Hailee Steinfeld Talks ‘3 Days to Kill’ and Learning to Be an Assassin from Kevin Costner

Hailee Steinfeld, 3 Days To KillRelativity Media via Everett Collection

At only 14 years old, Hailee Steinfeld was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in her big screen debut True Grit. Since then, she’s proven it wasn’t a fluke by showcasing her talents in a wide variety of films — most recently, she saw both the period romance Romeo and Juliet and the sci-fi thriller Ender’s Game open within weeks of each other, earning her plenty of new accolades. Her latest film is 3 Days to Kill, in which she plays Zoey, the teenage daughter of retired Secret Service agent Ethan (Kevin Costner), who is forced back into his former profession after he is diagnosed with cancer in order to try and steal some more time with his daughter. 

We spoke with Steinfeld about 3 Days to Kill to talk about filming on location in France, what she learned about playing an assassin, and why the costumes were one of the most exciting aspects of the job for her. 

The film is a lot of fun, and very exciting, but there’s also this strong emotional thread running through it with Ethan and Zoey. Was the combination of those things what drew you to the film, or was it working with Kevin Costner, or even just the chance to shoot in France?
Everything you just said. When I read the script, first of all, I couldn’t believe that I had my hands on something that Luc Besson had written. That was a really exciting thing for me. I really love him and his work, and reading it and getting that heart pounding, action-thriller vibe was a really exciting thing. And then on top of that, you have this incredible father-daughter relationship that you see evolve throughout the film, and I loved everything about that. It was so much fun diving into it, and since playing a teenage girl was something I was able to identify with fairly easily, I had a really great time with it.

What was your relationship on-set with Kevin Costner like? Did you keep your distance so your characters would feel more estranged, or was it a lot more relaxed and casual?
When we started the first few weeks of filming, we filmed the first few scenes of the movie that you see Ethan and Zoey in, where they’re sort of estranged and don’t necessarily know each other. And then by the end of the film, Kevin and I were really able to bond and get to know each other, and we had a really great relationship that I think really came through onscreen. So it happened very organically and in sync with the film in a way.

You’re actually playing an assassin yourself in your upcoming film Barely Lethal. Did you pick up any tips from Kevin when you were filming, or did he give you any advice for when it was your turn?
He didn’t! I didn’t know that I was doing Barely Lethal when I was shooting 3 Days to Kill, but it was so interesting because I was watching a couple of movies and I was thinking – it’s so funny you said that because I definitely thought about it – and I was like, “I have had a dad that was one!” I was able to sort of think of that. He’s really good at playing the secret agent thing. It’s really, really good.

You’ve done films of many genres – romance, indie, westerns – but so many of your films are very action-oriented. Is there something about this genre in particular that keeps drawing you back?  
I think all of the films that I’ve done that have an action element comes after what I see as very character-driven and very heartwarming. The action or thrilling part is a bonus, in other words. With 3 Days to Kill, it’s extremely thrilling and very action-oriented, but you have that father-daughter relationship that I was really drawn to. I remember [the director] McG was showing me some of the film when I saw him a couple months ago. He was showing me the first few minutes, and he was like, “I bet you didn’t have any idea you were a part of this movie, did you?” And I didn’t because, you know, it’s so big and on such a large scale, the action, and then you have these incredible moments between Zoey and her father. So, there’s a lot going on and I think there are so many different things along with the action that sort of draw me to these movies.

So, when you watched the movie back, were there any scenes that you wished you could have been involved in or a part of? Because your character, Zoey, is pretty removed from all of the big fight scenes. 
Yeah. I think, me personally, I always wish I was involved in the craziness. But it’s really amazing how it’s all balanced out and how it makes perfect sense in the film, and how Kevin’s character, Ethan, how his world, how his job completely works its way out and around her life. I think it was really interesting the way that was done. 

You filmed on location in France. Was there any location or experience in particular that stands out to you when you think back on it? What kind of effect do you think working on location has on the film?
We shot a scene under an arch that leads to an entrance of the Louvre. And it was so surreal, because here you are in Paris, and it’s playing such a big character in your film, and you’re using it to every degree. I always find it interesting when you work on a stage, and they build something up and it’s as close as you can get it, it feels amazing. But there’s nothing like being in the actual place where your script takes place. It’s the most amazing thing, I think for me as an actor  — and for anybody, really — to just spend time there, it was a really, really beautiful experience.

As we’ve sort of talked about, your character is sort of the emotional heart of the film, but you also have a lot of comedic moments as well. Is comedy something you’re interested in doing more of in the future?
Yeah, it’s fun. This film I did, Barely Lethal, I’d say it falls more into the category of comedy than anything else that I’ve done, and it was a lot of fun being able to to explore different scenarios and kind of improvise a little bit and say what you wanna say without even knowing you’re saying it. Just having that freedom is something that was really, really fun and turned into something really great, and I really enjoyed that. But I think doing a full comedy could be really fun one day.

Which would you say that you find more challenging: drama or comedy?
I’d say it’s all challenging. I think comedy, though, don’t they say, “You can’t try and make something funny funny”? I don’t know, something like that, but it’s so true. You read it and it makes you laugh, but then you have to say it to make other people laugh, and it’s not as easy as it seems, so it’s definitely a challenge for me.

On a slightly shallower note, your costumes in this film are fantastic, and I wanted to wear every single one of them. Coming off of filming Romeo and Juliet, which is a period piece, and Ender’s Game, which is set on a spaceship, was it a nice change of pace to wear more casual clothing onscreen for a change or did you miss those more structured costumes?
It was so amazing. I’m not even kidding. I remember having my first fitting [and] everyone around me was like, “Why is she freaking out?”  I was so excited because I was like “Oh my god, I saw this the other day when I was shopping and I’m so excited I get to wear it,” whereas I was not saying that about the Romeo and Juliet costumes, you know what I mean? As beautiful as those were – and my god, they were so amazing – it’s very nice to bring your own style to a character and wear the clothes as you would wear them every day, as opposed to having to get used to your body language when you’re wearing a corset. It’s a completely different thing. It was very nice, and it made things a bit easier, I’d say.

Did you have any influence on Zoey’s costumes, or were you able to inject any of your own personal style into her wardrobe?
A little bit. I mean, the idea of this teenage girl living in Paris, taking the metro with her friends, going to school, going out to parties, she’s going to be dressed. She’s going to dress to look great. For me? I just kind of throw on whatever and it is what it is, but with the character, she definitely thinks it all through, from the hair to the makeup to the clothes to the shoes and puts it all together, so it was a fun thing to explore and have a say in and be a part of.

I know that often, actors who are in period pieces say that the costumes help them get into character, did you have a similar experience with Zoey’s costumes in this film, or was it already relatively easy, since you’re both modern teenage girls?
Yeah, absolutely. The fact that there are details that you might not pick up on from the layering of the scarf and the jackets and all of that, and it’s a lot [of help]. It’s a wardrobe and you put that on, you’re definitely able to feel like someone else.

Was there anything you wore in the film that you fell in love with and were tempted to take home with you?
Oh yeah. For sure. There was a jacket that she wears, it’s a Maje, that one. I loved it, it was so great. There were a lot of great sweaters and a lot of great things – there’s always something I feel like, after you spend a certain amount of time in, it becomes you and you want to wear it and you want to keep it. I feel that way with a lot of things I do – which might not necessarily be a good thing.

As long as you don’t actually steal them, you’ll probably be okay.
Right, right. Of course.

3 Days to Kill is in theaters now.