Dakota Is All Grown Up
by Paul Fischer
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The first time I met Dakota Fanning, she was seven years old promoting I Am Sam. Seven years later, Fanning has made over 30 film or television appearances and is now a confident 14-year old actress still passionate about reading and still taking her career seriously. She was recently at San Diego’s Comic Con talking about her latest film, the thriller Push, co-starring Chris Evans, which involves a group of young American ex-pats with telekinetic and clairvoyant abilities, hiding from a clandestine U.S. government agency. They must utilize their different talents and band together for a final job enabling them to escape the agency forever. In a first for Fanning fans, the actress has a drunk scene in the film as she displays her own adolescent evolution. She spoke to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: So in this movie you’re like the drunken girl?
Dakota Fanning: Okay. Here’s the deal with that. In this movie, my mom is also a Watcher. She’s, like, the best Watcher that they’d ever seen, that could see the future. And she’s famous for drinking alcohol when she needs to—in a crunch, when she needs to see everything more clearly. And it’s like, a last resort, kind of. And so Cassie is going through that. She was in a last resort to see the future as clear as she can, and she has to drink.
PF: Was it a freeing experience for you, having been this innocent child? Although I did see Hounddog at Sundance—to be able to do scenes like that, and to really kind of let yourself go?
DF: Yeah! You know what I mean? I had never done that before, so it definitely was. But, you know, I really identify with the character. She was desperate, and she had to do something to—do her power to the full effect. So, yeah, it was. This movie’s different than anything I’ve ever done before, and I feel really lucky to be a part of it. I like that it’s an action movie, but it also has a story, and there’s characters that have relationships with each other, and they’re all very significant.
PF: Did you get the sense that it’s time? You have to start growing into roles?
DF: You know, I don’t really do it intentionally. I think as you get older, the roles that you can do are limited, and also expand at the same time. So I don’t really try to make conscious decisions about it. I just try and let it happen naturally. And as I get to certain ages, some things are right, and some things are not. And I’ve been lucky to find the right thing, I feel.
PF: But you’re having a very different career as a 14-year-old than you did as a ten-year-old, obviously.
DF: Yeah. Sure. Exactly. Exactly.
PF: And are those roles coming to you now? Do you find that people are sending you scripts as a teenager?
DF: Yeah. I think, definitely, because people are seeing that I’m older, and I can do more things. And so yeah, I definitely do see that. And I feel very lucky to have that, and I hope to continue to do movies forever. It’s what I love to do. And I just think as I get older, that I’m just excited for what’s to come.
PF: Are you prepared for the audience being almost maybe resistant at times, because they know you and love you a certain way, and they’ve got to let you grow up on screen, the way you need to grow up in real life?
DF: Yeah. Exactly, true. And I mean, that’s inevitable, because the first time everybody saw me was when I was six and I was in I Am Sam. And now I’m 14, so I think it’s inevitable. But I am getting older and growing up and I can’t do anything about that. I have to do what I feel is right for me, and grow as an actress to me. And I have to do that no matter what, if I want to continue. And I definitely do.
PF: How was your experience in Hong Kong? Can you tell us how it was shooting there?
DF: Sure. I loved it. Hong Kong was one of my most favorite places I’ve ever filmed. And it was such a new experience, and so different than anywhere I’d ever been before. And I think it added—it was almost like an actor in the movie, just the city. And just the landscape of the buildings, and the colors, and the people. And I think that it helped everyone be in the moment there, in this fascinating place.
PF: Hounddog is about to get released. I guess it’s gonna get a limited theatrical release?
DF: Really next year.
PF: I thought it was really soon.
DF: I don’t think so. I think next spring, or something like that.
PF: I was at Sundance for that screening. There was a certain critical backlash against that movie. Was that troubling to you?
DF: Yeah, it was, because I think a lot of the information that was out there wasn’t true, so I think that people were going into the movie with a lot of, like, preconceived notions about what it was gonna be. I don’t think that it fulfilled what everybody thought that—you know, a particular part of the movie was gonna be. And, you know, it was very unfortunate. It was very disappointing and I think that that movie, I really loved making it. I got to work with Robin Wright Penn and David Morse, and I got a great experience. I really do hope that people get to see that one day and I hope that people can go with an open mind, and unbiased opinion, and watch it and enjoy it. And if not, you know, everybody likes different kinds of things.
PF: How was working with Jennifer Hudson on Secret Life of Bees?
DF: It was great! It was great. I had so much fun. I got to work with Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Paul Bettany, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilde. It was so much fun. I had so much fun. So it was totally like a switch of gears from this film, then going to do The Secret Life of Bees. The characters were totally different, the people were totally different, the setting was totally different.
PF: Who did you play in it?
DF: I play Lily, the main character in the book and it was so much fun. And that’s getting released very soon. That’s October 17th.
PF: It’s going to Toronto. Are you gonna be there?
DF: Yeah, I will be in Toronto. Yeah.
PF: I remember seeing you when you were younger at the Dream Halloweens, when you were the Costume Queen.
PF: What do you think of this whole scene, with all these people in costume? Are you jealous, or are you over it?
DF: No! I love Halloween. I’m already thinking about what I’m gonna be! I’ve got to plan. Okay, my sister and I—she just filmed The Nutcracker. So we decided we’re gonna be The Nutcracker. Not the actual Nutcracker, but we’re gonna be, like, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and be in full ballerina. And then her best friend is gonna be the Rat King. And then one of my best friends is gonna be the Nutcracker. And we all go together. And we’re gonna be like, the whole Nutcracker Brigade. And it’s gonna be—it’s great. I’ve got to think about it.
PF: Do you actually hand sew your costumes? Or, how do you put those together?
DF: I don’t. Usually, I have a friend of ours make them for me. And I could never do that. [laughs] But they actually have a ballet studio. So they’re very familiar with making ballet costumes.
PF: Are you still a voracious reader? When we first met you, you were reading a lot.
DF: I am. I got my summer reading list for school this year, and I’ve already read all the books.
PF: What’s a classic that you’ve read?
DF: Well, I just read The Namesake. I had to read that. And I had to read a book about the Holocaust called Those Who Save Us. And then another one called The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette. And they were great. They were so good! I read them all in, like, a week! They were so good.
PF: So how do you get ready to go back to school, if you’ve already read all the books?
DF: I know, I’m kind of bored! I’m like, what—I should be waiting a little bit. But I watched the movie The Namesake, so I can kind of refresh my memory that way, I guess.
PF: Do you have any back-to-school hopes?
DF: Well, I love, school supplies. I don’t know. I love going and getting my school supplies. And I’ve already gotten my binders and everything. I love doing that. I don’t know. My mom and I, we go and we get unnecessary things. But we’re like—“Oh, maybe we’ll need that!” And then I never see it. You know, for two years later.
PF: You’re in high school.
DF: Yeah, I’m going into tenth grade.
PF: Do kids in high school treat you very differently to kids that you went to school with when you were in elementary?
DF: Well, I didn’t go to school when I was in elementary. The only school I’ve ever gone to was when I was in preschool and first grade. And then I was home-schooled from second to eighth grade. And then I went to high school in ninth grade.
PF: How was that experience?
DF: The transition was almost not even a transition. It was really very smooth, and I have so many friends at school and it’s been great. It’s been so natural, and I’m really fortunate that my school lets me leave and take my work with me, and come back.
PF: Are you doing anything next? Are you signed up for anything else?
DF: No, I just have The Secret Life of Bees coming out in October, and then Coraline, which is an animated movie, coming out early next year.
PF: Who do you play?
DF: Coraline. [laughs]
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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