At fifteen, Dakota Fanning is finally outgrowing the adjective that’s been applied to her so frequently during her decade-long career: precocious. It’s not a bad word, of course, and doubtless there are actresses three times her age who would kill to have worked with Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington—to say nothing of the prodigious natural talent that got Dakota there. But if her brief turn in this month’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon signals anything, it’s a willingness to shed the self-serious image.
Certainly, Dakota’s role in the Twilight sequel didn’t seem to present too much of an acting challenge. Asked how she prepared, Dakota laughs. “I wasn’t in my mirror like Zoolander, doing the Blue Steel!” she says. “The red contacts were enough.” The actress was drawn to the project for pretty much the same reason any teen would be: It sounded like fun. “I read all four Twilight books in one week. It’s such a phenomenon, and I wanted to be able to say that I was a part of it.”
Making New Moon also gave Dakota a chance to get to know Kristen Stewart before they started shooting the upcoming Runaways biopic. “We became really close,” Dakota says, “like we’d known each other for our whole lives. We talk all the time.” Their off-set friendship added a layer of peculiarity to the proceedings on the New Moon set—”I’ve never been such an evil character, and because I do know Kristen so well, being mean to her was really weird. It’s like, Sorry, dude!” But the chemistry came in handy when Dakota and Kristen played punk rockers Cherie Currie (the Runaways’ lead singer) and Joan Jett. “The relationship that Joan and Cherie have in the script is kind of the one that Kristen and I have in real life,” Dakota says—although, she clarifies, “minus the destructive part.” (In an e-mail from the Eclipse set, Kristen effusively praises her costar, writing, “Dakota is one of the most consistently moving actors I have ever worked with. I’m always better with her.”)
Dakota sang on several tracks for The Runaways, and she admits that the role is “very different” from anything she’s done before. But as against type as Dakota’s casting may be, the summer spent sporting a platinum wig and “eyeliner that never came off” seems to have had a discernible effect on her style: When she shows up for her Teen Vogue interview, she’s wearing jean shorts, high Doc Martens, and a loose, black tank top, with a plastic turquoise rosary slung around her neck. Then again, maybe the onetime Marc Jacobs model has always had a bit of an edge; after her first Teen Vogue shoot, when she was just twelve, she took home a pair of custom-made kid-size MJ combat boots. “I still have them!” she happily confirms. “I’ve had to have them stretched, but I will do anything it takes to squeeze into those shoes.”
Dakota points out that the difficulties of transitioning from talented tot to adult actress aren’t avoidable, unless she wants to retire at sixteen. “I’m going to get older,” she says. “And I want to act for the rest of my life—it’s what I love—so I have to move forward with my career. The choices that I make might not always please everyone, but I have to do what I feel is appropriate and right for the time.”
Asked if she’s going through any off-screen teen angst, Dakota says no. “I get my rebellion out through my movies. I’m boring in that way. I enjoy having a normal life.” One might imagine that would be tricky, given her celebrity, but Dakota is halfway through her junior year at a private school in Los Angeles, and she says that the kids have never treated her any differently than anyone else. “I started there in the ninth grade, and they were pretty receptive to me right away. I really wanted a home base, because I feel like no matter how old people are, they remember homecoming. They remember their senior prom. And I really wanted that.”
According to Dakota, she hasn’t dated much: “One boy from my school,” she says. “I have a small class, so the pool is very limited. Everyone kind of knows everyone.” Dakota’s studying psychology and something called cement sculpture while she weighs movie offers—and she’s a cheerleader. Published reports have her as a member of the JV squad, but when this is mentioned, she corrects the error and reveals a bit of the determination that’s made the little girl from Georgia a big Hollywood star. “I’m varsity now, thank you,” she says. Indeed, she is.