Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another of my Ender's Game interviews from the set. This time I have my conversation with young Hailee Steinfeld. Her performance in True Grit knocked my socks off, so I was pleased to hear that she was cast as Petra Arkanian, Ender's trusted confidant as he navigates the stresses of Battle School.
Petra's an interesting character in that she sort of becomes Ender's own Jiminy Cricket, his reassurance that you can be both cunningly brilliant and also a good person at the same time. Their friendship provides a bit of a life raft for him when everybody else is either out to get him or mold him into a cold killer for their own purposes.
Having now seen the movie, that relationship comes off really well in the adaptation and I can say Steinfeld once again turns in a nuanced performance far beyond her years.
At the time of this chat, Ms. Steinfeld had just finished up shooting a Battle Room scene and was wrapped for the day, but still stuck around to chat with me a little bit. Here's that chat. Enjoy!
Quint: Petra as a character is incredibly crucial in Ender's development. His sister was very important in forming his identity while on Earth, but he's missing that now and it seems that Petra is the closest to an intellectual equal that he has. She's also a good person and good influence. Is that how you read the character?
Hailee Steinfeld: I think what's great about the relationship between Ender and Petra... when he comes to Battle School it's immediately that kind of thing where you see kids pick on him, you see the kids that take him in, but with him and Petra, as you said perfectly, he sees a lot of his sister in Petra and I think Petra sees a lot of herself in Ender. She was exactly in his position when she first came and she doesn't like the way he's being picked on because that's the way it happened to her. She made it through it, but she didn't like it, it wasn't fun, so she takes him under her wing and teaches him out to shoot. At the same time, she's still competing with him, so she doesn't give out all her (tactics). However they still become really great friends and that's what's so great about that relationship.
Quint: She's a very strong character in that she recognizes the threat Ender poses to her status within Battle School, but doesn't lash out at him for it, unlike Bonzo. Petra also gets to help nurture Ender's empathy a bit.
Hailee Steinfeld: It's kind of a perfect little triangle. Bonzo is the leader of the team and we all follow his commands, but at the same time there are some really great moments that Asa and I have in the movie... it's just that exchange of a look between him and I based off of a remark that Bonzo make, a kind of “You've got to be kidding me” look. That's one of the best parts about their relationship, all it takes is a second of eye contact and we get each other.
Quint: Have you been able to put a lot of your own personality into Petra, maybe moreso than you have in your previous performances?
Hailee Steinfeld: I find a few similarities between Petra and Mattie, who I played in True Grit, just in terms of she's a very strong-willed woman and she sets a goal for herself and goes after it.
Quint: But Petra get to keep both of her arms...
Hailee Steinfeld: (laughs) Absolutely, yes! But I feel like in the everyday typical, like, high school kind of thing kids are bullied and I've been in that situation in the middle where I don't know who to look to. Playing somebody like Petra, who is the go-to person, has been really great for me because I haven't really played much like that and she's a really loveable character.
Quint: We should talk a little about how you bonded with the other actors. I hear you all went to Space Camp together. You hear about that kind of prep for war movies, where the producers send the cast to boot camp, but it's not as common for movies like this.
Hailee Steinfeld: I actually didn't get to go with the boys, unfortunately, but as I'm sure you've heard they had a blast. I had a blast, I did still go and it was a lot of fun, but honestly we have become such a tight group and it's been so great. This is my first film with kids my age. I was sold right there. Usually it's that thing where you go to work, then you go home at the end of the day and before you know it the film is done and that's that, but with this we go out to dinner every night, we hang out on the weekends and we're all so, so, so close.
Quint: I imagine that's going to show through onscreen.
Hailee Steinfeld: It's funny, we'll have moments on set... Moises (Arias), who plays Bonzo, he's absolutely incredible. When we're on the set, all of us get into the zone and leave our jokes and everything for later, but sooooometimes we'll slip up and we'll have those moments where we can't stop laughing.
Quint: Is there any particular sequence you're particularly looking forward to seeing in the final film?
Hailee Steinfeld: To be completely honest, and I know this probably isn't the answer you're looking for, but really all of it because going from these kind of practical, real-life sets to greenscreen and having to use your huge imagination to see what's around you and work with the little that you have, I'm really excited to see how that cuts together. I've never done anything like this and can only imagine what it's going to be like. It's going to be ridiculous, I'm so excited!
Quint: As an actor, do you have a preference to working with real sets or letting your imagination run wild on a greenscreen set?
Hailee Steinfeld: I don't prefer one over the other. I think they're both pretty great. Obviously, when you have things around you that are written in and you have to use them the challenge there is to make it natural, to make it work, and that's great. On a greenscreen it's all up to you.
Working with Gavin has been so incredible because he's off on the side yelling out these incredible things that open up your imagination and you get to go in and just have fun with it.
Quint: How challenging is the wirework? It seems like you have quite a lot of it in this movie.
Hailee Steinfeld: It's exciting and different. At the end of the day those harnesses and those Flash Suits are not the most comfortable things, but you get up there and you get into this whole other world.
Garrett Warren, our stunt supervisor, has built amazing rigs and there's all these special, cool, secret ways of achieving the look of zero g and I think people will be amazed at how real it looks.
Quint: How long, exactly, did it take for the fun to wear off and the uncomfortableness of these sequences to sink in?
Hailee Steinfeld: (claps and laughs) It's funny, it's almost the other way around. You get up there and it's like “Oh, my Gosh... Let's roll, let's do this! Let's get this done!” then they're like “Okay, we're done,” and I'm like “Aww... I was just getting comfortable up there!”
Thanks to Ms. Steinfeld for sticking around and answering some questions. Yet more cast interviews are coming your way! Stay tuned!