Though press has angled her as a “girl on the rise” for years, Haley Bennett has proven herself as the screen siren she set out to become.
Interview by Dustin Mansyur
It takes a special kind of girl from the Midwest to brave the shark-infested waters of Hollywood and emerge, not only unscathed, but also with one’s truest character still intact. In a world quick to tell you everything that you are not, Haley Bennett unapologetically beats her own drum to a tune that she is: grounded, earnest, and refreshingly honest. Her ability to play upon her vulnerabilities both on and off screen is what makes her most enticing. Having an “affinity for characters who have experienced loss” isn’t necessarily the kind of target P.R. strategy that most would choose for the path to becoming A-list. But then Bennett isn’t most.
For Haley’s convincing, intricate range of emotion as an actor, these are just the kind of roles that have given her career dimension and life. The whole of her experience has left her in touch with her humanity and its many complexities, in a way that makes her empathetic and aspirational. She is a different breed of protagonist, a new form of hero that captivates with a quiet strength – one that relies on the tools of good acting instead of flashy special effects. With exciting projects on the horizon, including the highlyanticipated directorial debut of Jason Hall’s Thank You For Your Service based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book by David Finkel, Bennett is positioned to beguile audiences yet again in what is certain to be a compelling story of love and war.
IRIS Covet Book recently had a chance to catch up with the winsome actress while on the set of her latest movie in production, Red Sea Diving Project. Bennett is perched inside of a production trailer on set, pandemonium ensues as the worker bees of wardrobe fawn over her, determining which pair of sunglasses best compliment her alabaster skin.
Dress by Jil Sander
How are you doing Haley? They told me you were going to be on set today for our interview.
I’m well thank you! I’m just in a hair and wardrobe test – we are dealing with wigs, sunglasses and all sorts of fun stuff!
I just want to start with a little bit about your background before we move into talking about your upcoming projects. Where did you grow up and what was your adolescence like?
I grew up near Akron, Ohio. Actually, my grandparents lived in a little town called Brimfield. It was delightfully Midwest, and quite outdoorsy as I still am. My dad was actually just visiting here in Africa, and we hiked to this incredible location called the Elephant’s Eye. It wasn’t far from what my life was like growing up. My dad would take me deer hunting, fishing, and four wheeling. I was climbing trees and swimming in creeks. It was all very idyllic.
Overalls by Palace Costume
It sounds picturesque. Growing up in the Midwest, what sparked your interest in acting? Was it something that you were drawn to early on?
I have a love for cinema. I grew up watching a lot of Time Warner classics – I was very fortunate to be able to view these incredible classics with my grandparents. I thought it was the closest thing to magic-making. I would think, ‘God, are they real people? Are these real people on real adventures?’ and when I learned that they weren’t real people I became fascinated with the process of filmmaking. Growing up in a small town, I didn’t know or understand what the path would be like in order to do that. But, of course, I wanted to be a part of that world of creating characters and storytelling – sorry, Dustin.
(We are interrupted as a wardrobe designer comes in with a mound of accessories for Haley to try on for screen tests amidst our interview. )
This is crazy! I feel like I’ve become a master juggler. This could be another hour so…
Don’t worry, we can make it work. Last year you had a banner year with a lot of lead roles. You were in The Magnificent Seven, Rules Don’t Apply and The Girl on the Train. I expect it’s only going to get crazier for you as the spotlight shines on you more with your upcoming projects.
This past year I have gotten a lot more exposure, but it has very little to do with me and everything to do with people’s perception I suppose. As an actor, you just continue to do the same work. You always hope that the story that you tell resonates and that the character you are portraying will strike a chord with the audiences. It is a lot of work, but you leave the work on the show and go home when the production is finished and you don’t think about it anymore. Naturally, the more projects you take on, the more constant your schedule is. One of the first things trying to be a master juggler is to do the best you can. It’s just like anything else.
Dress by Rag & Bone
I guess that’s your latest role right now, “master juggler”?
(Laughs) I guess that would be a natural progression. It’s been incredible to get more exposure because you do get more opportunities to come in, and to do films that you believe in. So even though I’m juggling my schedule, the opportunity to be a part of projects I am inspired by is very much welcome. That means that there is more freedom to do things that I set out to do.
Can you share with us a little about your character in the upcoming movie Thank You for Your Service? What is she like?
My character is Saskia, and the film is based on a true story about a battalion coming home from the Iraq War. David Finkel [who wrote The Good Soldier] wrote the [Pulitzer prize-winning] book upon which the film is based. He shadowed veterans who were returning home from Iraq and learned what it really meant for these soldiers to come home and to re-integrate themselves back into their civilian lives. He got to witness and be a part of their journey upon returning home. The film is a story of heartbreak, brotherhood, love and courage. These veterans like Adam Schumann and their families opened themselves up to David. Their stories became very important to us, and we all became very close as cast and crew while filming.
My dad and my grandfather are also veterans, so it was quite a personal journey working on this project. The film explores, not only what the soldiers experienced while in combat in Iraq, but also what their families were going through at home while they were away. When they came home, if they did come home, they were changed people and maybe in some cases unrecognizable to their loved ones. The film gives an intimate view of Saskia’s reality while her husband, Adam, was away – raising their two small children, one of which was under a year old when he returned; and then his journey discovering and coping with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].
Did you actually get to dialog and have conversations with the person whom your character is based upon so that you could better express and play her in the movie?
There was an enormous wealth of information in the book itself, which is very hard to read at times. It showed what Saskia went through. It’s a very complex story, but fortunately I had an opportunity to speak with Saskia prior to the film. Saskia and Adam inevitably separated and went on different paths. Since these are the lives of real people whom we are portraying, we wanted to be respectful and sensitive of their feelings. I wasn’t as close to Saskia as I would have liked, but the material and script that was adapted from the book was so rich.
Dress and Belt by Monse
Do you feel like you personally evolve by learning from the character while working on the project like this? Does it gives you a new perspective on things?
I believe we are constantly learning and evolving. Experiences merge with a person. Even if someone else has had a completely different experience than you have personally, they are still human. As humans, we all share the same spectrum of emotions. It’s innate to our humanity. I always say that I have an affinity for characters that have experienced loss. This film is no different because, in a way, Saskia has experienced an enormous loss. She loses her husband to PTSD and the aftermath of the war, and yet, the interesting part is that a lot of her friends lost their husbands to the war.
She is dealing with a complex and confusing aftermath from the war, and she has an enormous well of feelings of loss, grief, and loneliness that resulted from her husband’s return and diagnosis with PTSD. He isn’t the same man with whom she fell in love and had a full life with prior to the war. So I found her to be an incredibly strong woman to endure this lifestyle and her loss while still managing to be the light within the story.
Cape by Chloe
Wow, that sounds like it was a very emotional project to work on. What is the experience like exiting a production like this after having been in such an emotional role?
It can be an extremely intimate and intense experience depending on the film. This film in particular we had forged these incredible bonds that really allowed us access to each other’s emotions and feelings. So it was quite painful to say goodbye to this cast, crew, and staff. It’s also hard to say goodbye to the character that has made an impact on you the way that Saskia did for me. We really exposed ourselves on this film. Going back to your day-to-day life, you kind of have to put your armor back on. You go back out into the world and adjust, so it is a bittersweet process.
Jason Hall is making his directorial debut with this film. So, what was the experience like working with him?
This story is a very personal story – the veterans whom Jason shadowed have become very important to him and he really had a deep understanding of the psychology of what it was like to be in Iraq and then to come home. He spent a lot of time with them. Jason immersed himself in this world for the past five years of his life. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects those who have survived extremely traumatic events, and can affect anyone who has experienced trauma. As humans, we all will experience trauma to some degree within our lives.
I just think Jason had this incredible insight. He was able to personalize his own trauma and was very open about some of those issues. He had this way of making us really feel very connected, attached, vulnerable and empathetic to the material. He pushed us to explore emotional territory that wasn’t always comfortable. He was constantly pushing me, which I believe to be necessary. You need that push in order to lunge deeper into your work. Jason was the architect of that; working with him was a transformative experience in my life and work.
Slip Dress by Palace Costume
You’re on set of the production of Red Sea Diving Resort. Are you able to share with us any details about your role in this film, your character, and how you came on board the project?
Absolutely! I had spent a lot of time promoting Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train which was a completely new territory for me. After working on Magnificent Seven and Girl on the Train, I wanted to refocus on work, so I sought out a new project. I was reading a lot of material, but I wasn’t really connecting with any of what I was reading until I read the Red Sea Diving Resort. Then, it was all I could think about! Gideon Raff [creator and writer of Homeland] wrote the script and is directing the film. It is one of the most compelling, shocking, and evocative stories that I have ever read. It is based on a true story about a group of Mossad operatives in the 70’s with an incredible cast and crew. It’s amazing that the story hasn’t been told. But I’m glad Gideon uncovered this gem.
That’s very exciting to be involved with such stellar and exciting projects! Not only have you been busy with films, but fashion is keeping you busy as well. You are the new face of Chloé’s signature fragrance for their ten-year anniversary. How would you describe the Chloé woman and what about the brand speaks to you?
My collaboration with Chloé was a very organic one. Their brand philosophy is very aligned with my own personal aesthetic: effortless, easy, and elevated. It celebrates strong women who embrace their own femininity and freedom. The campaign film was directed by a woman named Stephanie DiGusto, who directed a film called The Dancer which is this incredibly poetic and lyrical film. I was really excited to work with a female director, and the theme of the campaign was freedom and female empowerment. Stephanie’s approach was very cinematic. We shot in South Africa in January, and the commercial itself looks like a film. It’s funny, when I was shooting the campaign, I had a feeling that I was going to be shooting my next film here. At that point, I didn’t know I was going to be doing Red Sea; but sure enough, here I am.
Coat by 3.1 Phillip Lim, Slip Dress by Palace Costume
Skirt and belt by Michael Kors
It all came full circle for you then. I am just guessing that in some ways you must feel like you are finally living the dream you had from childhood while growing up on those Time Warner classic movies. Is “the dream” constantly changing as it becomes a reality? What do you foresee in the future?
In my experience, I found that the more I tried to will something into existence, the more resistant it became. Now, I think that when you allow yourself to be the most open to all possibilities, that is when the most exciting things begin to happen. I live with a willingness to be surprised, to let life take me where it wants to. You can make your mind up about something, but in the end you really have very little say in things. I think it is important to live in the moment and to be open to life.
The sun is setting in South Africa. As I thank her for her time and juggling all the many distractions of being on set while managing to hold down an interview with charm and eloquence. She interjects just before we hang up, “The biggest distraction was that gorgeous sunset!”
Cardigan by No. 21, Vintage Slip and Boots from Palace Costume.
Dress and Belt by Alexander McQueen
Hair by Lona Vigi using Clairol at Starworks Artists, Makeup by Sabrina Bedrani using Dior, Nails by Morgan McGuire using Chanel, Prop styling by Ali Gallagher, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Photographer’s 1st Assistant Jordan Jennings , 2nd Assistant Luc Richard Elle, Digital Tech Logan Bingham, Producer Monae Caviness @ Jones Management and XTheStudio, Stylist Assistant Jake Sammis.