Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.
Haley Lu Richardson says she isn’t a workaholic, but the last few weeks at the multiplex tell a different story. “Somehow the two movies that I’ve done recently are just coming out the same month,” she told IndieWire in a recent interview. “I would rather do quality over quantity. I would rather do one, maybe two things a year and be really, really passionate about them. … Now they’re [both] coming out, and then for a year I’m going to be like, ‘Oh, I guess I’ve done nothing in my life recently.'”
The two films couldn’t be more different: one is the Nazi drama “Operation Finale,” in which the bubbly actress stars as a young Jewish girl who helps bring SS officer Adolf Eichmann to justice, and the amiable comedy “Support the Girls,” where she’s cast as a happy-go-lucky waitress at a Hooters-esque “breastaurant.” Next month, she’ll premiere “The Chaperone” at LAFF, in which she portrays silent movie legend Louise Brooks as she approaches her big break.
Richardson has been plotting her own big break for some time. Like Brooks, she was just a teenager when she decided to make a real go of this career-in-entertainment thing.
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“I’d never played a real character, and she’s pretty iconic,” Richardson said. “And I don’t look anything like her! But what we did have in common is her moving from a small town to New York when she’s 15, 16 years old to pursue dancing. A chaperone, who’s Elizabeth McGovern, comes with her and it’s the story about how they affect one another. That resonated with me, because I moved to LA from Arizona when I was 16 to dance and act and my mom came with me and [we have] this bond and we learned from each other.”
The film also offered her the chance to dance, something she’s been itching to fold into her burgeoning acting career. “I dance here and there, but I’m not as competitive nearly or intense as I used to be,” she said. “But my dream is to do a dance movie, like a real proper [dance movie], bring back the dance movie like Fred Astaire, but now in a contemporary [setting].”
When asked if she knew about Sam Rockwell’s recently announced Bob Fosse miniseries, she lit up. She’s already sent in a “last-minute” dance reel in the hopes that the production might be able to find a part for her.
After Richardson and her mom arrived in Hollywood, the actress booked a bunch of TV roles, including a recurring part on the ABC Family series “Ravenswood” and a guest spot on Disney’s “Shake It Up.” It’s her film work that most people recognize her from, including her work in the Hailee Steinfeld-starring “Edge of Seventeen,” in which she managed to take a classic best friend part and turn it into something special.
“Even when I wasn’t even getting auditions and casting directors didn’t give a shit about me, I knew I was going to do this for a living and do it for my passion because I was committed,” Richardson said. “I feel like the past seven years since I moved to LA, every year [I’ve been] doing something a little bit more seen, a little bit more interesting to me. I’ve gotten to be a little bit more picky every year and I’ve learned more. … After ‘Split’ and ‘Edge of Seventeen’ came out, then people were like, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re an actual actor.'”
She started getting offers for parts, not requests “to come in five times to audition.” Asked if she felt any pressure to make the jump to franchises and superhero stories, Richardson said no, though she’s not ruling them out.
“I haven’t felt pressure, but I would do one if it was a fun one that I really thought was cool,” she said. “Would I want to be some sidekick girlfriend in some big [movie]? I don’t know. Maybe I would do it if it was written really well and I was really excited about all the people involved. I feel like that would be another challenge to make such a big world like that grounded in a way. I feel like that would be fun.”
At the other end of the spectrum, she earned some of the best reviews of her career (plus a Gotham nomination for best actress) in video essayist Kogonada’s debut film, “Columbus.” “I think part of the reason why I love it so much is because I loved the experience I had making it,” she said. “When you work hard, it is nice to have people be affected by it. That’s the thing about that movie, which was different than any movie I’ve ever been in, people really got what all we set out to do.”
The accolades were nice, too. “I was like, ‘People might never say this kind of stuff about me again, so I might as well accept it and enjoy it right now,'” she said.
To relax, Richardson has a hobby: crocheting, with an Etsy shop, Hooked by Haley Lu. “It’s like the one thing I have in my life where I don’t put pressure on myself because I don’t really have expectations for myself to be the best crocheter in the world, so I just have so much pure joy doing it,” she said. “And it’s very therapeutic. My mom taught me when I was eight, so I’ve literally just been doing it ever since. … I feel like it’s so important for me at least to not just have acting be my creative outlet, because I put way too much pressure on myself with that.”
But really, no, she’s not a workaholic. “I think I just have to keep really trusting myself,” she said. “My mom reads pretty much every script I’m offered still, and she sends me emails saying, ‘Mom’s two cents.’ I’m not even kidding. I could pull up hundreds of ‘Mom’s two cents’ emails. I think I just have to trust the people around me and my gut. I really want to dance. Dance is the most important thing.”
“Operation Finale” and “Support the Girls” are in theaters now.