01/17/2011 at 01:00 AM EST
The film newcomer, 14, is earning awards buzz in the hit western. Now if only boys could get a bit taller...
WORKING WITH THE BIG GUNS
For the scene in which her character, precocious teen Mattie Ross, gets a spanking from a Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon
, "I had pads on under my clothes," says Steinfeld. "After every take, Matt would come running back to me. He was like, 'Hailee, are you okay?' It was cute."
STAR IN TRAINING
The daughter of a personal-trainer dad and interior-designer mom in L.A., she started studying acting at age 8. Until now, her biggest roles were in student films. "I would try to convince my friends to get all dressed up and go to the premieres."
Her 5'7" height "helped me with this role," she says. But she has mixed feelings about it: "I feel like I stick out. Also, I am taller than all of the guys, which stinks. But they are finally starting to catch up!"