‘Give 100%. Stay fo­cused. Never com­plain ’

With star turns along­side the likes of Sean Penn, Glenn Close, Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning is al­ready a movie in­dus­try vet­eran at 23. And her rules for suc­cess pull no punches, she tells Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

For the long­est time, Dakota Fanning was framed as an “old soul” by her in­vari­ably im­pressed co-stars. Glenn Close de­ployed the phrase when, in 2005, she shared a nine-minute, un­bro­ken scene with the then 10-year-old in the Cheko­vian in­spired drama Nine Lives.

Kris Kristof­fer­son, who played her char­ac­ter’s grand­fa­ther in Dreamer, compared Fanning to Bette Davis. She was 11. Kurt Rus­sell, who played her dad in the same film, was so im­pressed that he bought her a Palomino pony, say­ing: “I guar­an­tee you, she is the best ac­tress I will work with in my en­tire ca­reer.” (In a classy back-at-you, Fanning named the horse Goldie after Goldie Hawn, Rus­sell’s part­ner of 34 years.)

Other Fanning fans in­clude Tom Cruise, who has sent her a birth­day present ev­ery year since they starred in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. “Mostly shoes,” ap­par­ently.

That “old soul” tag and a mus­cu­lar re­cent re­sumé is slightly at odds with the good-na­tured, high-spir­ited 23-year-old one en­coun­ters off-screen.

As we meet, she is en­joy­ing be­ing the butt of many jokes among her co-stars on the set of

The Alienist. The mini-se­ries, which was cre­ated by True

De­tec­tive’s Cary Fuku­naga and largely shot in Budapest, casts Fanning as Sarah Howard, a jazz-age sec­re­tary who is de­ter­mined to be­come New York’s first fe­male po­lice de­tec­tive.

“They all think it’s hi­lar­i­ous that I have eight suit­cases to bring home,” says Fanning. “But we’ve been in Europe for six months. I don’t think that’s ex­ces­sive.”

It’s the morn­ing after the Emmy awards and the suc­cess

of A Hand­maid’s Tale. This may be a good omen for Brim­stone ,a fan­tas­ti­cally gothic new west­ern in which Fanning’s mys­te­ri­ous mute faces down Guy Pearce’s de­mented Old Tes­ta­ment preacher.

“Women like to watch other women on screen,” says the actor. “I like to watch other women. We like to see our­selves. And it’s very for­tu­nate and cool that sud­denly these projects have aligned in this way.”

Martin Kool­hoven’s im­pres­sively grue­some film – watch out for in­cest, in­testines and an out­house mur­der – uses a me­dieval bri­dle’s scold to drama­tise the hor­rors that have been his­tor­i­cally vis­ited on women by mis­guided re­li­gious fer­vour. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, there are two Game of Thrones stars – Kit Harington and Carice van Houten – on hand to help dish out the vi­o­lence.

Fanning pounced on the role after Mia Wasikowska pulled out, leav­ing her with less than a month to pre­pare for a shoot that was bloody, muddy, cold, and ex­tremely corseted.

“It was a very full-on nine months for me,” says Fanning. “Espe­cially as I had to go and shoot Amer­i­can Pas­toral be­tween the win­ter and sum­mer sec­tions of Brim­stone. But if you’re not chal­leng­ing your­self, that’s no fun. I don’t see the point.”

Fo­cus on women

In 2014, she grad­u­ated from New York Univer­sity, hav­ing ma­jored in women’s stud­ies, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the por­trayal of women in film and cul­ture. She has sub­se­quently head­lined

Effie Gray, a biopic scripted by Emma Thompson, prob­ing the bizarre sex­ual re­vul­sion that Vic­to­rian art critic John Ruskin (played by Greg Wise) felt to­ward his wife, Euphemia “Effie” Gray (Fanning).

She’s cur­rently at­tached to play Es­ther Green­wood in Kirsten Dunst’s adap­ta­tion of Sylvia Plath’s land­mark novel

The Bell Jar. Next June, she’ll ap­pear with Ri­hanna, Anne Hath­away, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kal­ing, and Sarah Paul­son in the gen­der-flipped

Ocean’s Eight. “Of course I can’t say any­thing about Oceans,” she says laugh­ing. “I wasn’t even sure that I’m sup­posed to ad­mit I’m in it.”

Her interest in gen­der stud­ies was “al­ready there” be­fore col­lege, she says. “But it does make you think more clearly about find­ing fe­male characters in film that don’t need a re­la­tion­ship with a man to be val­i­dated.”

An early vet­eran

At 23, Fanning is an in­dus­try vet­eran. The mile­stones make for im­pres­sive read­ing. Aged seven, she starred along­side Sean Penn in I Am Sam, and be­came the youngest per­son nom­i­nee for a Screen Ac­tors Guild Award. Aged eight, Steven Spielberg cast her in the sci­ence fic­tion mini-se­ries Taken. Aged 10, she was bond­ing with Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in Man on Fire. Aged 11, she was hold­ing her own with Robert De Niro in Hide and Seek. Aged 12, she was in­vited to join the Acad­emy of Motion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences, becoming the youngest mem­ber in the acad­emy’s his­tory.

“I guess I was pro­tected by naiveté. Be­ing so young I didn’t have any show­busi­ness baggage . . . But I had a sense of who they were. I knew they were peo­ple that other peo­ple had great re­spect for. You could feel it and see it.”

Fanning has been so long in the public eye that she experienced her first kiss while play­ing the younger ver­sion of Reese Wither­spoon on Sweet Home

Alabama. Yet there has never been much of a hint of that she (or her younger act­ing sib­ling, Elle) might be the next big fallen child-star or the new (and un­fairly ma­ligned) Lind­say Lo­han. That, says Fanning, is down to her par­ents.

“My mom has never been a man­ager or any­thing like that. The act­ing was my choice. She’s taught me to stay fo­cused on who I am as Dakota. And to make sure that per­son is a good per­son. You can make mis­takes, of course. But you try to be the best ver­sion of your­self. She’s such a su­per self­less mom. I just try to be like her.”

Long com­mute

Her par­ents were forced to tag along when, aged six, she be­gan com­mut­ing be­tween her fam­ily home in Ge­or­gia and work in LA. I won­der what she got out of act­ing that she was so de­ter­mined from so early on.

“I lot of what I get out of it and love about it is exactly the same. I love the ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing films. I love the ca­ma­raderie and the shared fo­cus. As I get older, that sense just gets stronger. I let ev­ery­thing else go.”

She’s not en­tirely sure were the gene for that comes from, as she comes from a sports mad fam­ily. Her mother, Heather, was a ten­nis pro. Her fa­ther, Steven J Fanning, played mi­nor league baseball. Her ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was NFL quar­ter­back Rick Ar­ring­ton. Her aunt, Jill Ar­ring­ton, was a re­porter for ESPN.

“I’ve won­dered about this for so long. But no, they’re all pro­fes­sional ath­letes. I guess some of my fam­ily are quite good at drama but that’s not quite the same thing. I didn’t play sports. I do think I have a cer­tain ath­letic mind­set. Give 100 per cent all the time. Stay fo­cused. Never com­plain.”

At least she has Elle to con­fer with. Her younger sis­ter be­gan act­ing by play­ing the younger ver­sion of Dakota’s characters in the mini-se­ries Taken and the movie I Am Sam. They worked to­gether on the English dubbed ver­sion of Miyazaki’s an­i­mated film My Neigh­bour To­toro .Do they talk about work?

“No. We have a mu­tual un­der­stand­ing and a kind of short­hand. Ob­vi­ously, when I’m do­ing a jun­ket or some­thing I don’t have to ex­plain what that is. But we don’t get deep into dis­cus­sions about it. First it was my thing. And then it was her thing. And it’s still her thing and my thing. It has to be kept sep­a­rate. That’s how the work is. We’re still look­ing for some­thing to do to­gether. Then we can talk.” Brim­stone is out now and is re­viewed on p10-11

I love the ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing films. I love the ca­ma­raderie and the shared fo­cus. As I get older, that sense just gets stronger. I let ev­ery­thing else go

Dakota Fanning ‘Women like to watch other women on screen. I like to watch other women’. Above right: with Guy Pearse in Brim­stone

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