Blossoming into the filmography scene, the year 2014 has been a good year for the young Haley Lu Richardson. If you are an indie film fan, you would most probably recognize her as the selfless, badass Kendall from the American post-apocalyptic film, The Last Survivors. However, fighting greedy water baron is not the only thing Richardson is good at. The complete polar opposite, Richardson has also played the role of the sweet and innocent Leslie Mallard from the 2014 coming-of-age film, The Young Kieslowski.
This year, the 21-year-old Arizona native has managed to land herself in another leading role, working closely with Melissa Rauch and her husband Winston Rauch in their upcoming movie, The Bronze. Set in the small town in Ohio, Richardson plays Maggie Townsend, a sweet, ambitious gymnast who begins her training with the self-absorb, foul-mouthed former local bronze medallist Hope Annabelle Greggory (Rauch) after her coach dies. However, Hope’s motive for helping Maggie is extremely suspicious.
“The script was just so shocking but in the best way possible. Every scene I read, I was like, ‘wait, someone’s gonna actually let this be a movie… that people are gonna be allowed to view?’ I had never been a part of something that was so funny and pushed the line,” says Richardson on her first time reading the script. “I also love the dark yet almost sad quality of the story; and Hope’s character. Like, how in the end, you feel so bad for her to see how hard she’s trying. You just end up rooting for her.”
In addition to the comedy-drama film, Richardson is going to star in M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming thriller, Split, which is also featuring James McAvoy and Betty Buckley.
What was it like moving to LA to pursue a career that many others dream of?
Well, I dreamt of it too, you know. And I still dream of it. I was 16 when I made the official move with my mom to Los Angeles. When we first moved we lived in the spare room of this sweet older woman’s house, which we had met through a friend of the family. I left my friends, my dance studio and the comfort of home; but I think it was my parents who sacrificed the most. It was definitely unconventional, yet taking risks and following that relentless voice in your head is the only way to really get you anywhere. And my parents are a billion percent supportive of that.
Do you think your attitude towards the industry has changed since you first stepped into the city?
My eyes have definitely opened up, yes. I like to think that I was never naive, but I honestly, I probably was at the beginning and maybe even a little still – I am always learning. I do think that I have learned so many positive things, along with several other hard, screwed up, disturbing things. Wherever you go and in whatever you do there’s gonna be a bad egg, but dwelling on that isn’t gonna get anything accomplished. It’s all about the balance of being hopeful and open but still smart.
What has kept you going to achieve what you had set your mind to?
Self-motivation. I find it hard to do something half way. I either do it all the way or I don’t do it at all. I think my parents ingrained that in my head since I was born. My dad always told me to “make good decisions” instead of making the decisions for me; putting the ball in my court.
What do you miss most about Arizona?
Gosh, everything! I am discovering more and more every day, how much I took it for granted. Nature, the mountains, the clean air, the sun! I miss my family, they are all in Arizona. Luckily it’s only a six-hour drive from Los Angeles.
Do you remember your first audition in LA?
(Laughs) I will never forget. I walked in and the casting director didn’t look up from her computer once. I started the scene and she stopped me in the middle and told me I was wearing too much perfume and she just wanted to “throw me out of the room”. It took all I had in me to not sob and restart the scene. Then she stopped me again telling me I was smiling way too much. I finally got through the scene and as I turned my back to leave, the tears started flowing. Then she said, “Wait, can you sing?” Though I suck at singing, I’ve decided it would be a great idea to sing ‘Hit the Road, Jack.’ Anyways… so yes, it was tragic, but for some reason, I still wanted to be an actor.
Were there any preparations that you had to undergo to be “the next rising athlete star” for The Bronze?
Well, from the second I got the role, I had this dark cloud over my head of having to look decent in a leotard. I trained with the gymnastics coordinator for a month or two before we actually started filming. I had done gymnastics when I was younger and I danced competitively for most of my life, but the form of a gymnast is so specific, I needed a lot of work.
Do you curse as much as Hope (Rauch) off set?
I didn’t curse at all until I was 18! In high school, my friends would say “that sucks” and I would correct them and say “that stinks very badly.” Then, I said the F-word for the first time and all hell broke loose. But I think Hope still wins.
Throughout the film, which is your favorite scene?
I love watching the scenes that I didn’t have anything to do with. It’s cool to see scenes on paper and watch how the people you’ve been working with and have gotten to know, bring them to life. I also loved watching the gymnastics stunts and routines in the movie. I was star struck by my own stunt double.
Heard you are a dancer yourself. So what separates a gymnast and a dancer?
If you knew nothing about dance and gymnastics you would probably assume they are very similar because we both wear leotards and jump across the floor to music, but really they are vastly different. They are the same in that you’re trained to move your body in a certain way and you develop muscle memory. It’s the form that completely sets them apart. In ballet, which is the base technique for a dancer, you are taught to elongate yourself and your limbs while in gymnastics, you hold your body very tight and compact.
It must be exciting to work on a project with M. Night Shyamalan. How did that happen and what is it like?
I got the audition and it was very secretive and mysterious, of course. I didn’t get the script until after I was offered the role. And I didn’t meet Night until rehearsal week. It just recently dawned on me that all the movies I’ve ever done were with first-time directors and Night is so seasoned and confident in what he does that it was a completely different experience. He is very clear about what he wants and it was my job as an actress to bring that exact thing but still being true to my instincts.
Can you reveal a bit about your role in the project?
(Laughs) No. I think Night would disown me if I did. All I’ll say is that James McAvoy is going to be brilliant and stuff gets real intense.
Do you personally like thriller and horror movies?
Only if I’m with my boyfriend or a huge group of friends! I get really scared really quick. I’m one of those people that have to eat ice cream and watch a Disney movie after watching a horror film.
What are people’s first impression of you and do you think there is more than meets the eye?
I think something about being a young innocent bubbly girl leads people to think I may be a little dumb or unworldly. And I am a dodo at times but more than anything, I care a lot about what I do and work really hard for it.
What do you think sets you apart from other young actresses?
Honestly, I don’t know a lot of actors and actresses, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin in answering that question (Laughs)! My friends are either from back home or my small group of best friends in LA, which some are in the industry and some aren’t. I don’t know, I guess I am always myself. I care what people think but at the same time I actually really don’t care at all!
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Hardest question that exists… All I know is health is extremely important to me. My health and the health of the people I love. I will obviously still be acting and creating stuff – hopefully, each project I do will be different from the last and inspires me in a new way. Honestly, in five years if I’m still making movies and sitting on the couch, watching movies with my boyfriend, I will be very happy.