By Angela Salazar
Updated Sep 10, 2016 @ 8:44 am
Matthew Brookes

With two major films hitting theaters this fall— the star-studded Western The Magnificent Seven, out now, and the hotly anticipated The Girl on the Train, opening Oct. 7—actress Haley Bennett is definitely having a moment, and she’s using it to send an empowering message to women everywhere.

As the lone female star in the male-dominated The Magnificent Seven cast (which includes Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Matt Bomer and Peter Sarsgaard, among other handsome leading guys), Bennett holds her own gun-slinging and horseback riding as she seeks justice for the murder of her husband and townspeople in the film.  

“I didn’t grow up a huge fan of the Western genre because there was never a female character to relate to or look up to,” Bennett told InStyle at the Toronto International Film Festival. “We need a Western like this. A modern Western that has a woman right there in the forefront doing everything the guys are doing.”  

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The 28-year-old even took to Instagram, sharing a behind-the-scenes photo from the film with a caption that read in part: “I hope girls and women will see #TheMagnificentSeven and be inspired by Emma. I hope they will say, I am a leader too. I will not be defined by my gender.” The post goes on to encourage women to be powerful, fearless, and in control of their destiny.

Bennett’s kick-ass character fit right with the guys on-screen, and she became part of the tight-knit group off-camera too. “It was a bit of an intimidating experience because it was like a testosterone tidal wave,” she said, noting that it was humbling working with acting greats like Washington and Hawke. But Pratt always kept the mood light (“He's so funny. He was the entertainment on set.”), sparking comedic rivalries among all of the cast members that provided relief from the grueling days filming.

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And it turns out the testosterone-fueled set may have helped pave the way for Bennett’s role in The Girl on the Train as well. “I read the book while I was shooting The Magnificent Seven, totally by coincidence,” she said. “It was a little bit of solace from the male aspect of the film that I was shooting. It was three female narrators so that was a very attractive quality for me; to dive into these interesting women’s lives.”