How do you stand out amongst 15,000 candidates to win the job of a lifetime? It takes persistence, passion, and a thick skin, a.k.a. true grit.
I recently had the pleasure of seeing the movie True Grit, written and directed by the Coen brothers, the film geniuses who also gave the world such all-time great movies as “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “No Country for Old Men.”
I found “True Grit” to be a glorious cinematic experience on many levels, and what I enjoyed most of all was the breakout performance by its lead female actress, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, as the film’s main character, Mattie Ross.
The Coen brothers’ version of Mattie Ross is arguably the greatest part, with the greatest dialogue, ever written for a 14-year-old girl.
I admit I haven’t yet seen this year’s Oscar-winning heavy hitters like “The King’s Speech” or “The Fighter,” but if it were up to me, this film would have cleaned up at the Academy Awards. Based on the novel True Grit by Charles Portis, the film centers on the story of Ross, a young girl in a frontier town who, upon the murder of her father, has the gumption to insist that the outlaw Tom Chaney is brought to justice for the crime.
In a performance that landed her an Oscar nomination, Steinfeld holds her own beside superstar co-stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. These two Hollywood icons give colorful, funny, and endearing performances as Rooster Cogburn and Texas Marshal LaBeouf, her character’s unlikely allies. The trio must follow a cold trail across the harsh Wild West in pursuit of outlaw Chaney.
When I read that True Grit’s producers considered some 15,000 girls before offering the part to Steinfeld, whose previous biggest acting credit was a 30-second K-Mart commercial, I was inspired to find out how she was able to get the edge and land the part that has launched her career like a rocket.
I learned that Steinfeld’s preparation to seize this opportunity started when she was eight years old, when she first indicated to her parents that she was interested in acting. Before her parents allowed her to have her head shots done and go on auditions, they insisted that she attend a children’s acting school for a year to ensure that she was genuinely committed to the endeavor.
Some five years later, after Steinfeld had steadily racked up a series of small parts, a family friend told her about the announcement of a nationwide search for girls to audition for the part of Mattie Ross.
Steinfeld sent in an audition tape. Two days later, she received her first call back to meet with a casting agent. The agent told her it would be about five weeks before she heard anything else. During that time, Steinfeld continued to prepare for the role, “treating it as if I had the job.”
She pored over the script with an acting coach, mastered the complex dialogue, and learned how to roll a cigarette. She worked on locating the character’s emotional center in addition to just memorizing the words. By the time Steinfeld was called for the incredible opportunity to meet with the Coen brothers, she was very comfortable in the shoes of Mattie Ross.
“After watching the original and after reading the sides that I had — I didn’t have the full script until after I got the job — I had a full vision of this character, you know, down to the way she would walk,” Steinfeld said in one interview.
The Coen brothers giggled throughout her audition, and she didn’t let that throw off her performance. She didn’t know at the time that the Coen brothers are frequent gigglers, and that meant that they liked her.
Before Steinfeld was called in at the 11th hour in the audition process, the Coen brothers were at a loss to find the right actress to play Ross. When Steinfeld auditioned, “that was a big relief because then you can stop trying to convince yourself that Plan B is good enough….,” they said in one interview.
“She’s certainly a natural in terms of being comfortable in her stuff and she wasn’t intimidated by anyone or by the process. I think we sort of knew when we cast her that that was going to work, and then there was a certain amount of relief when we started filming, and she was just great.”
One interviewer asked Steinfeld what true grit means to her, and she said “perseverance, and to never retreat, never back down, always take a step forward, follow through, and if you get knocked down, you get right back up.”
For people in any profession, Steinfeld’s story has much to inspire those seeking to get their big break and land the best parts. With her passion for pursuing her craft and her take-charge performance as the brave young Ross, Steinfeld has certainly shown that she has some sand.
Traits like these come in handy when you are trying to land your dream job or if you find you must take justice into your own hands to bring down a gnarly Wild West outlaw.
For more deep thoughts on how the lessons of pop culture can empower the job seeker, see my previous article, How Tina Turner Helped Me Learn to Deal with Job Rejection.
If you’d like to be considered for a starring role in the restaurant industry or need some help finding the right talent, contact Rebecca at 612.354.7400 or Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org.