Among a laundry list of seasoned scene-stealers starring in the Coen brothers’s latest film, True Grit – Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges – there’s a new leading lady ready to make a big name for herself: Hailee Steinfeld.
As her first starring role in a major film, which is the second adaptation of the Charles Portis 1968 novel of the same name, Steinfeld holds her own as Mattie Ross, a fiery teen avenging her father’s death in the wild, wild west. Before you catch the film, meet the Thousand Oaks, Calif., native, 14, who isn’t afraid to take on hefty costars or a pit of snakes.
1. She got her big break in a Kmart commercial
Just months before she was rubbing shoulders on the dusty plains with Bridges and Damon, Steinfeld was bantering with high school kids in a squeaky-clean “Blingatude” back-to-school commercial for Kmart. She’s the girl in the light-blue headband and heart-print top. It was one of Steinfeld’s few onscreen roles before being cast in True Grit.
2. She’s taller than the boys
Standing at about 5-feet-8-inches, Steinfeld says she’s “a lot taller than just about any other kid [she knows].” “I started recently to appreciate being tall, but I have never particularly liked it,” she tells PEOPLE. “I am taller than all of my friends, so I feel like I really stick out, and I don’t like that.” The upside? She says she has all the right moves on the basketball court. The catch? “I am taller than all of the guys, which really stinks,” she says. “But they are finally starting to catch up with me, which is nice.”
3. She beat out 15,000 other girls for the role of Mattie Ross
She seems stunned by that number and tells Entertainment Weekly that she’s “so honored and so blessed to have been in such an amazing film.” She also has some kind words for everyone else who auditioned. “If I can give any advice to any of those girls,” she says, “it would just be not to give up.”
4. She’s just as fearless as her character
Even a scene involving a pit of snakes didn’t cause Steinfeld to break a sweat. “I don’t particularly like snakes, but I’m not afraid of them,” she tells PEOPLE. “I knew that those snakes weren’t poisonous, and, you know, there was also a snake wrangler standing right behind me – that helps.” What did make her sweat: “I spend most of the movie in [Mattie’s] dad’s clothes, which was the heaviest wool coat you could possibly imagine,” she says. “When it was hot out, I was roasting.”
5. Yes, she’s a fan of The Big Lebowski
It may be before her time, but Steinfeld is more than familiar with her Oscar-winning costar Bridges. Her older cousins introduced her to The Big Lebowski, the cult favorite from the Coen Brothers, in which Bridges plays lovable L.A. slacker, the Dude. Hailee is also fond of Bridges’s work in Stick It and, of course, Crazy Heart, which won him the Academy Award.
Although she says she was with Bridges most of her time onset, she says she bonded with all of her costars. “With each of them, every minute we would get to talk, I was telling myself, ‘Hailee, take advantage of the time you have with them,’ ” she tells PEOPLE. “I wasn’t in the position to ask all of the questions I would want to ask, but if I had one, I knew that each of them would be ready and willing to answer [it].