Dakota Fanning

At 15, she’s taken on roles more emotionally charged and intellectually challenging than actresses twice her age. But when she’s not playing vicious vampires or strung-out rock stars, she’s living every girl’s high-school dream. Welcome to the double life of Dakota Fanning.

The hardest thing to do in Hollywood is age gracefully. That goes double for child stars. Those not forced into early retirement are often ill-equipped to handle the pressures and temptations of celebrity. But for 15-year-old Dakota Fanning, adolescence is proving to be quite a boon. Transformed from adorable, saucer-eyed moppet into winsome ingénue, Fanning 2.0 has nabbed high-profile roles, made the varsity cheerleading squad and was voted homecoming princess at her North Hollywood high school. Pretty impressive, but we’ve come to expect no less from the kid whose résumé overflows with A-list collaborators such as Steven Spielberg, Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro.

There are a few things one has come to expect when interviewing the starlet as well. Number one: her mother, Joy—a former tennis pro with a warm smile and strong Southern twang—somewhere in the vicinity. Number two: a polite, upbeat demeanor. And number three: A certain percentage of Fanning’s responses will be delivered on autopilot. For example, on playing Jane in The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Eclipse: “It’s really fun to play evil characters. I’d never done that before, so it was interesting to be mean. My favorite part was the red contact lenses.”

Fanning becomes more animated when the subject turns to fashion, citing Elizabeth and James, Chanel, and Marc Jacobs as favorite lines. “Now that I’m getting older, I’m finally getting to the point where I can fit into those things. I’ve always been really small, really short, and I’m finally starting to be able to wear a size 0 without having to take it in like five inches.”

Kristen Stewart [and Dakota] hit it off during the few days of filming New Moon, [though] the pair really bonded over the course of The Runaways shoot. “Dakota is an astounding human being, incredibly intimidating, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Stewart says. “She’s become one of my best friends. We’re so comfortable together that we have a second language.”

Based on Currie’s memoirs, The Runaways dishes the dirt on the teen-girl rock band’s meteoric rise and tumultuous unraveling. “I really enjoyed doing that subject matter for the first time in a biopic, because it really happened—it’s not just a made-up story about a 15-year-old kid running wild,” Fanning says. “It’s a true story of her evolution from good Valley Girl to bad rock-and-roll princess.”

Apart from their ages, there’s very little the star and her subject have in common. Fanning says she’s never done anything bad enough to get grounded. Though she calls herself a night owl, the activity you’d most likely catch her doing after midnight is watching the Game Show Network with her mom.

When asked if she feels pressure to be a role model for kids, Fanning replies, “I think that when you’re in the public eye, you automatically become a role model, because people are reading about you and looking at pictures of stuff you’ve done. So I definitely think you have to make good choices. But, you know, no one’s perfect, everyone makes mistakes. I have made mistakes and I will make mistakes. I’m only human.”

Given all the negative attention directed at Fanning and her mother over her involvement in Hounddog one might expect the young actress to harbor some trepidation over The Runaways‘ edgier elements. But she’s quite matter-of-fact when discussing them, relating, for instance, that the substance used to simulate cocaine was crushed-up B vitamins. “Kristen and I were like, our hair is gonna grow a lot from these.” Regarding the much ballyhooed kissing scene between them, Fanning sums it up succinctly, “It’s passionate—they [Currie and Jett] were just as close as two could get.”

The one element that gave Fanning pause was the music. “I don’t really get nervous when I’m working, ’cause it’s just where I feel at home. That’s what I love to do, so I get excited more than nervous. But singing is completely not my element, it’s not where I’m comfortable,” she explains. “It was really good to have Cherie there to guide me through, because I had never done anything like that before.”

Fanning developed a tight relationship with her character’s real-life counterpart. “She came to my house and we spent a few hours working on the songs,” Currie recalls. “I’d sing a line, and she’d say, ‘Okay, I got it.’ And she had it! She blew me away.”

The original Runaways front girl says she envisions Fanning becoming a rock star in her own right one day. “She’s a great singer and a great stage performer. When I saw her up onstage in that corset performing ‘Cherry Bomb,’ I cried.” And she reports that Fanning is as nice as she is talented. “On the last day of filming, she gave me this beautiful scarf she had knitted on set. I don’t know when she had the chance—I never saw her doing it,” she recalls. “It even has a little label sewn on that says ‘Knitted by Dakota Fanning’— isn’t that cute?”

So what’s on the horizon for Fanning? She has yet to realize her long-held dream of working with Jodie Foster. But, in the meantime, there’s a term paper on The Scarlet Letter due.

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in W Magazine Oct.2009.

October 1, 2009 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links