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How did Hailee Steinfeld land a supporting actress nomination?

January 26, 2011 | 11:29 am

Hailee Hailee Steinfeld, the precocious star of "True Grit," is living a dream. The 14-year-old took her debut role in a feature film as Mattie Ross and turned it into an Oscar nomination. What's even more surprising to some is that the sole female star who is in virtually every scene landed in the supporting actress category, edging out Mila Kunis ("Black Swan") for a spot among the five women. Why and how?

Paramount Pictures campaigned hard for Steinfeld in the supporting acting category, arguing that because she is only 14, recognition in supporting is more appropriate than in the lead category. There is some historical precedent for the move. Tatum O'Neal won for supporting actress for "Paper Moon" back in 1974 despite the role being a lead. And Anna Paquin also won in the category for her turn in "The Piano." (In that case, however, it really was a supporting part.) Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated as a lead actress at the age of 13, becoming the youngest star ever to land in the category, and her part in "Whale Rider," one could argue, was no more meaty than Steinfeld's.

Perhaps the real reason for the campaign for supporting has more to do with her odds. The best actress category was packed this year, and putting Steinfeld up against veterans Annette Bening and Nicole Kidman seems like a tough battle. The supporting category was more open with only the top three slots of Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and Helena Bonham Carter considered shoo-ins. With the last two slots open to the field, Steinfeld could compete more easily against whoever else was nominated, be it Jacki Weaver, who costarred in the little-seen "Animal Kingdom," or Kunis, who despite her strong performance in "Black Swan" is still best known for her comedic roles in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Extract" and her history on "That '70s Show."

Either way, the slot is Steinfeld's now. It's going to be a tough road up to the stage, though, with Leo and  Bonham Carter considered the front-runners for the win.

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Hailee Steinfeld. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters