Haley Bennett on ‘Cyrano’ and creating lasting impressions
Mike Adler/Monday Artists
We can all agree that Haley Bennett turns in the most captivating, nuanced performances that besiege your imagination—and your heart. She’s a Hollywood anomaly with a repertoire that intersects genres, which interestingly embodies much of her early life. Born in Florida, her parents divorced when she was six years old. Bennett moved around the states in what she describes as a “nomadic” life, living separately and simultaneously between her parents. Spending most of her time in suburban or rural areas, her childhood was very much in line with Huckleberry Finn. She did a quick stint in modeling school, acted in school, and sang in choirs. In only her third audition, Bennett landed her film debut in Music and Lyrics. From relative obscurity, she leaped into a fully realized and remarkable career.
Some of the titles Bennett has under her dossier include The Magnificent Seven, The Girl on the Train, Swallow, and Hillbilly Elegy. If you reviewed her whole resume, you could never accuse her of playing it safe. Her performances leave an indelible imprint on the characters she takes on—she’s unhurried. Bennett’s most memorable attributes are defined by their absence, because what you expect from her isn’t always there. Bennet is full of surprises. Her latest performance in Cyrano truly embodies this craft. This musical romantic drama is an adaptation of the 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Starring alongside Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Peter Dinklage, Bennett takes on the role of the beautiful Roxanne. Cyrano (Dinklage) longs for her affections, but she falls in love with Christian de Neuvillette (Harrison). The three are intertwined in an affair, with Cyrano offering his poetry to Christian in an effort to bring him and Roxanne together once and for all. There is no question Bennett is masterful in this role—her voice is magical. With other projects such as Borderlands and Till coming up, she’s taken on even more by going behind the camera. Whatever she chooses to do, all we know is that Bennett makes our hearts sing.
Hello there, how are you doing?
Fine, but I potentially have COVID. I’ve been pretty much unscathed the whole time. I haven’t had COVID yet. And my partner just tested positive, so you know. The film was delayed two months because of COVID, and everything got pushed to February. Now, we’re having a smaller screening in New York. I am probably going to have to miss it.
Oh, I am so sorry! I completely understand. I’m also one of the few people who hasn’t caught it up to this point.
Regardless of whether you have COVID or not, I think everyone’s just gonna move on. Luckily, we got past the phase where we‘re not getting super sick and stuff, so that’s good news. It feels like being punished for being sick or having a cold, you know? I mean, it’s nobody’s fault.
Absolutely, you go out and do your best. You’re trying to live your life. It’s where we are now, and it feels like there’s no end in sight.
There’s something in England called Soft Play, which is kind of like McDonald’s playground with a ball pit, you know? I have a 3-year old. I was like, “We’re definitely gonna get COVID.”
I used to work at a Chuck E. Cheese in the US, and it was exactly like what you’re talking about. So gross, so many germs in those ball pits.
But anyway, I had such a lovely time at The Laterals shoot! Really fun. The photographer was really interesting and was such a nice guy. We were just playing make-believe, and that’s what I love to do most. I think the shoot was me at my most eccentric, which I always love.
“As an adult, I really crave stability and a sense of home. My 20’s were all about that kind of fluidity, and you know, being very accepting of change. Now that I’ve reached my 30’s, I really want to create a home for my daughter. That’s really important to me—I’m more rooted than I ever have been.”
I’m so glad! I’m looking forward to seeing the photos.
I was dancing to this incredible band that I discovered recently called, Birds On A Wire. I had just taken the train from Paris back to London. After having met them, we went to dinner to discuss a potential project, and I love them so much. One of the women plays the cello, you should check them out—they are really kind of mystical and magical. It very much makes me feel like an open-hearted gypsy.
I’m living in Costa Rica right now and that’s exactly the vibe I need. Their music sounds like it embodies your childhood in a sense. I found it really fascinating that you moved around a lot because I had a very similar experience. Do you feel like your nomadic upbringing gave you a gypsy-like heart and soul?
Um, yeah, I guess so. Although, you know, as an adult, I really crave stability and a sense of home. My 20’s were all about that kind of fluidity, and you know, being very accepting of change. Now that I’ve reached my 30’s, I really want to create a home for my daughter. That’s really important to me—I’m more rooted than I ever have been. Actually, I don’t like to leave home now. So, I’ve kind of taken a complete, you know, 180 in some ways. But yeah, the nomad is still very much a part of my being and essence. You know? So I think that will always be there.
It’s all about propelling now for me. I have to propel myself into things more than I ever have. But then, once I’m there, it’s like a rocket launchpad—I’m out there and I’m doing it with my whole heart.
I love that. It takes a lot of vulnerability and strength to be able to do that, especially at a very young age. Do you feel like you had to propel yourself when you were in modeling school?
Oh, that was very short-lived (laughs). Nobody wanted to look at me.
I’m sure that’s not true!
I had crooked teeth and was like, flat-chested. I was just the ugly duckling!
I’m sure you were more than charming! I’m guessing that experience would have been very different now because we have things like TikTok and Instagram. When I see young teens online now, they look like grownups.
I think girls blossom now at an earlier age. They’re influenced so much more, it’s like the internet has some kind of growth vitamin.
That’s so true (laughs). I’m curious: if you could go back and talk to your younger self, what kind of advice would you give her?
Oh, I like talking to my younger self. I guess it would be the same advice I would give my little girl. They’re so innocent, you know? I think it would be… to be confident and love yourself as you are. I guess I would say, you’re enough. And it’s something that’s like an ongoing kind of thing that I still tell myself as an adult. I guess it’s as simple as that.
That’s beautiful. Like you said, it’s something that can be hard to accept even as an adult. Especially in this industry, it’s hard not to compare. For example, in your first role with Music and Lyrics, did you ever have that sort of feeling, or was it what you imagined it to be?
Well, that experience was as challenging as it was exciting. And I think being a young woman without any kind of craft, it’s not something I think that’s advisable. As I’ve become more experienced as an actor, I wish that I could have had different outlets or opportunities, you know? An understanding of the industry as a whole, because I didn’t have any kind of peripheral. I wouldn’t want to trade places with my younger self; I feel so liberated by my experiences. When it comes to making movies, it’s been trial and error. And now, I have a sense of a real sense of craft, which I love.
“I wouldn’t want to trade places with my younger self; I feel so liberated by my experiences.”
I would agree with that. I mean, you’ve done so much in your career. What attracts you to the projects or characters that you take on?
There are a lot of factors, and you know, sometimes it’s just an innate understanding. Also, I want to learn from those characters, so it’s kind of a balance. I draw from what’s inside of me and my experiences to tell the story, I want to feel a connection to the character. It might not be something that’s very obvious right away. For instance, in Swallow, my character, Hunter, is diagnosed with Pica. Obviously, I don’t have any of those experiences, but there have been instances in my life where I felt powerless and unseen. So I thought, something like that for me was just an instinct when I read the script and I followed that. It feels like a punch in the gut, and I’m like, “Oh okay, I have to do some more investigating.”
That’s such a fantastic perspective. I was wondering: you’ve done such a range of projects, but is there something you’d like to pursue still?
Um, so animation is definitely a genre that I would love to explore because I like to make funny voices. Recently, I’ve been emulating all of the characters in Cinderella. You know, Cinderella, Cinderella (in a cartoony voice)!
I mean, you pretty much touched on almost everything that’s out there at this point.
Now, I am developing my own projects, which has been just as creatively satiating—being a part of a project from its most beginning stages. It’s really exciting. I don’t want to talk about things before they are fully baked. But yes, it’s something I really enjoy thinking about as a whole rather than what little control I have as an actor.
I really love things like, for instance, meeting these wonderful, lovely musicians, Bird On A Wire. Or meeting different actors and writers, you know, visionary people. I don’t like to just show up at the beginning of a production. I mean, I love that too, but this makes me think of things in a different way. Like, wow, this project has been in development stages for four years and now here I am just coming on to the scene. It makes you more humble. It’s really difficult to get a movie made, and people like them put their entire lives, livelihoods, and souls into making something happen.
You were talking about casting a little bit, and you’ve worked with some incredible people. Can you share one of your favorite behind-the-scenes moments?
Um, let’s see. So I have kind of a funny one. Before we made Cyrano, Peter Dinklage and I did a stage production of the play in Connecticut.
I was seven months pregnant, playing the virgin Roxanne, with a belly like a small watermelon. And spoiler alert, I’m like every night in my empire dress trying to hide my tummy. So you know, it didn’t distract people and take them out of the story. But, I don’t think anyone was fooled.
So I am leaning over Peter every night as his character dies, and I’m ugly crying with snot dropping out of my nose. Peter Dinklage was just a magnet to snot—it’s like the most romantic film in history, and just about the least romantic thing in the world. He’s saying his last words while I’m professing my love to him and he’s just drinking my snot on a nightly basis.
“This Roxanne felt different than past Roxannes because I saw her as an outsider. And she exists in a world of conformists and small-minded people. I could feel that she wanted to break, she wanted to break free of that mold—she’s not someone that takes the easy way out. She’s a good person, but she’s a little self-obsessed in the way that she and Cyrano are cut from the same cloth, but he colors outside the lines. They’re both not afraid to be different, and that’s why they’re friends.”
Can I just say, I was able to watch Cyrano and I loved it so much! I would love for you to share with us what this project was all about.
I’m really excited that you had the chance to see it. Not many people have gotten the chance to.
The film is about love and our inability to express and accept love. It’s based on the iconic play that was adapted with a more modern lens. Cyrano, who’s played by Peter Dinklage, loves Roxanne, but he is afraid to tell her. She falls in love with the beautiful Christian who isn’t afraid to express his love. But, he becomes tongue-tied every time he sees her. And so Cyrano helps Christian express his love through letters. It’s just a beautiful story about hiding our love, not feeling worthy of it, and ultimately finding the courage to express it. I got involved with the project six years ago. I really wanted to do theater because it was something I’d never really done before. I met with my agent, and I asked him to think of me if anything came up, and the next day, he called me and said there was a musical in the works. He asked if I could come for a sample reading, and I went up to Broadway. Peter and his wife, Erica, were there. She wrote the stage adaptation and the screenplay. It felt like a rehearsal environment, which I’d never experienced before. It was so enjoyable and creative, but it was also a chance to really be bold without having any consequences. And I fell in love with it, as well as with everyone in the film.
This Roxanne felt different than past Roxannes because I saw her as an outsider. And she exists in a world of conformists and small-minded people. I could feel that she wanted to break, she wanted to break free of that mold—she’s not someone that takes the easy way out. She’s a good person, but she’s a little self-obsessed in the way that she and Cyrano are cut from the same cloth, but he colors outside the lines. They’re both not afraid to be different, and that’s why they’re friends. Then, she meets Christian. His beauty just takes her away. I think we’ve all probably been in a situation similar to that.
You can connect to the characters. Everyone is interesting and flawed, but you’re so humanistic at the same time. It was really, really fantastic. I know you also have other projects coming up—Borderlands and She is Love. It would be great if you could tell us a little bit more about these.
So, you know, you kind of touched upon it earlier—the different kinds of genres that I have kind of been experimenting with or launching myself into. I really want to explore all the different facets of cinema, and so with Borderlands, I was really excited about doing this action-packed film that’s based on the popular video game. I remember, after agreeing to do the film, I had the most fun Zoom table reading with Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart. And this great girl called Adriana, who’s super talented, and that was just really exciting. Everything just feels great when you get to work during a pandemic. Even going to the grocery store feels great.
Brady Lea/Premier Hair & Makeup
Mary Greenwell/Premier Hair & Makeup
I can relate to that (laughs).
I’m shooting She Is Love, which is another film that I got the opportunity to work on last year, and it’s a tiny, tiny improv-led film. We shot the whole feature length film in six days—and I don’t know how that will speak to its quality, but it was a really interesting experiment. I worked with incredibly talented actors, Sam Riley and Marisa Abela, who I made dear friends with. It was directed by Jamie Adams, who I just adore. I recently wrapped up the film Till, and it was my character, Carolyn Bryant, that really shocked me and drew me in with her wickedness. She was an essential piece to the tragedy that surrounded Emmet Till’s death and his lynching in the 1950’s. It’s a story that really inspired me—about a mother’s love and her courage to rise against racist America.
It’s such an essential story that needs to be told, especially with the climate of America now. I’m very much looking forward to seeing that one! Truly, I have had such a great time with you and can’t be more grateful. Before I let you go, I do have one more question. You are a fantastic singer, and I’d love to know what your go-to karaoke song is.
It’s Aretha Franklin… I say a prayer for you (sings lyrics). I was singing very loudly in the car recently. Where I live in the countryside of England, unfortunately, there aren’t any karaoke salons. The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup, I say a little prayer for you (sings lyrics). I think I’m going to have to just say I cannot get enough of it.
That is fantastic! Honestly, I think I’m going to have to save that little bit of audio with you singing and turn that into the ring tone for my alarm! Thank you so much, Hayley! Chat with you soon.
Cyrano hits theaters February 25th 2022. Watch the trailer below: