Take two young actresses at the top of their games – Hailee Steinfeld of “Pitch Perfect 2” and Sophie Turner of “Game of Thrones” – place them in a mashup of an espionage thriller and a high-school romantic comedy, and you have what’s destined to be a cult favorite, “Barely Lethal.”
Directed by Kyle Newman (“Faboys”), the unconventional but engrossing film deftly blends the tropes of two seemingly incongruous genres into something decidedly fresh and funny that also plays to the strengths of two of its young stars. Steinfeld plays Megan Walsh, an orphan raised from childhood to be an unstoppable assassin in a girls’ private academy with a strict no-personal-attachments credo enforced by its headmaster (Samuel L. Jackson).
But when a mission to capture a renegade agent (Jessica Alba) goes awry and leaves Megan missing in action, she takes the opportunity to infiltrate an everyday family as a visiting international student, reveling in every bit of high-school normalcy she can sample. But when Megan is found out, her colleague and cutthroat rival Heather, played by Turner, is placed undercover to keep an eye on her – and, just for kicks, ruin her new life whenever possible.
Given their high level of accomplishment early in their acting careers – the 18-year-old Steinfeld was nominated for an Oscar at age 14 for “True Grit”; 19-year-old Turner has starred for five seasons on one of the most-watched dramas on television, and will play Jean Grey in “X-Men: Apocalypse” – it comes as little surprise that the two onscreen adversaries bonded in real life. Indeed, both sounding a little sniffly, they shared a blanket when they sat down with SPINOFF to discuss everything from spycraft to superheroics to singing prowess.
Spinoff Online: How quickly did you latch on to how nicely this mashup of genres was going to be to play out?
Haliee Steinfeld: I was actually pretty confused by it at first, at how they were going to pull it off. I met with Kyle Newman pretty early on, and he had everything mapped out. He had, like, a playlist, and I went through and sort of, like, flipped through the script while each song was for each scene or whatever, and he really had a vision of it. It touches a full perspective, and he really was able to kind of translate that verbally and visually to me. And I loved what he had in mind and got excited about it.
Sophie Turner: Also, just as soon as I saw the cast, as soon as I spoke to Kyle about who he was thinking of casting, I was just like, "There's no way that I can't be part of this film!" It's such a brilliant cast. People like Thomas Mann, and Gabe Basso and Toby Sebastian – they're all like so talented. And a lot of them, I think, are so underrated. And it was just really exciting to be able to kind of work with amazing people like that, as well as with Sam and Hailee. She's OK. She's only an Oscar nominee!
Was there one side of the equation that you preferred? The badass stuff or teen romantic comedy?
Steinfeld: They were both really fun. I really loved everything I had with Sophie, and that was a lot of the fight choreography and a lot of the darker, black clothing and assassin-ness. That was, I found really, really fun, but also, again, like, the party scenes and homecoming and being on a high school campus. That was really fun. So I don't know. There was never a dull moment, that's for sure.
Sophie, was it fun to be more of a badass than you usually play?
Steinfeld: You were only a badass.
Turner: I was the only badass. I didn't have any of the light heartedness. I mean, it still was lighthearted, like the party scenes and stuff. It was a lot of fun, just like messing around and creating comedic moments and kind of dark moments. But the thing about Kyle is that he kind of lets you run free with whatever you want to do with the character. So you could, in a way, create a lot of lighthearted comedic moments, and he'd be cool with it. So it was really fun. But no, I did really enjoy all the fighting.
Did you get a new appreciation because a lot of your “Game of Thrones” co stars have to do a lot of fighting?
Turner: Oh, definitely. I mean, I can't even compare what I did to them, though, because they have to do everything but with like heavy, heavy armor.
Steinfeld: Pounds of ... I can't imagine.
Turner: So I was just, like, "Ugh, I'm glad I don't do any swordfighting!" But it was difficult – well, it wasn't difficult. It was fun, but challenging.
Are you fans of the misfit-teen romance genre?
Steinfeld: “Mean Girls”! “Breakfast Club”!
Turner: “Sixteen Candles”! “Clueless”!
Steinfeld: There definitely are a ton, so to be a part of one, that, hopefully, people will feel the same way as we do about those is really cool.
It's interesting that you mention all these different movies from different time periods. Good films in that genre are kind of eternal. Are you hoping that longevity for this one?
Steinfeld: Well, I think you hope that for every everything. But I do think that there's something special about this movie. I saw it with my family. My older brother's 21, so, like, right out of college, but just went through high school. My parents, who did not just go through high school, and they still find things in this movie that they can relate to and that they remember. And I think that's what's so great about it is, there are these movies every so often. So to have one now, for our friends and our generation is kind of exciting.
Having acting careers at the early ages that you both you started, did you feel a little left of center yourselves among your peers, like your characters – trying to figure out where you fit in the mainstream world?
Turner: Yeah, we were just talking about how this is normal for us. And, I guess, we have missed out on what is considered the normal adolescence, just in terms of, like, prom or whatever, having boyfriends and stuff. But I don't know. I don't really feel like – because whatever we've missed out on, we've gained in another experiences.
Steinfeld: I find it's happening more and more. Maybe it's just that we're getting older, and we're gaining experience, but I mean, I was about 9, 10, when I got started. And I think if I walked into it thinking what I was doing wasn't normal or a little left of center, it wouldn't have been the same. It's funny. In making this movie, we had months of fight training, and it was like, "We know that we have a month of this. And at the end of it, we're going to have it down." And it's the same thing of walking into an audition – like, "I want this part. I've got to get it." It's the same thing of like, "I really want to win this soccer thing for my team." Like, "We've got to do this." It's the same. It's just a different world.
This movie takes the fight scenes seriously. Hailee, do you want to do a movie where you get to really go all out and play a full-on spy or superhero?
Steinfeld: Yeah, man! I think any kind of superhero or anything like that would be baller. That would be so awesome. But I definitely think I got like a little taste of it with this, which was really fun.
And Sophie, you have your superhero role with Jean Grey.
Turner: I do!
Steinfeld: [Shouting] Ahh!!
Turner: Stop it, you!
Steinfeld: I'm so excited about this.
What got you creatively excited about the opportunity to play her?
Turner: Creatively, I mean, just like feasting my eyes upon that script was insane. And I mean, I just think the fact that it's such an iconic character and so well loved in the comics and stuff that it's very exciting to be able to take it on. Famke Janssen's portrayed Jean so well, so beautifully, and it's nice to kind of – although I'm "young her," it's nice to have my own take on it as well and interpret this character, this action superhero the way that I kind of want to. Oh, my God. It's so exciting!
Are you doing a lot of research?
Turner: I've done a bit of research, yeah. I mean, every “X Men” movie that's ever been released, yeah and, like TV “X Men” stuff, I've seen it all, yeah.
Hailee, you've had such a diverse career so far. Is there another genre that you haven't really tackled yet that you're dying to sample?
Steinfeld: I haven't really done like a thriller kind of thing, which could be kind of fun if it's got a great script. But I don't know. This one's cool because it's kind of everything. Like action, romantic comedy, with drama, and ... leather [laughs].
And you got to show off your musical chops in film with “Pitch Perfect 2,” and as a result you just signed a record deal.
Steinfeld: I did, yes.
What's got you excited about being able to explore what you want to explore, musically?
Steinfeld: Just everything. And the fact that I've been given this opportunity is just – music has always been a passion of mine, so to really be able to take it seriously ... I mean, as an actor, music has been such a huge part of my preparation, and in my own personal life I've obviously grown up listening to all different genres of music, just from my family listening to different genres. So to be able to make my own music is so creatively fulfilling. And it's just really something that I love doing, and I'm so thankful that I'm now a part of the Republic team, and they've given me the opportunity to really do it.
Sophie, do you have that other talent stashed away that you're looking to explore.
Steinfeld: Oh, yes, you do. You can [British accent] do everything! You can do all of it!
Turner: That's why I do acting. I genuinely, genuinely believed that I was so good at singing.
Steinfeld: Oh, stop. You've got a good voice. We made a really funny video.
Turner: But she's also my friend, so she has to say that.
Steinfeld: That's not true. I wouldn't be sitting here saying, you have a really good voice.
Turner: I don't know. I used to do gymnastics quite a lot, up until I hit, like, 16. And I had to quit because I was working quite a lot. But I would like to go back and maybe do that. Or I did ballet.
Steinfeld: Duh. Even I was going to mention that.
Turner: I think I forgot it. I did ballet quite a lot, so I would like to do something like that. But who knows?
We're in a time where female characters we're seeing in films are increasingly empowered and three-dimensional. Is that important to you, to be able to find these kinds of physically capable characters that traditionally men had a choke hold on but have interesting colors in their personalities as well?
Steinfeld: Yeah, I definitely think it is. And the great thing about this movie is we never – I don't know that we intended on it being, like. a "women empowerment" kind of movie. It's so not that, but in it, you have that which is really kind of awesome. And you have these young girls who are capable of almost anything. And this really centers on that and focuses on that: that even from young girls to teenage, high school, whatever, they can handle just about anything. And regardless of how they handle it, that's different due to the person. But more capable of ...
Turner: [Cheery] More capable of just as much as guys!
Sophie, in your day job on “Game of Thrones,” your character Sansa has been some seriously victimized situations. Was this role something of an antidote for that, to be able to be so powerful?
Turner: Yeah, I never took on this role to get away from Sansa. But it kind of was like a breath of fresh air, especially doing the fighting scenes where I could be the threat to someone rather than the other way around, being the victim. And it was really exciting for me to kind of release all that pent up anger and frustration.
Are you excited for that probably inevitable moment when it happens for Sansa on the show? Where she finally has her day?
Turner: I don't know if it's inevitable. It's “Game of Thrones.” It's not like people get their comeuppance on that show, I don't think.
You've come up doing your jobs at a time of great connectedness, when you have direct lines of communication with your audiences. What's been great or interesting about seeing fan's reaction immediately to the work you're doing?
Steinfeld: I think one thing that's really kind of interesting about it is it's kind of the only live reaction we get as actors. We do our work, and months later people see it. Whereas you have a musician who, they perform live to an audience, right in front of them, then they get that live reaction – whereas we don't get that. So I think over social media, we are able to put something out or say something that we feel strongly about, and we get a live reaction, which is really pretty amazing.
Turner: I never thought of it that way. We're now the musicians.
Do you sometimes peek in and interact whether they know it’s you or not?
Steinfeld: I constantly stalk my fans, always [laughs].
Turner: Do you?
Steinfeld: No. [Laughs] But I will say, it's kind of an amazing thing. One thing I'm fascinated by is where they're from in the world and how they're from all over. I find that just so cool. But yeah, I definitely like to tune in. I like to see what's going on in the world.
Turner: It is nice in the same way that Hailee kind of said. You play our movie, and you don't actually get to see how many people that movie has affected. And then when the movie or the TV show or whatever comes out, and then all of a sudden, people are Tweeting at you. And you're like, they're from. Like. the Caribbean or they're from all reaches of the world. It makes you realize how much of an impact things can really have on people.
”Barely Lethal” premieres today in select theaters and on iTunes.