she finds an unlikely connection with a Korean man who is stuck in Ohio. “Nothing really huge happens in the movie,” she explains. “You take a magnifying glass and zoom in on these two people’s lives and their timed meeting, and you see what unfolds, and see how they affect one another. I really appreciate films like that, that don’t have to be big and loud, that just silently show you what goes on in people’s lives.”
Despite Richardson’s growing prominence, she still retains her humble disposition. “I still don’t feel any more wise than when I first moved here,” she admits. “I feel like I’m learning new things every single day, and every time I’m like, ‘Wow I’ve figured it out,’ I go and shoot another movie and have another experience, and I’m like, ‘Oh wait, I didn’t figure it out.’ But I feel like also the point of doing something is learning. A privilege of life is being able to constantly learn and absorb things and observe people.” Her optimism may stem from her focused dance training, or from moving to Los Angeles before graduating high school, or from just simply being twenty-one, but with her newfound successes, there’s no reason for it to wane any time soon.
The Edge of Seventeen is out today.