Actress Hailee Steinfeld as busy as a Bumblebee

Hailee Steinfeld was drawn by Bumblebee's rounded, character-driven storyline.
Hailee Steinfeld was drawn by Bumblebee's rounded, character-driven storyline.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

After being involved in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Bumblebee, actress Hailee Steinfeld has an album in the works

NEW YORK • Early this month, Hailee Steinfeld roused herself from bed and tweeted to her more than one million fans: "Woke up beaming with excitement this morning... (HEART)"

And why not? She was about to celebrate her 22nd birthday. The animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, in which she had voiced Gwen Stacy, had just been nominated for a Golden Globe.

Best of all, she had spent the week bouncing among Berlin, London and Los Angeles, where she lives, to promote Bumblebee, the latest Transformers instalment. Word on the street was glowing.

And Steinfeld, the franchise's first female lead, is not a typical Transformers babe.

Instead of cleavage and abs, her character Charlie flaunts her biceps and quads in punk rock T-shirts and ripped jeans, a symbol of strength, independence and self-reliance as she screeches along highways and puts up a fight.

In fact, the only ones removing their tops in Bumblebee are the guys.

It is the perfect vehicle for Steinfeld, who notched an Oscar nomination at 14 for playing Mattie Ross, a farm girl avenging her father's murder, in the Coen brothers' 2010 remake of True Grit.

She is also a pop star in the making, who showed off her voice in the second and third Pitch Perfect instalments (2015 and 2017) and last summer opened in Britain, Barcelona and Lisbon for Katy Perry on Witness: The Tour.

In a phone interview from Los Angeles, Steinfeld spoke about sliding into the Transformer's seat, her long-awaited album and discovering her own voice.

Were you a Transformers fan growing up? My older brother is a race-car driver and mechanic, so my connection to the films was really through him.

I remember seeing the first one with him and loving that there was something in it for us - just feeling like this is our little thing.

The film's producers have said that you were their first choice to play Charlie. Were you immediately on board? I remember thinking, this is something that sounds incredible on paper and over the phone, but I wanted to dig a little deeper and see what it was all about.

And the minute I heard that it was Travis Knight (who directed the Oscar-nominated animated feature Kubo And The Two Strings, 2016) and he was making a different kind of Transformers, I was intrigued.

This was a story that made you forget you were in a Transformers film (with) this grounded, character-driven storyline happening.

But there were times when I was like, "How is this going to work?" I'm spending the majority of this film talking to a tennis ball on a stick. I was actually concerned for my well-being and my level of sanity.

So, about that tennis ball ... Yeah, the majority of the time, it was a tennis ball on a stick that was about 4m high, the height of the Transformer fully transformed. Other times it was, oh, god, I mean, pieces of tape.

At one point, they had a Bumblebee head and shoulders on a mount that when any physical contact needed to be made, I could hug that. I did have his eyes to look into and they would illuminate that gorgeous colour blue.

What is it like playing an action hero? I had moments where I was like: "This is by far the most bada** thing I've ever done. This is amazing. This is one for the books."

You have been promising an album for quite a while and have put out songs including Most Girls, Starving and now Back To Life from Bumblebee. Any ETA? I had every intention of putting an album out this year, but this movie happened and this show that I'm working on with Apple called Dickinson came into the picture as well.

I finish that in January and, come February, I will be finishing what I started with the music and getting that out there for everyone.

What does music provide that acting does not? Well, it brings a whole live element that I don't necessarily get with acting. It also gives me the opportunity to share my own experiences with my name and face on the cover.

I'm not masked by a character's name or story or different time era. This is who I am.


• Bumblebee and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse are showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'As busy as a Bumblebee'. Print Edition | Subscribe