Tuesday 21 November 2017

Haley Bennett: Girl on a Juggernaut

At her third audition Haley Bennett landed her first film role aged 18, a decade later, as she stars in The Girl on the Train, she is about to join the A-list

Haley Bennett looked stunning in this gold Valentino dress at the premiere of The Girl On The Train in London recently despite suffering from the ‘flu
Haley Bennett looked stunning in this gold Valentino dress at the premiere of The Girl On The Train in London recently despite suffering from the ‘flu

Overnight success is one of Hollywood's greatest myths and one we, the public, gobble up. We love the idea that a person can suddenly be plucked from anonymity and pitch up on the red carpet surrounded by the great and the good. Well, the very famous at any rate.

In reality the 'overnight success' is usually the result of years, sometimes decades, of hard work and persistence. Haley Bennett, Megan in The Girl on the Train, the much anticipated film version of Paula Hawkins bestseller, is, about to have her moment of 'overnight success.' The Girl on the Train follows quickly on the heels of the remake of The Magnificent Seven (starring Denzel Washington) and the actor has a few more high profile films complete and ready for distribution.

However, Bennett has been making movies for a decade, since she moved to Hollywood as an 18-year-old, straight out of high school.

The star grew up in a small town in Ohio and, despite having no connections with the entertainment industry, always wanted to act. "For as long as I remember I wanted to act more than anything. I have really no idea why," she continues. "The world that I come from … being an artist isn't really an option."

Bennett, in person, is a surprise. I meet her the day after The Girl on the Train has premiered in London - an occasion when Bennett stole the show in a beautiful Valentino dress. "Oh I've never felt worse," she confesses.

The actress has the flu - not that you could tell from the pictures taken at the premiere but up close, even with make-up freshly applied she looks wretched. She's wrapped in a black silk dressing gown and when she curls up beside me on the couch, croaky and shivery, I feel the urge to find a blanket, a teddy, and tuck her in.

On screen, as Megan, Bennett is quite obviously a grown woman, beautiful in a non-traditional way and with her bleached blonde hair, a bit hard-faced.

Haley on the other hand, with flowing red hair, freckles and hazel eyes, looks like an Irish teenager. Although one of her grandmothers was half Irish and half Scottish, Bennett hasn't yet visited the country. "I've never been to Ireland but I'm dying to go, but I think if I go, I'll never leave."

Despite feeling so miserable Bennett is remarkably good humoured. When I say that Megan is a complicated character, she quips, "is that what you call it? Really?"

Suffice to say, there isn't really a polite way to describe Megan. Whatever you care to call her though, she's a juicy role for any actress. I say to Bennett that she must have been thrilled when she landed the role. "I was delighted and also terrified. I knew that playing her … I knew that I would have to expose parts of myself, literally and figuratively, that I was afraid of exposing in a lot of ways. It's very raw and stripped down."

She takes another sip of water and adds; "Yeah I think she's a character that makes me uncomfortable and will probably make other people uncomfortable."

When I ask Bennett if there are any similarities between herself and Megan, she's horrified and answers, "No." I remark that is probably a good thing and she replies laughing, "Are you kidding… for sure," before adding, "I don't like to play characters that are close to myself. I like to explore characters that are very different from who I am."

Although it's taken 10 years for Bennett to become an international star, hers was, in many ways, an overnight success story. When at 18 she decided to leave Ohio for Hollywood it was on condition that she was accompanied by her mother.

Once Bennett arrived in Tinseltown things moved quickly and she was soon cast as Cora Coleman in Music and Lyrics starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. "Music and Lyrics was my third audition," Bennett tells me. "It was my first film … my first anything." When I ask her if she was star struck on that first job she replies, "Of course."

These days Bennett takes working with big names in her stride which is hardly surprising given some of the A-listers she's worked with in recent years. The Magnificent Seven cast includes Denzel Washington whom she worked with before on The Equaliser as well as Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio. (She recently finished making Weightless - the ensemble cast is like a who's who of modern Hollywood and includes Michael Fassbender, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer and Benicio del Toro.)

Having filmed The Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train back to back I imagine the atmosphere on the respective sets was quite different. In The Magnificent Seven she is pretty much the only girl, whereas the latter film has three female characters driving the story. "The irony of it was that I wanted to do Girl on the Train because I wanted to work with women and actually didn't end up working with many women. Most of my scenes were with men. Which was disappointing."

When I remark that she is quite outspoken about feminism, Bennett replies "am I?" sounding genuinely puzzled rather than snippy.

"I wasn't aware of that." I remind her of a couple of pro-woman remarks she's said and ask if she would call herself a feminist?

"I think that women should definitely empower themselves, I think it's important for the world. I don't know what I would describe myself as but women should definitely empower themselves and are capable of anything."

Seeing Bennett on a red carpet (flu-ridden or not) brings to mind the golden age of Hollywood opulence and style. It's fitting as her influences and icons hark back to a more glamorous era in movie-making.

"I love Julie Andrews, I love The Sound of Music, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck…"

When I ask her if she is prepared for the massive change that is about to happen - going from working actor to international film star, she replies: "I'm convinced that my life will remain exactly the same. Everyone says 'are you prepared? Are you prepared?' and I don't know what I'm supposed to prepare myself for." Scrutiny, I supply. "Well nobody looks forward to scrutiny," she laughs "I'm not looking forward to that."

The Girl on the Train opens nationwide on October 3.

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