Discovery: Haley Lu Richardson

Photography Brian Higbee

Published August 19, 2015


In The Bronze, Melissa Rauch’s darkly funny Sundance hit, Haley Lu Richardson plays Maggie Townsend, a sweet, scattered gymnast from a small town in Ohio hoping to win gold at the next Olympics. When her coach dies, Maggie begins training with Hope Annabelle Greggory (Rauch), a local former bronze medalist. But this is a sunny family film about a girl who finds her mentor; Hope is petty, petulant, and self-absorbed, and her motives for working with Maggie are extremely suspect.  

Rauch co-wrote The Bronze with her husband Winston Rauch. “I don’t know how Melissa kept her cool, because I feel like I would’ve been so stressed out, thinking about the writing,” says Richardson. “There’s so much improv and things changing all the time…I was so in awe of that.”

In reality, Richardson is just as sweet as Maggie, but decidedly more serious. She has to be; in addition to The Bronze, the 20-year-old Arizona native is currently promoting two films and a new television show. The Last Survivors, which features Richardson as “such a badass,” and The Young Kieslowski, a cute coming-of-age film, both came out earlier this summer. ABC Family’s addiction drama Recovery Road, in which Richardson plays the best friend and possible frenemy of Kyla Pratt’s protagonist, is due out in 2016. “They’re really taking risks with it,” explains Richardson of the latter. “Sometimes I read a line and I’m like, ‘Are you sure ABC Family is okay with me saying this?'”

AGE: 20


CURRENT LOCATION: Los Angeles. I moved when I was 16. I had no clue what to expect in moving to L.A. I had no clue, really, about what acting was. I just knew that I wanted to do it. A lot of things hit us in the face, like “Oh, that exists? This is a problem now?”

CHILDHOOD AMBITIONS: I’m an only child and my parents are both really creative, unconventional people, so they saw that I had this dream and these unconventional wants and hopes and goals and they were super supportive of that. It was just a matter of how it was going to be possible: how we were going to get the money, where I was going to live, what I was going to do for school. I ended up making a 3-D panel poster and writing up a list of pros and cons and how we were going to attack the cons. I gave them this whole presentation on how it was going to work. A week later, my mom moved to L.A. with me! It ended up working, but it did take some effort on my end. [laughs]

FIRST ROLES: I was always the smallest role in community theater and school plays. I always had two lines—I was the kid that came on stage and said one thing and then left and that was my part for the play. [laughs] I remember, I did this community theater play of Cinderella and I was so excited. I so badly wanted to be Cinderella, or at least one of the mice, and I ended up getting the role of “Town Crier Number Two.” I came in, I said, “Hear ye, hear ye, all subjects of the kingdom,” and that was my only line in all of the play. I was 10. But my whole family came—all of my extended family. They came to every play and every dance show, even if I wasn’t on stage at all.

ADJUSTING TO L.A.: The first year that I lived here was kind of experimental. I was taking classes, auditioning, and getting an agent. I dance, too, so I was going out with my dance agent for a bunch of dance jobs. The second year that I lived here, when I really started working, I was really lucky to do this horror movie called The Last Survivors, which is finally coming out. I filmed it four years ago! It was the first really substantial role I’ve ever played, and my character really carried the movie, so it was a lot of responsibility. I think that’s when I really learned the most, and I was learning it really quick. There was so much pressure to get this emotion in one shot and then switch. I think that’s when it all started clicking; that’s when I could see myself really doing this as a career and as a passion forever.

THE BRONZE: It actually ended up being the most terrible audition I’ve ever done. I was 30 minutes late, which I never am. I always try to be maybe three minutes late so I’m not there right on time. I ran in, and I’d parked my car three blocks away so I was out of breath. I felt terrible. I had this whole monologue to do where I’m staring into the camera and doing this press conference. I was all over the place, but it ended up working in my favor somehow, because the way that I was that day from being late and being all frazzled is kind of the way my character is in the movie. I didn’t do that intentionally, but I think they all thought I did. [laughs]

GYMNISTS VS. DANCERS: I had a stunt double for The Bronze. She’s literally the most amazing human being I’ve ever seen. She’s NCAA women’s gymnastics champion. She was incredible. I would poke her thighs and my nail would break because it was like poking a rock. [laughs] She taught me a lot of things for when they did use me for the floor work. She taught me the form, because the form of a gymnast and the form of a dancer are quite different and most people wouldn’t really think about that. I was doing things and my hands would be like ballet hands, and she would be like, “No, this is what a gymnast looks like.” It’s a lot tighter, more compact, straight, and strong.

THAT SEX SCENE: I was sitting right between Melissa and Sebastian [Stan at the Sundance premiere]. [laughs] I had only read the sex scene on paper; I wasn’t there when they were filming. I hadn’t seen any clips of it or anything. So I was literally seeing it for the first time; Sebastian was seeing it for the first time. Melissa was seeing it for probably the hundredth time, but the first time in front of a bunch of people, and the vibe that I got from the two of them on either side of me was so uncomfortable and scared. It was the most awkwardly fantastic thing that I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t intentionally sit in between them, but that was just really funny.

KEEPING FOCUSED: My head is in the game! Like High School Musical taught me. I know what I want and I know too now that you take your craft seriously, but you don’t have to take yourself seriously. It’s so easy to judge yourself and be so hard on yourself and have all these expectations and demands. I can have those demands when it comes to my career, and those expectations, but for me, it’s reminding myself every once in a while that it’s okay to take a week to just chill out—that’s important to me.