When The Magnificent Seven hit theatres last month, much of the movie-going public got a good look at Haley Bennett for the first time. When Girl on the Train opens in theatres this week they’ll get an even better look, and the prediction is that the reaction will be “Looks good. Looks really good.” It’s been a fairly long and bumpy road to this point, but the small town girl has definitely hit the big time.
Though Haley was born in Fort Meyers, Florida on January 7, 1988, she was just a toddler when she moved with her father and older siblings to Ohio. For the record, her Mom still lives in Florida but the rest of her family never left Ohio. The family moved all around that state, to mostly rural locations and small towns where she got her primary education – and learned to hunt and shoot with her Dad.
Haley has been practicing since she was ten years old, as far as acting goes. She was in the cast of just about every play performed in the various schools she attended in Ohio, and just after graduating from high school in 2006, she did what about a million kids before her have done: moved to Los Angeles, following what was in her case a rather ephemeral dream.
Haley told Interview Magazine that she didn’t have any specific goals; she knew that small parts in school plays weren’t enough to get her recognized and chose an acting school from the Yellow Pages hoping to overcome an extreme case of stage fright. She told one interviewer, “I was so terrified before an audience that I would break out in these ugly red hives, and my lips would quiver at the sight of a word or a song.”
Something worked, obviously. In 2007, after only a few months she had impressed her acting coach enough to be introduced to agents, one of them got her to audition for a film called Music and Lyrics – and the door was open, if only part-way. She played Cora Corman, a ditzy young pop star (and yes, she sang) and her co-stars were Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Not a bad intro for a total unknown, and Haley still rhapsodizes about working with those two leading lights.
Music and Lyrics was part of a three-picture deal with Warner Bros. so in 2008 Haley appeared in two more films, neither of which got much notice one way or the other. College featured Haley as one of three party girl co-eds and she doesn’t talk about it much. The other film, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, starred Haley as a teenager caught up in a deal with the Devil, and it wasn’t a really good deal for Haley, either. Both films bombed with the critics, but provided more of the experience she was determined to acquire.
Also in 2008, Haley had a bit part in Marley and Me, starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson and a yellow Labrador named Marley who basically stole the whole show. In 2009 she starred in a short film directed by Shekhar Kapur called Passage, which got positive critical reviews but little notice from the public. From there she moved on to star in The Hole, another fantastical horror story, but this one received good reviews from both critics and audiences.
Just to make sure there would be plenty of diversity in her resume, or because she was still in the ‘finding myself’ process (which according to Haley will continue indefinitely) in 2010 she joined the cast of Kaboom, a film directed by Gregg Araki that reportedly won the very first Queer Palm ever awarded, for its “contribution to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender issues” at the Cannes Film Festival.
Next up was Arcadia Lost, in which she starred with Nick Nolte and Carter Jenkins; the cast and crew got a rare and wonderful chance to tour some of the most untrammeled spots in Greece, but the movie didn’t make it at the box office. That was in 2010, and then there’s a gap in the record where Haley did a lot of almost-got-it auditions; she says that too often even if a casting director said he wanted her, the lack of a bankable name lost her a lot of roles she’d yearned for. It was not until 2014 that she starred in yet another horror movie, as the heroine Justine in Kristy.
Kristy didn’t make huge headlines either, but Haley got a lot of great reviews for her part; one critic remarked that she made her character “. . . as real as anyone could hope for. A lesser actor wouldn’t be able to make the performance both entertaining and believable.” That statement seems to apply to most if not all of her subsequent roles, and is borne out in her next project, an independent film called Lost in the White City. Her performance was considered “standout” by critics, though the film did not get much recognition as it was “. . . aimed at a more open-minded audience.”
Also in 2014, which was quite a busy year for Haley, she had a minor role in Things People Do, which got positive critical reviews but never played to a wide audience. She also got on board in a film by Terrence Malick and Warren Beatty that has just now been completed; she considers both Malick and Beatty to be ‘mentors’ and we can expect more from that quarter.
Her next break, though not a huge role, was in The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua, which starred Denzel Washington as the man with a mysterious and violent past who means to put it all behind him until he’s confronted with injustice that he’s compelled to rectify. Haley says her role as what she calls “a Russian woman in the face of adversity” was a big change for her, but her capacity for getting into the role no matter what it may be is increasingly obvious to those who watch.
Amongst other projects in 2015, Haley starred in a Russian/American heavy duty sci-fi/action thriller called Hardcore Henry; that film was better received in Russia than in other areas, but kudos went to the actress in her role as one of the bad guys. By this time Haley’s name had become more familiar, especially to those in the business of finding the right actor/actress for a particular role. The one that ultimately pushed Haley into the limelight is a classic example.
When Haley auditioned for the role of Emma Cullen, the single woman in a cast of high-profile male actors (The Magnificent Seven) she jokingly claims what clinched her selection was the pie she baked and brought to the final tryout. She got no special treatment from director Antoine Fuqua, who says that he saw her potential before casting her in The Equalizer.
Fuqua stated that Haley Bennett exemplified the qualities he wanted in his female lead. He says she was fully capable of portraying a woman with no lack of feminine qualities along with a plentiful supply of tough. Her line in the movie when a fellow townsman asks her how come she was the one who got the disparate group of gunslingers together to save the town: “Because I’m the only one who had the balls to do it.” And so she did. And they did. Good ole Western, updated.
And on she goes, with Girl on the Train coming to theatres this week (October 7). Haley co-stars with Emily Blunt and Luke Evans; she’s Megan Hipwell, the vision that Emily as Rachel Watson keeps seeing from her commuter’s seat on the train. Rachel creates a fantasy around Megan and her husband Scott, who appear to have an idyllic life – but then Rachel is caught up in the real life of Megan and Scott, which is nothing like the fantasy.
Haley has a great story about her casting for the role of Megan: she read the novel by Paula Hawkins while she was filming The Magnificent Seven and loved it, then only week’s later director Tate Taylor asked her to audition for Girl on the Train. Haley says when she went to meet him he let her ride a four-wheeler around in the woods on his property. At one point she was stuck on a hill with no way to go but full speed ahead and straight down. She said, “I think that’s when he decided he was going to hire me.”
So full speed ahead is about par for the course, but as opposed to straight down it looks like Haley is heading full speed in the opposite direction. She has two more big projects in the works; one in Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, which is due out November 23. She co-stars with Beatty, Candace Bergen, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and others in an audacious film about the Hollywood of the 1950s and Howard Hughes, to whom the rules really didn’t apply.
Far as Haley is concerned, they do apply when it comes to hard work, perseverance and dedication to what she hopes will be a long career as an actress. Considering the state of current affairs, that seems a very likely proposition and her rapidly-growing multitude of fans will be cheering her on.