Haley Bennett is on fire. Or rather, her apartment is about to be. “Shall we have a fire?” she asks, hanging out at her Tribeca loft on one of the first cool afternoons of fall. Soon she’s are ensconced on a deep sofa, surrounded by pillows and animals (“That’s River, my rescue boy,” Bennett says as a small dog makes a nest on my lap) and clutching warm cups of herbal tea. To add to the coziness factor, Bennett, 28, is still in P.J.s, her hair piled in a messy bun atop her head. Last night was the premiere of her film The Girl on the Train, and an impressive pile of red high heels lie in a jumble in a corner of the room. All of which would lead someone to believe that last night may have been a late one. “I was home by 10:30,” she says somewhat sheepishly. “I used to be a night owl. I no longer am a night owl.”
She’s also no longer a “mischievous,” Midwestern tomboy, flipping ATVs and “getting away with more than I should have.” Bennett’s parents met in church, hitchhiked to Florida while pregnant with her, then got divorced when she was six. She moved to Ohio with her dad, who opened a car shop called Trans Pro and didn’t like to stay put for long. “There was no time when I lived anywhere longer than two years,” Bennett says. “I was always a social outcast. Maybe I didn’t care what people thought because I was like, ‘Well, I probably won’t stick around here for too long.'” She rode horses and four-wheelers, sang in the church choir, and engaged in the sorts of rebellion “probably all high schoolers do – small-town things, you know.”
At 18, and with only a few high school plays under her belt (“I wanted to play a lead role so badly, but I’d never done anything but stand in the background”), Bennett convinced her mom to take her to L.A. “We just got a three-month lease,” she says. “It wasn’t a well-devised dream. In hindsight is was a ridiculous plan.” She was so nervous in her acting class that she’d break out in hives. And yet, just as the three months were coming to a close, she snagged an agent with a bit of uncalculated deception: “Totally off the cuff, I told the agent that this highly regarded agency wanted to represent me. Where did I get that? I don’t know! But all of a sudden she became competitive and was like, ‘No! You can’t sign with them!'”
The third part she auditioned for was 2007’s Music and Lyrics, flying to New York to work with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant and bursting into tears in the final callback. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never acted professionally before in my life. I hope I haven’t wasted your time.’ I left and went back to my hotel room, which was the nicest hotel I had ever stayed in in my life, and I was a wreck. I was like, ‘If I can’t audition without crying or having some kind of meltdown, then I probably am not cut our for this.'” Two weeks later, she found out she’d booked the job. What followed was a decade of (mostly) steady work on (mostly) unsatisfying projects. “For a long time, I was like, Maybe I shouldn’t have done this.”
She doesn’t feel that way now. Ten years in, Bennett is having the breakout moment she wasn’t sure would ever come, and over the last few months, she’s in just about every film you’ll see henceforth – The Magnificent Seven, The Girl on the Train, and Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, as well as Terrence Malick’s upcoming drama Weightless. Right now, however, smoke is starting to billow out of the fireplace and the smoke detector goes nuts, along with Bennett’s “menagerie” of three cat and two dogs. She leaps off the sofa, throwing open doors and windows and then trying to push flaming cinders back into the fireplace. For a minute or two it’s dicey. Then, danger averted, Bennett sinks back onto the sofa, laughing that if she had to call the fire department, they’d probably think she was Jennifer Lawrence, who she still gets mistaken for all the time. “I’m in complete denial,” she says, of the fact that those days are numbered.