Interview: Dakota Fanning Sweet 15
On the eve of her 15th birthday, child star Dakota Fanning talks about voting for the Oscars, starring in the stop-motion 3D fantasy
Coraline, and getting all punked up for Push
By Marni Weisz
It’s a cold and rainy December afternoon in Los Angeles and Dakota Fanning has just gotten home from school. “It’s the last week before winter break so there’s not much homework to do,” she says over the phone, “so I’m just relaxing.”
That’s good, she’ll need her rest come February. Not only does the star of 19 movies — including
War of the Worlds, Dreamer, Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Life of Bees — turn 15 on February 23rd, she also stars in two of the month’s biggest movies.
Coraline, the first stop-motion animated movie ever shot entirely in 3D. Fanning is the voice of the title character, a girl who finds a door to an alternate universe in her bedroom wall, and meets another version of her family on the other side.
And then there’s
Push, a dark-edged superhero movie that takes place in Hong Kong. Similar to X-Men or Hellboy, Push’s
world is populated with outcasts born with supernatural abilities.
Some, including Fanning’s character Cassie, are Watchers, they see into
the future and record their visions in drawings. Others, like Nick
(Chris Evans), are Movers, they have telekinetic powers so can move
objects with their minds. And others still are Pushers and can place
thoughts in other people’s heads. Government factions are trying to
capture the mutants to use their powers as weapons, but Cassie, Nick
and a Pusher named Kira (Camilla Belle) won’t go down without a fight.
Oh, there’s one more reason this is a big month for Fanning. The
Academy Awards. No, she wasn’t nominated — she gets to vote. In 2006,
Fanning became the youngest member of the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, an honour that comes with full voting privileges.
In fact, the 14-year-old’s plan for this evening is to go
downstairs, turn on the fireplace, and watch some of the screeners
Oscar hopefuls have been bombarding her with all month.
Can you say which movies you’re voting for?
“I don’t think I’m allowed to say who I’ll be voting for, but there are some wonderful movies out and I just enjoy getting them all and getting to watch them, watch everybody’s work. It’s just a wonderful part of being an actor.”
Is that what you’ve been doing with all of your free time lately?
“Well, it’s kind of hard to balance free time and school. But I have about three weeks off for winter break so I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of that.”
Push is a pretty dark story. How did you approach your character?
“I think she’s very tough around the edges but at heart she’s just a normal girl her age dealing with something that’s much bigger than she is, and having to cope with a lot of things at the same time — having emotions that a normal 13-year-old would have. So she’s just trying to balance it all at once while having the weight of everything on her shoulders, which can be difficult.”
Does Push represent a more grown-up role for you?
“Yeah, I think certain elements of it probably do. I was 13 when I filmed it and I think I was playing a real kind of a teenager in that movie. It was a character I got to develop with the director [Paul McGuigan] and something different than I’d done before.”
They really roughed you up. You have the big boots, dark circles under your eyes and dyed hair. How did that wardrobe feel?
“Oh. it was great, it was so much fun to be able to pick the costume and get into that every day, I loved it. They gave it to me at the end, so I have my whole costume and everything.”
You helped pick out the wardrobe?
“Well, yeah, on every film you get to do the fitting, try everything on and see what I’m most comfortable with, and what everyone else is most comfortable with. It’s always a fun experience.”
You’ve already done some very grown-up movies, the very controversial Hounddog comes to mind. But do you find people are always waiting for that first real grown-up Dakota Fanning role?
“I don’t know. I’ve been working since I was six and every movie that I’ve done has kind of been the age that I am. I never do anything that’s younger or older or too old or too young, it’s always good for the time that I am in my life. I don’t know really, when people say that, what they mean, ‘grown-up role,’ because I’m not grown yet and I don’t know if anyone’s ever totally grown-up. We’re all aging and learning as we continue to get older.”
That’s an interesting take on it.
“I think people kind of don’t realize that I am as old as I am. They don’t realize how much time passes in between the movies…. So a lot of people are surprised when I say I’m almost 15.”
The script describes your character as 13 going on 30. I think people think of you that way; did you relate to that?
“You know, I’ve never really felt any different than anyone else my age. I think Cassie, the character, has seen a lot and experienced a lot because of her situation and maybe that’s why they say that about her. She’s street-smart and very wise.”
You spent almost three months filming in Hong Kong. What was that like?
“It was amazing. I think [Hong Kong] really almost plays a character in the film. It’s a really, really special city…. When you’re in a place for that long it really becomes a home.”
What was the biggest culture shock?
“Hong Kong is very different from where I’m from, the United States and California, and I’m originally from Georgia, but I live in California now. It’s obviously very different. There’s so much shopping to do there. Malls underground and aboveground and in buildings and in hotels, there’s always shopping to do and that was so much fun.”
Did you find anything you wouldn’t have been able to find in the States?
“Well, I got a lot of beautiful jewellery, a lot of jade and Buddhas. There’s this place called The 10,000 Buddhas and you take this long walk up these steps and it’s all lined with these golden Buddhas, and then you get to the temple and the four walls are covered with 10,000 miniature Buddhas, that’s why it’s called The 10,000 Buddhas, and while I was there I got this really neat necklace that I love.”
And then there’s Coraline, which didn’t even have a real set, being animated. You worked on that for three-and-a-half years. Why so long?
“There were a lot of rewrites and changes and I would go back and rerecord that, so that was the only reason. Especially for this movie, it’s not just an animated movie, it’s 3D stop-motion animation so it takes a lot longer than just a regular computer-animated movie.”
“I saw a 20-minute clip edited together. It was really great. I didn’t want it to end…. It’s kind of spooky at times and a very fun movie to watch especially because of the 3D stop-motion animation, it’s almost like you’re really in the story.”
Have you seen the finished product in 3D?
Do you have any idea why there are so many acting siblings? There’s you and your sister, Elle, the Breslins, the Culkins…
“I don’t. My sister, she just enjoys it. She played me at a younger age in I am Sam. That was her first experience, then it took on a life of its own. She does her own thing, and we never talk about it, ever, really.”
“We’re just sisters, I don’t know.”
Marni Weisz is the editor of Famous.
In Her Own Words
Listen to Dakota Fanning talk about shooting in Hong Kong