Hailee Steinfeld hits her mark: The Dickinson star prepares to enter the MCU with Hawkeye
The first time Hailee Steinfeld appeared in a feature film, she was nominated for an Oscar. Celebrated at 14 for embodying the self-confident, acerbic Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers' True Grit, the young star seemed capable of anything. And she spent the next decade proving that assumption correct — encapsulating the existential angst of teens both contemporary (The Edge of Seventeen) and Shakespearean (Romeo & Juliet), sharing top billing with a Transformer (Bumblebee), summoning the spirit of Emily Dickinson (Dickinson), and even becoming a pop star (in real life and the Pitch Perfect franchise). That's not to say everything comes easy to the actress. Case in point: the archery lessons she was taking in Los Angeles.
"I'd watched so many videos of actors and professional archers doing it, so by the time I got to the archery range for the very first time, I literally picked up the bow like I knew what the heck I was doing, loaded the arrow, and felt ready to go," the actress, now 24, recalls with a chuckle. "My instructor looked at me and was just like, 'Okay. We got work to do.'"
We'll see the results of that work when Steinfeld makes her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut alongside Jeremy Renner in Disney+'s archer-superhero series Hawkeye on Nov. 24.
"It's very, very exciting to be in the MCU at all. I still haven't been able to get over that," says Steinfeld, who has long admired the visual storytelling of comics — making it all the more fitting that her first superhero role came as the voice of Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman in 2018's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which channeled the page-turning excitement and mind-blowing colors of the best Marvel comics. Now, with Hawkeye, Steinfeld is taking the spotlight in the world's biggest superhero franchise as Kate Bishop, a character Marvel fans have been awaiting for years. "Playing someone that people are in fact very excited to see — it makes me feel honored to be the one bringing her to life," says the L.A. native.
Created by writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung for their Young Avengers comic, Kate first appeared in the Marvel pages in 2005. At the time, the two-dimensional version of Avenger Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) was temporarily dead, as one tends to be from time to time in comics. Kate — thanks to her skill with a bow, distinctive purple wardrobe, and irrepressible joy at being a superhero — was an instant hit as a new, young Hawkeye.
Finding the perfect person to bring such a beloved character to life seemed like a daunting task, but "I remember the very first day when [executive producer and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige] and I sat with Hailee to talk about it. We were just like, 'This is Kate Bishop,'" says Trinh Tran, an executive producer on Hawkeye. "When you read the comics, you get that energy from Kate — that wit and those smarts. And meeting Hailee, you see she's so incredibly talented. Just look at the body of work she's accomplished at such a young age. We knew having her be a part of the MCU one way or another would be very exciting, but when we started talking about this particular project and this character, she just became our go-to girl."
"Diving into all the information out there on Kate Bishop felt like a dream,"says Steinfeld, whose primary research text became Matt Fraction and David Aja's critically acclaimed Hawkeye comic. First published in 2012, the series saw Kate finally join forces with Clint — though this tale of two Hawkeyes was more than a standard superhero-and-sidekick dynamic. Kate came to the bow and arrow on her own, though Clint's years of experience are still a benefit.
"The Fraction/Aja style and tone is what we were really gravitating towards," Tran says of evoking the signature Hawkeye banter of the comics on their new show. "Once they encounter each other and go off on this journey together, there's so much they can bounce off each other."
A similar dynamic blossomed behind the scenes on Hawkeye, where Renner — who has been playing Clint since his cameo appearance in 2011's Thor — was able to impart essential MCU knowledge to his new costar.
"I wanted [the archery] to be second nature by the time I got out to Atlanta to shoot, but the first time we met, Jeremy was like, 'Listen, you're going to get there and you're not even shooting a real arrow, it's all CGI,'" Steinfeld recalls. "But I was still grateful to have the mechanics down."
The actress knows that kind of authenticity is important when playing a character steeped in mythology. "Hailee is an astoundingly fierce, passionate, committed, disciplined artist," says Alena Smith, the showrunner of Dickinson, which stars Steinfeld as poet Emily Dickinson.
The Apple TV+ series (back for its third and final season on Friday) mixes real-life biographical details about Dickinson with surrealistic depictions of her vivid imagination. According to Smith, Steinfeld is just as strong-willed as her character — and the glue holding the disparate elements of the series together.
"As a producer, Hailee contributed in many ways to the show," Smith says. "Both on the level of specific ideas for design, music, and editorial choices, as well as being a leader on set and always setting a tone of dedication and positivity that inspired others around her to aim high."
For her part, Steinfeld credits Smith ("my own personal Emily Dickinson encyclopedia") for bringing historical accuracy to the series, just as she credits writers like Fraction for building Kate's backstory on the comics page. The fun is in taking that material and building something new out of it. "With Kate, I think it's sort of a similar thing as Dickinson where there's all this information about her, there's different versions of this story and character, and it's a huge evolution," Steinfeld says. "I think it's going to be very exciting for fans to see what we've taken from all that and put into this show."
Steinfeld's own takeaway? A new hobby.
"Ever since I got home from shooting, I've been trying to figure out where I could stack some hay bales and put up a new archery target." If MCU fans' hopes for her future in the franchise come to fruition, she'll be putting those hours of practice to good use.
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly's November issue, on newsstands now and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.