Hailee Steinfeld Gets Surprise Birthday Party at 'Bumblebee' Premiere

Hailee Steinfeld talked to THR about her 'Edge of Seventeen' reunion and writing an '80s song for the 'Transformers' blockbuster.
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From left: Jim Gianopulos, Travis Knight, Hailee Steinfeld, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Stephen J. Davis

Wide-eyed fans and their parents flooded Hollywood Boulevard in the hopes of spotting the stars of Paramount’s Bumblebee. The film premiered at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, with a massive red carpet and numerous versions of the Transformers franchise’s Bumblebee character on display.

Hailee Steinfeld arrived with yellow painted nails that featured the famous autobot symbol. The Academy Award-nominated actress plays Charlie Watson, a down-on-her-luck high school student/talented mechanic reeling from the sudden death of her father.

Watson’s mom (Pamela Adlon) and younger brother are adjusting to life with a new man in the house, but Charlie struggles to put her past tragedy behind her. It’s only when she repairs an old Volkswagen Beetle that she comes face to face with Bumblebee, the autobot who takes her on the adventure of a lifetime in 1987 California.

Steinfeld discussed preparing for the role, and finding her rhythm during the script’s rewrite. “Christina Hodson wrote an amazing script, which drew me into this world,” Steinfeld shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “Kelly Fremon Craig, who wrote and directed me in Edge of Seventeen, did the rewrite, and we had wonderful conversations about developing Charlie’s voice into what you see now.”

The actress also penned one of the many songs featured in the film, which was a bucket-list item for the multi-hyphenate entertainer. “Having a song of my own in a film of my own, that’s been on the bucket list for quite some time,” said Steinfeld. “I wanted the song to ring true to the 1980s, while being able to fit into my body of work as an artist.” She admitted to creating a playlist of songs for every character that she embodies. “Music plays a big part in my life, and I use it in my acting process,” the actress/singer shared. “With this film, the soundtrack is so great that the playlist was fully built in for me.”

Steinfeld is no stranger to working in effects-driven films, but she wasn’t used to having her scene partners be nonexistent. “When you’re reading the script, you’re kind of taking it all in as if it’s real,” she said. “When you show up to set and they tell you that you’re working with a tennis ball and a stick for four months, you realize it’s not going to be easy.”

The star posed for several fan photos at the Ohm Nightclub’s afterparty. At the end of the night, Steinfeld was surprised with a birthday cake as partygoers came together to sing happy birthday to the 22-year-old. She blew out the candles to rapturous applause, with co-stars and family by her side.

Kubo and the Two Strings filmmaker Travis Knight recalled getting that magical phone call to direct Bumblebee and working with writer Hodson on rebooting the billion-dollar franchise.

“Christina is an extraordinary action writer, she grew up with Terminator 2 as her favorite film,” he said. “My focus was to hammer home the heart and soul of the film, which is Charlie and Bumblebee. She was totally on board with that, and it was a fantastic working relationship.”

Knight’s next project is the animated film Missing Link, which is slated to hit theaters next spring. The big-budget pic comes from Laika Entertainment, the animation house that Knight owns. “I really love developing my own films, so we’ll see what the future holds after Bumblebee and Missing Link,” he said.

Hodson, the film’s sole credited writer, recalls the pitch that landed her the highly coveted job. “The pitch was inspired by Spielberg’s early films; it was sweet, small and heartfelt with an '80s tone,” she said.

Hodson was lucky that none of her Transformer character requests were turned down during the first draft: “Amazingly, I got them all. Dropkick and Shatter were two that I really hoped for, and here they are.”

Hodson is currently penning the Batgirl script, and her DC Universe writing debut, Birds of Prey, is set to go into production in January. She hopes to spend a good amount of time on the film’s set. “I’ll be there until they’ve had enough of me and toss me off,” Hodson joked.

John Cena (Blockers) plays Agent Burns, Bumblebee’s sole human antagonist. “I was ready to be Bumblebee’s spare tire if that’s what it took to get into this film, I loved the script that much,” he said.

Cena delivers a slew of incredibly comedic lines, challenging the film’s CGI lead for the most scene-stealing moments. The actor gives credit to director Knight and his open and relaxed filming environment. “Travis would let us have extra takes and I would try things out,” said Cena. “When I delivered a good idea, Travis would help me refine it and often dial it down to make the PG-13 rating. It really changed the dynamic of the character.”

Adlon, who play Steinfeld’s mom, a veteran nurse who is struggling to keep the family financially afloat, was excited to support two vastly different films this winter. “I shot this small baseball film, All Square, last summer and right after that we filmed Bumblebee. The budgets couldn’t be more farther apart, but they’re both really well-done, character-driven films. I give full credit to Travis, who is such a fresh voice,” said the actress.

Being new to blockbuster CGI and effects, Adlon enjoyed watching Steinfeld act opposite Bumblebee. “At one point, Hailee was acting opposite a guy in a yellow suit on stilts,” she recalled. “That was one of the many forms of Bumblebee.”

In addition to Peter Cullen returning as Optimus Prime, Bumblebee features the voice talents of Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux.

Theroux recalled the minimal number of takes they did in the booth. “I was just discussing this with Angela — compared to the voice work I’ve done in the past, this was really quick,” the actor said. “I got to do a really big voice for the villain, and when they add in the digitization, it makes it extra sinister.”

Bassett echoed Theroux’s comments and shared that she is eager to return to the Mission Impossible franchise: “That film was a joy to work on, and I didn’t perish, so why not bring my character back?”