She’s the lone woman in The Magnificent Seven. She’s the (seemingly) perfect wife with a terrible secret in The Girl On The Train. And she’s playing a starlet opposite Warren Beatty in the veteran actor’s upcoming Howard Hughes movie, Rules Don’t Apply.
But even with three major films released in the space of two months, the thing that’s exciting Haley Bennett the most at the moment is the prospect of meeting Martha Stewart when they’re both scheduled to appear on Seth Meyers’ late-night show.
“Can I please hang out with her?” Bennett asks her publicist, taking a break from promoting The Magnificent Seven at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I’d just want to ask her if I could live with her for like a month. That’s all. Just a month.”
Now it might seem odd on the surface for a 28-year-old actress who grew up in the backwoods of Ohio, US, a young woman skilled in shooting, horseback riding and procuring borderline-legal fireworks, to be that stoked about hanging with homemaking magnate Stewart.
But it turns out that Bennett knows her way around the kitchen too and is, in fact, so dialled in to the art of baking that one way – or perhaps the best way – to understand her is to flip through her recipe box and look at three key creations from the past couple of years. Pour yourself a cup of joe and join us, won’t you?
For her debut movie, 2007’s Music And Lyrics, Bennett wowed critics with her turn as a privileged pop queen asking Hugh Grant to write her a hit song. Bennett sang, danced and slyly satirised the celebrity diva archetype.
At the age of 19, she had a worldwide hit on her resume. But Bennett struggled to find a suitable follow-up, acting in more than a dozen mostly forgettable movies over the last decade that didn’t find an audience or advance her career.
“I begged. I fought. I had my heart broken on numerous occasions,” Bennett says. “But I kept at it. What else was I going to do?”
She worked with filmmaker Terrence Malick (on the yet-to-be-released Weightless), who recommended her to Antoine Fuqua, resulting in a small role in Fuqua’s 2014 movie, The Equalizer.
Two years later, Fuqua asked her to audition for the role of Emma, the avenging widow in The Magnificent Seven. Bennett baked an apple pie and brought it to the meeting, thinking the character wouldn’t visit somebody and just show up empty-handed. Plus, Bennett adds matter of factly, “I’m just a good host.”
“I didn’t think it was within the realm of possibility that I would ever be cast in this film, just based on the way things had been going for many years,” Bennett adds. “I had lived a long time in a willful but necessary state of denial.”
Once she started filming The Magnificent Seven, Bennett made up her mind that she would ride harder, shoot better and complain less than her seven male titular co-stars, who included Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt.
Hawke says he was initially suspicious of Bennett, watching her break her horse “with her little bonnet protecting her from the sun”. But he quickly came to respect her work ethic. A turning point came with the cast’s July 4 party at Hawke’s rented house – to which Bennett showed up with a peach cobbler. As the actor describes it: “There were songs, fireworks, near-brawls, laughter and a lot of wives who wanted to loathe her. But Haley was always there floating above the heat of the fray with pure positivity. Throughout, she was the lone woman in the middle of an absolute tsunami of testosterone,” Hawke adds. “But she kept her cool.”
Bennett howls when apprised of Hawke’s comments (especially the “wives” part). Like other actresses of her generation, she possesses an unapologetic, I-am-what-I-am genuineness. And she’s equally at home wearing a gun holster on the set or a borrowed western-tinged Stella McCartney dress to an interview.
Or, in the words of The Girl On The Train producer Marc Platt, she’s both “ethereal” and “inviting.” (You try pulling that off. It’s not easy.)
In addition to the peach cobbler, Bennett brought a vat of mint juleps (initially she thought it was “very strong alcoholic sweet tea”, but that must have been another occasion) to the Magnificent bash and supplied all the fireworks. “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve,” she says, smiling.
While in the middle of this testosterone tsunami, Bennett spied a novel that promised a story told from the perspective of three female narrators. Sold.
The book was The Girl On The Train, Paula Hawkins’ bestselling psychological-thriller. And it just so happened that Magnificent Seven costume designer Sharen Davis had worked with Tate Taylor (The Help), who was making the movie version of Girl. Davis told Taylor he needed to meet Bennett.
So on a day off, Bennett drove four hours to Taylor’s home in Mississippi, listening to Janis Joplin the whole way (Bennett has an “extreme fear” of freeways, and Janis got her through it) and hoping the lemon meringue pie she baked – her favourite pie, by the way – wouldn’t melt on the journey. (It did. But it was still delicious.)
“You know, there was that very special pie in The Help, the poop pie,” Bennett starts, giggling. “So I thought it would be kind of cheeky and funny to bring the pie to lunch. Tate and I got on like a house on fire, maybe because we had the same long trajectory to success,” she says. “And Tate says, ‘We’ve both been served our share of (poop) pies in our time.’ And off we went.”
The recent acting experiences – including working with Beatty and an upcoming PTSD drama Thank You For Your Service – have provided the adventures Bennett has been dreaming about most of her life. The notoriety that comes with the high-profile movies? She calls that a “storm” she’ll have to embrace and, maybe, “dance in the rain a little bit”. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service/Glenn Whipp