Haley Lu Richardson licks banana pudding off her spoon, her hazel eyes popping. It’s love at first sample. Giddy, intoxicated with the sweet perfumes of Magnolia Bakery, the young rising star orders the pudding with a side of red velvet cheesecake. Donning slip-ons embellished with avocados, post-photo shoot athleisure, and her golden hair wrapped in a loose bun, it is apparent that this is her safe space: comfy with dessert on the way. At a time when millennials are losing their social cues to awkward phone pauses, Richardson’s dynamic personality makes for vibrant conversation.
Most recently starring in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split opposite a psychopathic James McAvoy, and in 2016’s critically-acclaimed The Edge of Seventeen opposite former Flaunt cover Hailee Steinfeld. Richardson’s acting career is unfolding just as she dreamed it would when she moved to Los Angeles five years ago, transitioning from aspirations of a career in dance.
“The thing I loved most about dance and doing all these competitions was telling stories,” says Richardson. “Emoting, and taking the lyrics of a song and turning it into some sort of art that hopefully affects people, that’s what acting is, just not physically – it’s more of an intimate thing.”
Now 21, after dancing competitively for ten years in her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, Richardson met her first best friend in Los Angeles, Emily, after partnering with her at a dance class.
She decided to pursue acting after realizing that the physical strain on the body would only give her a short career in professional dance. Watching the young stars on Disney Channel shows, and seeing the rise of Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games series (2012-2015), not only proved to Richardson that becoming an actress was possible, but it showed her that it could also be a fulfilling career. She moved to Los Angeles with no idea how to search for auditions or agents. Utilizing her competitive dance contacts, she spent her first year dancing in the background for TV shows and playing the love interest in music videos.
“It was doing the same thing over and over like a prop-kind of dance,” Richardson begins, while I slice a piece of the red velvet cheesecake. “It’s interesting because the thing that I can do as a career, that is also storytelling and emoting, like dance, is acting. The higher you go in acting, the more you get to dig deep in telling a story.”
Both of her roles in Split and The Edge of Seventeen challenged Richardson to translate true friendship on camera. Her deeply rooted respect for sisterhood is what breathes her characters to life. When she talks about her best friends from dance, she refers to them as her future bridesmaids. When she talks of her costars, she references the immediate sense of trust she felt, and how that allowed her to overcome the trials and tribulations her characters faced.
“In Split, me, Jess [Sula], and Anya [Taylor-Joy] had that trust between the three of us. We had to cry, we had to scream, we had to hit things in these uncomfortably-high stakes,” says Richardson. Conversely, “The Edge of Seventeen is such a perfect representation of what it means to have a girlfriend that’s a best friend. It’s so important because it is kind of like a sister. And having a group of girls is a sisterhood, only not in the sorority kind of way, but in the actual family kind of way.”
While many aspiring actresses change their style, their look, and their entire attitude to fit a generic Hollywood starlet mold, it’s refreshing to see Haley Lu Richardson making a name for herself by being unapologetically her: laughing loudly and stuffing her face with cake.
Written by Tyler Boudreaux
Photographer: Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Stylist: Sean Knight
Hair: Amber Duarte
Makeup: Mai Quynh for Starworks
Makeup Assistant: Katelin Gan