She talks to Tom Cruise regularly. And her first grown-up on-screen kiss is now behind her. Dakota Fanning is definitely not a little kid anymore.
The dress code at Campbell Hall, the private Episcopal school in North Hollywood, California, once attended by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and now by Dakota Fanning and her little sister, Elle, is strict: khaki skirt, shorts, or trousers, white collared shirt, navy sweater, closed-toed shoes. “You could actually wear this,” says the elder Fanning flouncing her skirt, a cream-colored silk pouf, and in the process gaily jangles a wristful of bangles. We are sitting opposite each other in a quiet booth at the Sunset Tower Hotel, in Los Angeles. Her skirt might be passable, I think, but that little distressed white cotton tank with the bra peeking out could be grounds for detention. Ditto the 5-inch, brown Marni wedge sandals that were a present for her 16th birthday, in February, and that add significantly to her petite, not-quite-5-foot-4 frame.
And her costumes for last spring’s The Runaways would have probably gotten her expelled. The movie tells the story of the rise and fall of Joan Jett’s first band, an all-girl hard-rock ensemble that emerged in the mid-’70s. As the 15-year-old lead singer and Jett sidekick Cherie Currie, all in a moment, Fanning went from being an adorable if talented “child star” to the full-fledged genuine article. The New York Times, A.O. Scott gushed: “Ms. Fanning, who has shown herself a remarkably disciplined and self-aware actress almost since toddlerhood, displays heartbreaking vulnerability as well as frightening poise.”
One lasting friendship to emerge from the experience was with Kristen Stewart, the 20-year-old Twilight lead who played Joan Jett to Fanning’s Currie. According to both young women, re-enacting the intimate friendship between Jett and Currie brought them close instantly, and a mutual respect has kept them that way. “Dakota is so unfaultingly steady,” Stewart says. “In most cases, I feel like she’s older than me. It’s only when she starts talking about boys that I remember how young she is.”
The two, who briefly shared the screen in Twilight: New Moon, reunited in this summer’s Eclipse. “It’s something that’s always been there for me, that I have huge blue eyes — it’s been something that people have always talked about,” Fanning says. “But I enjoyed the red. You’re automatically transformed into a creature when you put those red eyes in.” Fanning tore through the Twilight books after she was cast. “They’re so addicting!”
Sixteen is an age of ambivalence, a time of lingering on the threshold of adulthood with one foot safely in the realm of childhood. Some of Fanning’s recent choices seem calculated to project the message that she is no longer the wise child who debuted in I Am Sam when she was 6.
“When you start out young, people get really attached to who you are at 6 years old,” Fanning says. “I hope that The Runaways was kind of a moment to be like, ‘You know, I’m not that young little girl anymore, but I’m still not all grown up, either.'” There is a deliberate, patient rhythm to her ambition; right now she’s looking for a project to do with her sister, who’s 12. Fanning is on the brink, and she knows it. “As you get older, there’s so much more that you can do in films,” she says. “I’ve never wanted to rush that; I’ve always wanted to do what’s right for my age, but as you approach 18, a whole new world opens up to you as an actor, and I really look forward to that.”
On hiding her famous baby blues in the Twilight films: “It’s something that’s always been there for me, that I have huge blue eyes — it’s been something that people have always talked about. But I enjoyed the red. You’re automatically transformed into a creature when you put those red eyes in.”
On moving past her child star status: “When you start out young, people get really attached to who you are at 6 years old. I hope that The Runaways was kind of a moment to be like, ‘You know, I’m not that young little girl anymore, but I’m still not all grown up, either.'”
On her future as an actress: “As you get older, there’s so much more that you can do in films. I’ve never wanted to rush that; I’ve always wanted to do what’s right for my age, but as you approach 18, a whole new world opens up to you as an actor, and I really look forward to that.”
Dakota Fanning’s Teen Style Transformation
Shirley Temple, she’s not. The perfect balance of naughty and nice, cover girl Dakota Fanning keeps the world guessing. Panty flashes plague young stars. But Dakota Fanning’s red-carpet choices — a couture Elie Saab at The Runaways premiere, an embellished Emilio Pucci at SXSW — are more age-appropriate than indecent. Not that the 16-year-old shies away from a daring ensemble. Arriving at our photoshoot in combat boots and skinny jeans, Fanning felt right at home in the edgy looks assembled by the MC fashion team. Schoolgirl skirts gone wild and mixed-media blazers complemented Fanning’s old soul/hot starlet persona. Whether or not her teacher, who accompanied her on set, approved is another story.