Fans of Fanning

Dakota Fanning is most powerful actress in Hollywood — We analyze the precocious 11-year-old actress’s rise to stardom.

You think we’re kidding. But stay with us here. By the end of 2005, she will have starred in three major movies this year — Hide and Seek, War of the Worlds, and the upcoming Dreamer — and, for street cred, the indie Nine Lives. She out-acted Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro (and was given equal billing as the Raging Bull legend in some Hide and Seek ads), and there’s already genuine Oscar buzz for her WOTW performance. Since 2001, her movies have grossed. . .wait for it. . .nearly $650 million domestically. Which is why, at 11 years old, she already makes $3 million a picture, a figure her agent says keeps rising. And, in perhaps the truest indication of industry clout, she’s the only actress in Hollywood who no executive can say is too old.

Armed with preternaturally sophisticated acting chops and those blue eyes the size of salad plates, Dakota Fanning is Jodie Foster reengineered for the blockbuster era. Is it any wonder grown men tremble when taking a meeting with her?

First-time director John Gatins, who helmed Dreamer, needed to cast an 11-year-old boy to flesh out his script about three generations of racehorse-training men. But after seeing Fanning in Man on Fire, he decided to change the part to a girl and pitch the young star instead. ”But what do you wear to meet Dakota Fanning?!” he remembers ranting at his wife. ”She’s 10!” The next day, he was ushered into Fanning’s agent’s office, where the wee one waited behind the desk, chomping on cotton-candy-flavored bubble gum.

”They just left me in a room with her,” says the 37-year-old director. ”She could barely see over the desk. And I’m sitting on the other side feeling like I’m being interviewed. Which guess what? I was!”

After Fanning signed on to play Cale Crane, the precocious daughter of Kurt Russell, she’d go to meetings with the script in her big pink binder and a fluffy pink pencil to make scrupulous story notes. A week and a half into the shoot, Russell told the director, ”Listen, I’ve f**ing worked with them all. I’ve worked with Meryl Streep! I guarantee you, [Dakota] is the best actress I will work with in my entire career.”

Fanning’s agent Cindy Osbrink says Dreamer fits nicely into her strategy for her client’s career. The plan is to mix challenging R roles with the ”fun” ones to pull in the younger audience. After Charlotte’s Web, Fanning is attached to star in adaptations of The Secret Life of Bees and Alice in Wonderland. ”She’s turning into a tweenager,” says Osbrink. ”I’m reading anything up to 16 or 17 years old for her.” Anything that doesn’t involve tween tropes of high school locker drama. ”Dakota likes real,” stresses her agent. ”She’s the oldest soul I’ve ever worked with.”

EW recently caught up with Fanning before she left town for a six-day break in Hawaii. Speaking from her agent’s office on speakerphone, Fanning was chirpy, polite, and poised. In a summer of Tom Cruise trampolining on sofas, she could teach a seminar on the art of the benign Hollywood sound bite.

Fanning on not reading her reviews: ”We know what we want people to get out of a movie, and that’s just somebody else’s opinion.”

On box office: ”I don’t think that’s really for me to worry about, but it’s exciting when people tell you that they really like a movie, because that’s what we strive for.”

On having a PG movie on the horizon: ”Some of my movies are for adults and this is one that all my friends can see without having to ask!”

On how much money she makes: ”I don’t think about it at all so I don’t know anything about that.” An attorney handles her earnings rather than her parents, who shun all photo ops, lest they shift the spotlight from their daughter.

Fanning is homeschooled but she’d like to go to a ”normal, well, not ‘normal,’ but regular” high school one day. And everyone is invested in protecting that regular image. When E! red-carpet host Kathy Griffin joked at the Golden Globes that the then-10-year-old star had checked into rehab ”for drugs and alcohol,” the Fanning camp was not amused. The next day on the WOTW set, cast and crew circled the wagons until a red-faced E! donated money to Fanning’s favorite charity.

Oh, but the evolution of a child actor is unkind. Gatins is confident, though, that Fanning will weather puberty’s tornado. ”I don’t expect to see her out partying with Courtney Love,” he says. ”She’ll be off at Yale.” If Fanning ever does decide to take a break, her 7-year-old sister, Elle, who starts filming her next movie, Babel, alongside Brad Pitt is already being groomed to fill her Mary Jane shoes.

Since her 2001 debut in Tomcats, her domestic box office has surpassed that of some of America’s sweethearts.

FANNING – $647.3
ROBERTS – $585.6
KIDMAN – $496.9
BULLOCK – $294.7

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Entertainment Weekly Jul.2005.

July 1, 2005 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links