“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.”
The gallery has been updated with screencaptures of Good Day L.A, Pix11 Morning News and Harry.
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.