Welcome to Your Cosmo Years, Dakota

Now turning 18, Dakota Fanning has a career that’s on fire, she’s settling into her first apartment, and she’s looking for love.

On a bright, unseasonably warm morning in New York, Dakota Fanning strides into a SoHo cafĂ© for breakfast. At 5 feet 4, she’s taller than you’d expect. Her blonde hair is drawn into a tight ponytail, and as she approaches the table, she goes for a firm handshake-a total pro.

Dakota will turn 18 at the end of February but has always seemed older than she actually is. Perhaps that’s because she was a working actress from such an incredibly young age and has already had more hit movies than most stars rack up in their entire careers. And Tom Cruise, who worked with her in War of the Worlds, when she was 11, has described her as a terrific person, enormously talented, and someone impeccable manners.

That famous poise breaks for a when the waitress comes over and announces a special called The Fluffernutter – a smorgasbord of vanilla sponge cake, peanut butter, chocolate mousse, peanut brittle, and marshmallow gelato. Her blue eyes get big and her jaw drops open. Within a second, she has regained her composure and does the responsible thing: “The last time I was here you had an egg-white omelet with spinach on the menu?” It’s not available anymore, so she goes for a happy medium-pancakes with syrup and
butter on the side.

“Since I was young, I’ve always known who I was. I never really had to go through finding who I am. I’ve always felt really secure.” She obviously has it all together and is in no danger of becoming one of those child-actor-self-destructs stories. She was a cheerleader in high school and the homecoming queen. Now that she lives in New York City, she’s taking walks to explore different neighborhoods and trying trendy restaurants with friends. It’s that combo of fearless confidence and fun-loving attitude that has made her one of the most likable young starlets in Hollywood.

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Dakota’s first performance was at the age of 4 in a community-theater show in her hometown of Conyers, Georgia. “I was prepared and didn’t get nervous-the director thought my mom should let me do commercials.” When Dakota was 6, the Fannings moved to Los Angeles so she could start auditioning for TV and movies. Soon after, she was cast in I Am Sam with Sean Penn. Since then, she’s made multiple films a year, starring in everything from huge blockbusters to gritty indie flicks. In every single one, her skills have won her acclaim.

She swears that being from a family full of athletes is what has made her so damn good. Her dad was a minor-league baseball player from the late ’80s through the early ’90s; her mom went to college on a tennis scholarship; and her maternal grandfather, Rick Arrington, quarter backed for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1970s. “I have a very athletic upbringing, and I’ve been taught to think of things in that way.” Her sports-inspired motto: “You have to work really hard for something if you want it.”

Take, for example, her role as Cherie Currie in 2010’s The Runaways. It’s arguably the most difficult challenge she’s had to date. Good girl Dakota plays the sexy, drug-addicted lead singer. She was 15 at the time and never once let herself become overwhelmed by the material.

Dakota’s ability to shut out scrutiny has helped her stay focused. “I have thick skin. Sure, sometimes you can only take so much and it’s just like ‘Ahhhh!’ but I don’t have those moments very often.” She swears she’s never had a breakdown. “If I did, I’d be like ‘Pull it together, Dakota!”‘

Elle Fanning believes there’s one other quality that allows her older sister to shine onscreen. “She’s observant. She’ll be out at a restaurant, and you see her looking around at all the people. When you come home, she’ll be able to tell you what everyone was wearing, and she’ll probably be able to imitate perfectly the person she was sitting next to. She has this ability to pick up on all these details, so when she’s reading a script, she can really create a character.”

This year, she’ll wrap up her role as Jane in part two of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.

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Dakota may be a bona fide star, but she hasn’t gotten wrapped up in the Hollywood lifestyle. Throughout her career, she’s made it a point to maintain a normal life. She went to a regular high school. And now, in between roles, she’s doing what so many 18-year-olds are doing… going to college.

This past fall, she began her freshman year at New York University’s school of individualized study, where she plans to focus on psychology in some way. In between classes and filming movies, she’s having a blast decorating her first apartment. And while she maybe wise beyond her years professionally, when it comes to decor, she’s straight-up girlie. She says her two-bedroom apartment contains not just a Hello Kitty minifridge but also a Hello Kitty ice tray to match. (“I will never not love Hello Kitty!”) She has pink kitchen utensils, pink-and-white bedsheets, and a Paul Smith “embroidered thing” on the wall that says the word love.

Besides her new pad and taking classes, the other reason Dakota is psyched about college is the access it gives her to new guys. “There’s something exciting about the idea of going to a city and meeting a guy. I’ve had really only one boyfriend- just someone I went to school with,” she reveals. “It’s strange when you meet people who are like ‘I met my husband in college.’ It’s weird to think about like, ‘Is that guy my husband?'”

Going back to that mysterious high school boyfriend, she says she doesn’t think she’s ever been in love. She will admit that she fantasizes “about meeting someone in a coffee shop, and they pick it up, you know?” She adds, more soberly, “I never have enough time for anything like that.”

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February 24, 2012 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links