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Haley Lu Richardson

By Leaps and Bounds

Apr 01, 2016 Haley Lu Richardson
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At 21 years old, Haley Lu Richardson is too young to have TV memories of Kerri Strug’s heroics at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta or the phenomenon that was the Magnificent Seven, but she learned about them by watching videos to prepare for her role in the gymnastics comedy, The Bronze, where she plays a rising star from Amherst, Ohio named Maggie Townsend. The film revolves around fellow Amherst native Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch), a foul-mouthed former gymnast who fought through injury to lead the U.S. team to bronze in 2004 but now scrounges around town, leeching off her dad (Gary Cole) and exploiting every last ounce of fame for the smallest of gain. When Hope’s former coach suffers an unexpected death, $500,000 is willed to Hope on the condition that she trains Maggie for the upcoming Olympics. Maggie, a naïve and unfalteringly cheery teenager, worships Hope, but the threat of her budding stardom causes Hope to sabotage Maggie’s training in unorthodox ways. Richardson, who spent eight years training in competitive dance, worked for two months with stunt coordinators learning gymnastics techniques such as dismounts and body structure.

In 2014, Richardson made a splash at the LA Film Fest with lead roles in two films premiering there: the apocalyptic action thriller, The Last Survivors, in which she starred as a fierce, sword-wielding heroine, and the romantic comedy, The Young Kieslowski, where she played a Caltech student who becomes pregnant with twins after having sex for the first time. The films showcased Richardson’s range and physicality in disparate genres. Last year, she guest starred on a reliably intense episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and this year she appears in a supporting role on Freeform’s young adult drama series, Recovery Road.

Under the Radar caught up with Haley Lu Richardson the day after the Los Angeles premiere of The Bronze, which landed on her 21st birthday.

Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): You have a background in dance. What about gymnastics? Were you ever a fan?

Haley Lu Richardson: I was a fan, definitely. It’s my favorite sport at the Olympics. I love Shawn Johnson. I’ve always been obsessed with gymnasts, Shawn Johnson in particular. I got a haircut to match hers when I was in eighth grade. I did gymnastics when I was younger, up until the competitive level. Once you commit to the competitive level of gymnastics, you are really sucked into that world. I just wasn’t that much in love with it to keep doing it. So then I started dancing. Then that was pretty much history. It’s been my life. So I had history with gymnastics. I’m obsessed with gymnasts. Their bodies are unreal and do things that human bodies should not and would not do unless someone forced them to. [Laughs]

How old were you when you stopped?

I did gymnastics when I was really young, like the toddler gymnastics, and then I stopped when I was eight or nine. That’s when I started dancing. There was a period where it overlapped, and I was doing dance and gymnastics. And then I decided, “No, I want to do dance.”

Were you rooting for Shawn on Dancing With the Stars? Do you watch that?

I don’t watch Dancing With the Stars because I watch So You Think You Can Dance, and I feel like, if I watch two dance shows, then it will get me confused with everything. But I would root for her if I were watching, because I love her so much. [Laughs]

Your character does a floor exercise in the film, and that involves dance, so we do get to see some of your dance talents on screen.

Oh yeah. I had a stunt double who was incredible. But I did get to do some of my own stunts, which was really fun, because I’ve always wanted to be able to dance and do tricks in a movie. That floor routine is awesome because I get to do this scissor leap, which was my favorite leap to do when I did dance competitions. And it’s in the movie, and I’m really excited.

I read that you had a bad audition for this film.


Or rather, you said that you had a bad audition for the film.

Bad audition is an understatement. I was like 40-plus minutes late, which I hated myself for. Maybe it’s OK to be five or 10 minutes late every once in a while. When I read this audition in my email, I had in my mind that it was in a completely different place than it was. So I was headed to this place, and I was like, “Oh, shit. This is not where the audition is.” So then I had to re-put it into my GPS in my phone, and I realized it was an hour-and-15-minutes away. So I was 40 minutes late. The parking there was so confusing. I literally parked five block away-ran. When I got in the audition, I said, “Please let me read! Let me read!” I was out of breath and everything. A had a couple of audition scenes, but the big scene that I had was where I’m giving the press conference and I’m just looking into the camera, and I say a whole page worth of dialogue. Looking directly into the camera’s really hard for me. I’m assuming that’s probably hard for other actors too, but it’s very hard for me to look into the camera and deliver huge amounts of words. So I had to do that when I had the nerves of being 40 minutes late and parking five blocks away and running there. I would skip over my words and then stop myself and start over, and I did that like 10 times. [Laughs] It was really bad. Then I called my agent afterward-‘cause normally I just check in with him how auditions go-and I said, “Matt, if they call you and tell you that you should drop me as a client, I would not blame them.” [Laughs] And he said, “I hope that doesn’t happen.” Then something went right in the universe, and I got the role. But, I don’t know. [Laughs]

In the film, Hope puts Maggie on regimen where she stuffs her face with fatty and fast food. What was that like? Did you have a spit bucket?

We had to. Normally I would pay money to have hot dogs and hamburgers and milkshakes, but people don’t realize that, even though it looks good on screen, the food that is in front of usthe fries, the mozzarella sticksare cold and the crappiest possible version of mozzarella stick, like the freezer aisle mozzarella stick that they heat up two hours ago, and then it’s in front of us. And then eating it over and over would just be disgusting, eating yourself sick. So yeah, we had a spit bucket. But every once in a while I would swallow a piece of hot dog and think, “Wow, that tasted really good.” [Laughs]

What about being berated by Melissa with all that foul language? Do you feel like your character, who just wants to please her, or are you tempted to break into laughter at any points?

Her character is like that all the time. So after the first scene I had with her on the first day of filming, I was used to it. And then I would talk to my parents, and that would be weird. Talking to my parents and my boyfriend would be weird, [them] being so nice and having people tell me “I love you” and being sweet to me, because I was used to the way Melissa’s character is. And the way Maggie responds, she idolizes her so much, that almost whatever she says is golden-even though what’s she saying is inside of a toilet. [Laughs]

Many of the actors have a ton of comedy experience. Was that intimidating for you, coming into this?

Oh yeah, it was intimidating. It was so scary but also so cool, ‘cause I’d never done a movie that’s so funny. That’s why I’m so thankful for this movie for so many reasons. That’s the thing that I have taken away from the filming process the mostbeing able to work with such funny people. They were such good improvisers. Their delivery, their energy, the way they all worked together: it was so cool to watch that actually happen in front of me. So yeah, it was really scary, and I was like, “I suck compared to you guys.” But it was definitely cool to learn from them.

You were talking earlier about doing gymnastics at a young age and how your interest transitioned to dance. When did the acting bug take hold?

I did community theatre when I was younger too, in Arizona.

Like when you started dancing?

Probably simultaneously. I was a real active kid. I did a lot of stuff. Extracurriculars were my jam. I did soccer, kiddie dance, gymnastics, musical theater, singing, even though I suck at singing. I was an only child, so I had imaginary friends and built forts and amusement parks in my backyard and would have the neighbors pay to ride around in a rolling chair—anyway. So I did a lot of things when I was a kid, and I did community theatre when I was younger—really, really young. And I always had that bug to entertain people and kind of be the center of attention. [Laughs] Then I started dancing, and then I was picturing myself having a career as a dancer, solely as a dancer. As much as I love dancing, and I’m so passionate about it, and I still am, I couldn’t really picture myself traveling around in a company or doing backup dancing, ‘cause I felt like maybe I’d get a little bored of just doing the same thing over and over. And then, when I moved to L.A., I thought this is the perfect place to really give acting a try. And then, within the first role that I booked, the first movie that I did, it all just clicked. It was like, “This is what I want to do.” Because, what I love so much about danceof the telling the story and emotingyou do in acting anyway. Acting also can be a very physical thing, emoting with your body. So I thought, “Wow, this is what I’m supposed to do.”

What was that first movie that clicked?

It’s called The Last Survivors.

Formerly The Well.

Yeah, formerly The Well. It was at the LA Film Fest. It was almost five years ago now.

That you shot it?

Yeah, it was a long time ago.

How old were you when you shot it?

17. And I was working 16- to 20-hour days. It was so hard. [Laughs] It was really hard.

Did you move to L.A. for acting?

I moved to L.A. when I was 16. I dropped out of high school but then finished it online. I moved because I knew that I wanted to be doing something. Whether it was dancing or acting, whatever was itching inside me, I knew I had to start it then. I just knew that, “I have to move there now, and I have to start now.” I don’t know; it’s very weird. You can think I’m nuts, but it’s just some feeling that I had that I went with and luckily my parents are also really unconventional, creative weirdos. So they respected that and trusted that what I was feeling was valid and went along with it.

Your mom is a graphic designer and your dad is a golf course architect?


I had planned to ask how that might have impacted you, but you already mentioned building forts.

Yeah. [Laughs]

So do you think that rubbed off?

My dad always told mehe shows me pictures and stuffhe used to design golf courses in his back yard and have the neighbors come and pay to play. So it was strange that I did that with random things. I don’t know. I just think we’re very much a creative family. It’s just the three of us, and I think our minds get bored of doing something that’s not stimulating and creative. I really admire people that go to college and are so academically smart and change the world with their genius. I so admire people like that, but I could not imagine myself doing that. I couldn’t. It’s so strange, because in school, growing up, all my friends, by the time you’re 12, you have this idea of, “Oh, I want to go to this college,” you have a flag of a college or a state you want to live in, up in your bedroom when you’re a kid. But I never had that. I never was like, “I want to go to this college. That’s my dream.” I don’t know. People that go to college are awesome, but I couldn’t see myself doing that.

Not all of them are awesome.

[Laughs] Well, I mean the people that go to college and work really hard and apply themselves.

What city did you grow up in?


Were you named after anyone?

I was! My parents went to the Grand Canyon together before I was born, before I was even conceived. And there’s a train that takes you through the Grand Canyon. My parents were on it for a really long time, and there was this young girl who was like five or something with her grandparents, sitting in front of my parents, and the whole entire ride she just became obsessed with my parents and was talking to them and being this cute little girl, and her name was Haley. My parents looked at each otherthis is what they tell meand they said, “We want to name our child Haley if it’s a girl.” So I’m named after the random girl on the train in the Grand Canyon! [Laughs] Isn’t that a cute story? They just really liked that little girl, I guess. Hopefully, I lived up to the expectation.

Last year, you appeared on SVU. That looked intense.

OK, I know this might sound kind of lame, but that’s honestly my favorite thing that I’ve ever done, because I was obsessed with Law & Order: SVU. That was my show that I binge-watched. And I had no clue that they were still filming. And when I found out after binge-watching it every single day, seven episodes a day for like six months, that they were still filming, I thought, “Oh my God, I have to be on this show or I’ll explode.” I called my agent and said, “I have to be on Law & Order: SVU.” He was like, “OK, I’ll try to get you an audition.” And then he got me an audition within a week and somehow I got it! And I was like, “Wow! That doesn’t happen ever, but I’m so excited.” And then meeting Mariska, she’s so awesome.

So then, Recovery Road. What’s the deal with your character, Ellie? I thought she was a mean girl. Now, I guess not. She has a complicated relationship with Maddie, and now she has this troubled backstory.

Yeah, last night [on the March 7 episode] a big thing happened where she found Maddie in the recovery home. She figured out Maddie’s secret. I really liked last night’s episode, because I just really didn’t want to play another mean girl. The writers, Burt [Royal] and Karen [DiConcetto], are super awesome, and they’re really creative, and they actually are really great writers, which you don’t find a lot. But yeah, I just really didn’t want to play another mean girl, the mean bitch friend. So I like how they’re making it complicated. It such a good show for young people.

You have two films on the horizon. What can you tell me about them, and your characters?

One of them is called Besties, and it’s Jim Brooks, who is amazing. He’s kind of running’ the thing, and then Kelly Fremon is a new writer/director, and Jim Brooks has taken her under his wing, and they’ve created this project called Besties. I got to do that with Hailee Steinfeld. That was fun, having two Haley’s on set! [Laughs] And then I did another movie called Split, which is M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, which was super fun, working with him. He’s completely different than any director I’ve worked with before, so it was really interesting.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked to Anya Taylor-Joy. Did you get to work with her on this?

Yeah. James McAvoy was the male lead, and then me, Anya and Jess Sula were the three girls that— [Laughs] I’ll just say stuff happens in that movie! Obviously, I can’t really talk about the plot because Night is so secretive with his twists. But yes, stuff happens for sure. [Laughs]



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Medal Hangers
December 28th 2016

Awesome review, I have to see this movie NOW!