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Why is 'True Grit's' Hailee Steinfeld in SAG's supporting actress category?

December 17, 2010 |  2:49 pm


Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, the plucky Southern teenager who seeks to avenge her father's murder in the Coen Bros. upcoming film "True Grit." On Thursday the Screen Actors Guild honored Steinfeld's performance with a nod in the best supporting actress category opposite such actresses as Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Helena Bonham Carter and Mila Kunis.

But what sets Steinfeld's performance apart from the other women in this category is that her character is in almost every scene of the film. So why is she a supporting actress?

According to Paramount's award consultant Lea Yardum, Parmount, the Coen Bros., Steinfeld's parents and the movie's producers decided as a group to submit Steinfeld in the supporting category, in recognition of her age and lack of movie experience.

"This is the standard place where you put a kid who's never done a movie before," Yardum said. "Whenever you're working with a child, it's more about honoring her place in the industry as a kid, and she's still a kid. To put that much pressure on a kid would be a bit much."

Yardum adds that those behind the film were concerned what the added pressure of naming Steinfeld lead actress would mean for the 14-year-old. She's already receiving plenty of press for her performance in the western, but making her carry the entire movie herself, which most lead actresses do, would be an awful lot for her narrow shoulders to bear. Also, it might be seen as a bit presumptuous to put Steinfeld up against some of today's most accomplished actresses, such as Annette Bening and Nicole Kidman, women she would be competing with if she have been submitted and nominated in the best actress category.

Of course, SAG, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, can choose to nominate her in whatever category they wish, though clearly SAG didn't balk at the supporting distinction. And in the past, the Academy rarely has when it comes to child actors.

Tatum O'Neal in "Paper Moon" and Anna Paquin in "The Piano" were nominated in the supporting actress category despite the size of their roles. Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was nominated for her role in 2004's "Whale Rider," was submitted by her studio for supporting actress, but the Academy chose to nominate her in the lead actress category.

"Keisha was playing opposite a whale," Yardum said. "Hailee is part of an ensemble cast. 'True Grit' is also Jeff Bridges' movie and he's carrying it as a lead actor does."

"True Grit" opens wide on Dec. 22.

 -- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit." Credit: Lorey Sebastian / Paramount Pictures