Dakota Fanning interview: How to grow up gracefully

The teenager has avoided the excesses of other ex-child stars to become a fully fledged adult artist. Kaleem Aftab meets her

“I’m kind of a self-aware and confident person,” says Dakota Fanning, in a moment of confident self-awareness. As she makes the move into adult roles, she’s proof that being a successful child actress doesn’t necessarily lead to rehab, jail or something worse.

In February, Fanning left her teenage years behind having successfully avoided the pitfalls of early fame endured by Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan and Jodie Foster. Her career started in commercials at the tender age of five.

Two years later she made her film debut playing Sean Penn's daughter Lucy in 2001's I am Sam, and promptly became the youngest nominee for a Screen Actors Guild Award.

From that moment on the films just got bigger - Man on Fire (2004), War of the Worlds (2005), and she's just come off playing Jane in The Twilight Saga.

The biggest hiccup was probably the uproar about her appearance in Marc Jacobs's Oh, Lola! perfume campaign in 2011, where she's dressed in a thigh-length pink dress with an oversized perfume bottle placed between her legs. The Advertising Standards Authority banned the advert in the UK arguing that, although Fanning was 17, she looked under 16 and consequently the advert could be seen to "sexualise a child".

Now that she is 20 no one is complaining about her adult performances. First up is The Motel Life, an adaptation of the debut novel from musician and writer Willy Vlautin. She plays Annie James, who, forced into prostitution by her mother, breaks up with her drifter boyfriend Frank. Six years later Frank tries to rekindle the flame. Fanning says of the role, "She's a young girl who has grown up in motels with no stability. She's seen things that no young girl should see. The biggest challenge in playing Annie was aging those six years. The changes are slight but I found a way to show a progression in her maturity."

Fanning studies at New York University. Part of the downside is that she will occasionally be photographed by paparazzi, especially when she's with her boyfriend, British model Jamie Strachan. She says it's not usually a problem being the famous kid on campus. "It was actually harder when I was at high school. I went to an amazing school [Campbell Hall School in North Hollywood] that worked with me and I was able to both have an average high-school experience and work. Now I go to Gallatin in NYU and it's designed to be much more independent and classes are individually structured, so everything is tailored around the person and their individual needs."

At the moment she is studying the portrayal of women in culture and in film. "Last semester I did a study about female directors and whether the movies they make breakdown the stereotypes of women, or do they even care about that at all. The one thing I've looked at about women in film is that it's very rare to find a female character that is not in some way validated by a relationship with a man and so I'm kind of interested in that."

The recent decision by four Swedish cinemas to rate films according to the Bechdel test, that gives a pass to films in which two women talk to each other about something other than a man, brought this issue into the public consciousness. Yet Fanning admits that her film choices don't always reflect her studies. "It's weird because my studies and my work totally correspond and connect, but it's almost like I use two separate parts of my brain, and when I'm working I don't really think about it in the same way. But I think that sort of being informed by the history of women in film and studying that will only help with the choices I make, or even spark something inside me that I'm inspired to do, or find."

She's in the fortunate position of being able to bring first-hand experience to her studies. Fanning stars in Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves playing environmental protestor Dena Brauer. Together with her boyfriend Josh Stamos, played by Jesse Eisenberg and former marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) they plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam in Oregon, which they believe is causing environmental damage.

It was through the work of her favourite actress that Fanning became familiar with the work of Reichardt, one of the most unique voices presently working in American cinema; "I love Michelle Williams, so I initially became familiar with Kelly through watching Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff. I was taken with the pace of her films that they are slower and thoughtful and give the audience time and space to see everything."

The focus on her character, despite the central romance, is on her political beliefs rather than her love life. Brauer's middle-class family has little time for environmental activists, whom they view as terrorists. Yet the film, which has it's UK premier at the Birds Eye View Film Festival, showcasing films made by female directors, makes room for all sides of the argument.

"I like that Kelly likes things to be natural and real, being made to not look so good and not have to worry about that, that part of it is fun," argues Fanning. She also liked the way that Reichardt trusted the actors with the performance, rather than relying on strategic cuts in the edit. "We would do these long takes and sometimes messing up and having her say, 'well people stutter, it's OK, we'll leave it in, it's no big deal'. Kelly only does one take, maybe two, and that sort of immediacy of the process was exciting."

Born in Georgia, her mother, Heather Joy, played tennis professionally and her father, Steven, minor league baseball. She's also the older sister of 15-year-old Elle Fanning, who has been carving out an equally spectacular career in films such as Somewhere and Super 8.

She says of the sibling relationship, "I don't feel responsible for her in her work, but I feel protective in her personal life, just because I'm her older sister and she'll always be my younger sister. I very much think that what she does and what I do is so personal and I won't try to enforce my opinion on her. We don't talk about acting ever. Of course I feel a protectiveness of her."

The actress, who will next be seen playing Effie Gray, the wife of Victorian art critic John Ruskin, in the Emma Thompson-scripted Effie, shies away from using the term 'role model'.

"I guess inadvertently I am a role model to her. I think that role model is kind of a weird thing because obviously you are, but I try to make good choices and good decisions for myself for me to have a good life, if that inspires someone else that is great but I think you should do good for yourself and your own happiness."

'The Motel Life' comes out on 4 April. 'Night Moves' plays Birds Eye Film Festival, London ( birds-eye-view.co.uk) on 11 April and will be on general release in the summer

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?