A 13-Year-Old, A Burlap Dress And A Career Launch That Took 'Grit' Ethan and Joel Coen spent months searching for the right actress to play Mattie Ross in their 2010 film True Grit. Then, just weeks before filming, Hailee Steinfeld showed up — dressed in character.
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A 13-Year-Old, A Burlap Dress And A Career Launch That Took 'Grit'

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A 13-Year-Old, A Burlap Dress And A Career Launch That Took 'Grit'

A 13-Year-Old, A Burlap Dress And A Career Launch That Took 'Grit'

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

"True Grit" is the story of a stubborn teenager determined to track down her father's killer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRUE GRIT")

JEFF BRIDGES: (As Rooster Cogburn) What's your name, girl?

HAILEE STEINFELD: (As Mattie Ross) My name is Mattie Ross. We are located in Yell County. My mother is at home looking after my sister, Victoria, and my brother, little Frank.

RATH: That's actress Hailee Steinfeld alongside Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers' film, "True Grit." That role was Hailee Steinfeld's big break. Just weeks before filming, the Coen brothers couldn't find the right Mattie Ross. Then, Steinfeld showed up dressed in character. The night before her audition, Steinfeld and her mom went to a Jo-Ann Fabric store.

STEINFELD: She got, like, a burlap material. And the night before, my mom had, like, sewn together this skirt for me and an old top that we found in her closet that was, like, a - I don't even know where it came from. But it was perfect, and it worked. For the first time, I really felt like I was confident enough to go fully in that sort of era, in that look. And I went onto the Paramount lot, and I auditioned. And then, I believe it was two days later, I got called back. And then, two weeks later, I was called in to read with Jeff Bridges for the Coen brothers. And then, I think it was, like, a week after that, I was then on a plane to make the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRUE GRIT")

STEINFELD: (As Mattie Ross) I'd like to talk to you a minute.

BRIDGES: (As Rooster Cogburn) What is it?

STEINFELD: (As Mattie Ross) They tell me you're a man with true grit.

I was 13. I was 13 when I auditioned, 13 when I made it and 14 by the time it came out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRUE GRIT")

STEINFELD: (As Mattie Ross) I'm looking for the man who shot and killed my father, Frank Ross, in front of the Monarch boarding house. The man's name is Tom Chaney. They say he's over in Indian territory, and I need somebody to go after him.

I would definitely say that my role as Mattie Ross in "True Grit" was my big break. I love - I love the scene between Mattie and Rooster when she goes to - when she goes to give him the money to go out on their journey of avenging her father's death. And he's, like, asleep. And she just goes in there and just, like, lays it on him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRUE GRIT")

STEINFELD: (As Mattie Ross) I know you can drink whiskey and snore and spit and wallow in filth and bemoan your station. The rest has been braggadocio. They told me you had grit. And that is why I came to you. I'm not paying for talk. I can get all the talk I need and more at the Monarch boarding house.

My last day of filming, I could not stop crying. And I remember, like, I just thought the world was coming to an end. And I remember Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon looking at me, saying, this is just the beginning. Seeing the film for the first time was so overwhelming. I remember sitting there. And the movie ended, but no one moved. No one - no one got up until the credits were finished rolling because every single name that came up, I was like, oh, my God, I love that person. That person was awesome. Oh, my God, this was great. And I'd have a memory with every single person involved. And there are so many. And I think there's so many different things that I would like to try, I think within filmmaking. And I think right now - I mean, acting just makes me so happy. And I love it so much. And yeah, I definitely see myself doing it forever.

RATH: Hailee Steinfeld. Her new film, "Pitch Perfect 2" is out this weekend. You don't have to audition for a Coen brothers film to have a big break. Send us your story, mybigbreak@npr.org.

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