“Truth is stranger than fiction. That’s a known thing for a reason,” says Dakota Fanning. We are speaking a few days before the premiere of Last Looks, a series on Quibi that looks at real-life crimes in the fashion industry for which The Alienist star is both narrator and executive producer. (It is also produced by Refinery29.)
The show is made up of 18 episodes, with five(ish)-minute installations dedicated to covering the stories of six women. Subjects range from Anna Delvey, a faux heiress who swindled thousands of dollars from New York’s upper class (while decked out in Celine and Alexander Wang), to Patrizia Reggiani, who went from being called “Lady Gucci” to “Black Widow” after being convicted of arranging to kill her ex-husband and Gucci fashion brand heir, Maurizio Gucci, in 1998. Their stories are told through recreations and by people familiar with each case.
“Even though the shows are quite short, I think that you do get a full picture of who these people are. It’s not a one-dimensional look at each person, you really do get to see all sides,” says Fanning. “I think the show does its best to delve into their psyche and try to understand why they do the things that they do.”
The other stories include the tragic cases of Vicki Morgan, model and the mistress of Alfred S. Bloomingdale, heir to the Bloomingdale’s fortune, who was murdered in 1983; Christa Worthington, a fashion writer who was killed in Cape Cod in 2002; Ruslana Korshunova, a Russian model who died by suicide in 2008 shortly after joining a cult; and Sylvie Cachay, an aspiring fashion designer murdered in 2010.
Below, we speak to Fanning about what led her to join the project, the current fascination with true crime, and the dark underside of fashion.
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The TNT original drama series The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, the follow-up season to The Alienist, is an unflinching and sinister murder mystery set at the turn-of-the-century during New York’s Gilded Age. The series follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), an alienist in the field of treating mental pathologies, John Moore (Luke Evans), a New York Times journalist, and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), an ambitious woman who has opened her own private detective agency. Together, they are on the case of a kidnapped infant and on the dangerous path after an elusive killer.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Dakota Fanning talked about digging deeper into these characters for Season 2, her character’s biggest strength, what she appreciates about Sara Howard, the incredible wardrobe, the Sara-John relationship dynamic, and whether she’d want to continue playing this character for another season. She also talked about her desire to step behind the camera to direct, and that sacred relationship between actor and director.
Collider: What did you most enjoy about the first season and exploring the introduction to this world and these characters, and then how did it feel to return to that for Season 2 and dig in even deeper with her?
DAKOTA FANNING: I loved that. It’s really the first time that I’ve gotten to dive into something for a second time and for another eight hours. It’s really an exciting thing to do, when you get to take a character that you’ve grown to love and that you feel like you know so well to a different level and into a new place, and I really got to do that with Sara. I loved playing her in The Alienist and seeing that she was the first female to hold the position at the police department, as a secretary, but having aspirations of more. And then, right away, in the first episode, we see that she’s opened her own detective agency and has realized that dream, and is still forging ahead to fight for people and to solve these crimes that are not being looked at because the police department is corrupt, or that people don’t care about. She’s a very compassionate, empathetic person, and I think that allows her to look at the people that she’s solving these crimes for, in a very non-judgmental way, and that’s ultimately her biggest strength.
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The TCA panel for The Alienist: Angel of Darkness came right before the two-part season finale on Sunday and even though showrunner Stuart Carolan and stars Daniel Brühl and Dakota Fanning remained tight-lipped on what we could expect for the ending of season 2, they did give us insight in how it was like revisiting these characters in a new story. In particular, Fanning talked about her character Sara and how it reflects the movement of female empowerment.
In the new season, Sara has opened her own detective agency and has employed women who she is mentoring. “In The Alienist, we saw her as the first female to hold a position at the New York Police Department and we saw her wanting more,” said Fanning. “Right away in this new season, we see that… she has opened her own business and is struggling to be taken seriously as a female detective and constantly discovering and rediscovering what it means to be a modern woman 1897, the choices that women were and still are forced to make and the pressures of having a career, family and what that all means. We see her all season grappling with that.”
She added, “We get more female energy this time around and that was important to me and I was really happy to see that.”
Later in the panel, Brühl talked about how the themes of the show reflect the current landscape. “Nowadays it is important to have a political and social conscience and to stand up and do the right thing,” he said.
Fanning talked about how Sara is a disruptor and is unafraid to speak up. “I think we see even more of that power that she has discovered within herself in this new season,” she said. “It’s not always easy to do the right thing and to speak up for those who can’t use their voice. Sara uses her privilege to do that. That’s such a core value of who Sara is. I am very proud to play a character like that and learn to continue to implement that in my real life.”
Carolan speaks to the fact that it was the book that speaks to the current feminist movement and the series is just following its lead. Fanning addresses the themes that are resonating with audiences, pointing out that the books were written in the ’90s. “While the feminist movement is not only something that’s been happening currently, it’s clearly been happening for a long time,” she said. “Shows like this, that are set so long ago, really do help put the current movement we see on the news into a perspective to show the origins of them and that they existed for a long time and that 1897 is not so long ago when you really examine the socio-political aspects of the age. When you examine them today, there’s a lot of similarities.”
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When we visited the set of “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness” in Budapest, Hungary last year, we were blown away by the passion and detail that was poured on the set as well as the costumes of the actors.
The period drama TV series is based on the 1994 novel of the same name by Caleb Carr is set in the mid-1890s New York City and deals with corruption, sexism, racism, anti-immigration, crime and violence — pretty much what we are still dealing with these days in the 21st century.
As Dakota Fanning, who is portraying Sara Howard, told us in a recent virtual interview in Los Angeles, “A lot of things are relevant if you watch the show. You can see and will be struck by the parallels. There is also the fight for women’s rights, injustice, and anti-immigration in this series. It shows young people that a lot of things have not changed. There are still the same conversations going on. It is what it is. The only way to change our future is by examining our past and through television and the movies, we are not only entertained and have a suspenseful mystery but we are still able to ask the hard questions.”
What is fascinating about this season are the steps that women are taking to be independent in their jobs. Your character is starting this agency but nobody wants to hire her. Can you talk a little bit about how important this reflection is?
I think that’s been the most interesting thing about “The Alienist” and now “The Angel of Darkness” are, the similarities to things that we are seeing in the world right now; a lot of the conversations with women and women in the workplace and women’s rights and all that.
In “The Alienist,” you see Sara being the first woman to hold a position in the New York Police Department and then here, you see her with her own detective agency which was definitely unheard of. And you also see the way in which Luke and Daniel’s characters view her differently from the beginning when she’s an equal from the start.
She’s no longer having to prove herself to her own team which I think was a change and seemed sort of an evolution in that and you see her have her mentees that are working at her agency seeing this sort of example that she’s setting for other young women during this time.
We still see that now with female-owned businesses and the importance of female mentors to younger women. What I also love about this show in general is mixing the real historical figures in with the fictional aspects to seeing Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Suffragette movement and getting that sprinkled in throughout the series is really something that I’ve always enjoyed getting to see the real characters.
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The Once Upon A Time star also talked about the expectations of growing up famous and her tentative use of social media
At just 25 years old Dakota Fanning could technically pass for a Hollywood veteran.
She’s also worked on films with Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and most recently, Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Fanning talked to Net-A-Porter about the good and bad sides of growing up in the spotlight. “The difficult part about starting so young, which I’ve totally come to accept, is that when you grow up and become a woman, people think you’re younger,” Fanning explained. “The other day, my mom, my sister [Elle] and I were in Las Vegas for my sister’s 21st birthday and somebody said, ‘Are you Dakota Fanning? You’re that child?’ And my mom was like, poor Dakota. It is what it is. It never really bothered me. But I can see how it could make you run in the opposite direction and grow up too quick and not make the best decisions because you’re trying to run away from people telling you that you’re still little.”
As a child, Fanning says she felt immense pressure to do the right thing and never make a mistake, but a lot of that pressure disappeared when she turned 21. “I felt there was such an expectation for me not to mess up,” Fanning told Net-A-Porter. “Which could have driven me crazy, because that’s an outrageous thing to put on a younger person, who’s supposed to make mistakes. And I certainly have made mistakes, but just privately. When I turned 21, I felt like a weight had lifted; I felt more freedom to come into my own.”
Though it was difficult to grow up with that spotlight, Fanning admits there were great things that came from being a child star as well. “I got my first iPod and cell phone from Tom Cruise when we worked together,” Fanning recalls. “I got a horse from Kurt Russell. [W]hen I turned 10, I was making a movie with Robert De Niro and there was a whole surprise set-up in the lunchroom, with my favorite food and everyone in party hats. [F]or Valentine’s Day, Michelle Pfeiffer decorated my whole trailer with pink and red balloons and little trinkets and candies, then did the same for my birthday, so that’s how I remember my seventh birthday.”
Even with the spotlight on her, Fanning says she has been able to maintain a relatively normal life. “I’m lucky – I have the best friends in the world,” Fanning raves of her friendships outside of Hollywood, “My group of girlfriends has been with me since ninth grade. We’ve been through so much together and have done such a great job of staying connected. My best friend’s getting married next month. It’s like life is starting to happen to everybody. We always talked about when I get married, you’ll be at my wedding, and it’s like, well, here we are. I can’t wait for all of those milestones. I can’t wait to have kids.”
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Dakota Fanning would have accepted a tiny role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just to work with Quentin Tarantino.
Fanning landed the role of Squeaky Fromme in Tarantino’s upcoming ninth film, a real-life member of the Manson Family, who was sentenced to life in prison for the attempted assassination of U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1975. She was released in 2009 after serving nearly 34 years.
Fanning stars alongside the likes of Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie in the upcoming drama, and admits the project has been a career-defining moment for her.
“It was such a dream come true for me to be a part of it and really something to cross off the list… I would have probably played any character that he had asked me or had chosen me for,” she grinned to The Hollywood Reporter. “It was a real cherry on top that it was an incredible, fascinating, challenging character. But I would’ve been like Girl No. 1.”
The all-star ensemble cast also features Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, Kurt Russell, late actor Luke Perry and frequent Tarantino collaborator Tim Roth.
It’s set for release in July (19), and follows the story of a faded television actor and his stunt double during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
Talking to Collider about her research for the movie, the 25-year-old actress admitted it was a little scary learning about Charles Manson’s murderous cult.
“There are a lot of resources out there, for better or for worse, and I was very immersed. It was interesting and challenging. It’s twisted,” she said. [Source]
Last week, the new animated series gen:LOCK premiered on Rooster Teeth, its most ambitious project since RWBY premiered in 2013. Heavily influenced by anime, the show was created by Gray Haddock and features the company’s trademark CGI animation style.
gen:LOCK is set in 2068, a near future in which one military force called the Vanguard is the only thing standing between free society and an impending autocracy, the Union. Unlike anime, which often relies on American voiceover casts to create English versions of Japanese shows, this story was crafted in the U.S., out of Rooster Teeth’s studios in Austin, Texas. It also features an all-star (mostly) American voice cast, including David Tennant, Maisie Williams, and Monica Rial, as well as Michael B. Jordan, who stars as Julian Chase, and Dakota Fanning, who plays Miranda Worth, a leader in the Vanguard squadron who also happens to be Julian’s love interest.
SYFY WIRE got a chance to talk to Fanning about what drew her to the project and why she’s such a huge fan of animation.
When you first got involved, what did you think of this huge story?
When I first met with [Rooster Teeth] they told me where the story was going and that a lot of the bigger themes were about human emotion and the relationships between the characters. Especially my character Miranda and for Michael’s character, Chase, and their relationship. I really responded to all of that.
This futuristic, post-apocalyptic world that they have created is really big, and the animation itself looks very cool. I loved all of that, but I also just loved the relationships between the characters and that all the characters are so interesting and specific. I also liked that even though it is animated, they really wanted the acting in the voices to sound as if we were doing live action.
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Out of Character
A consummate film actor since the age of 7, Dakota Fanning is ready to shake things up as she takes on the small screen and makes her directorial debut
On a snowy day in Manhattan, Dakota Fanning is huddled over a cup of mint tea, diplomatically weighing the pros and cons of living in New York City. Predicated by her acceptance to New York University, Fanning found an apartment in a prewar building in Nolita and has been based here for the past six years.
One of the pros is that the city has given her a newfound sense of freedom. “This is the only place I’ve ever lived by myself,” she explains. Evidence of her willingness to try new things is on practically every street corner thanks to billboards promoting TNT’s The Alienist, Fanning’s first major television series. “I just heard three people scream my name as I was walking here. I’m like, ‘Oh, f—! What did I do?’ But they were just saying ‘hey,’ so I said ‘hey’ back. I was like, ‘It’s gotta be because of those billboards.’ ”
Based on the Caleb Carr novel set in 1890s New York, the 10-episode psychological thriller (co-starring Daniel Brühl and Luke Evans) sounded almost too good to be true. Fanning had just come off promoting American Pastoral, so the timing was perfect. The only hang-up was that it meant moving to Budapest, Hungary, for the better part of 2017 to film the show. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s so far and such a long time to leave your life,’ ” she says. “Movies are made in eight weeks, you know?”
She decided to think of it as doing a semester abroad and, in the end, wholeheartedly embraced her Hungarian sojourn—the spa culture, “family” dinners with the cast and hosting out-of-town friends. During the workweek, Fanning (who is notoriously prompt for everything) would arrive on set to be laced into an old-fashioned corset. Her character, Sara Howard, is a strong-willed young woman who stands up to sexual harassment as the first female employee at the New York City Police Department. “As we were filming, we were like, ‘God, didn’t we read an article that’s kind of about this, like, yesterday?’ ” she says. “I think that it does go to show how history repeats itself. To move forward, you have to do something different because it’s been this long and these situations are still happening.”
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The Hollywood star talks control, clothes, and break-ups for Miu Miu Women’s Stories.
“I like to control things,” says Dakota Fanning, “and at a certain point, I realized that even being behind the camera, you can’t. You think being a director means being in charge of everything?” she laughs. “You’re wrong.”
Fanning’s in London for her directorial debut, a partnership with Miu Miu Women’s Stories called The Apartment. The 11-minute short film stars Eve Hewson as a young woman going solo, and it’s got bits of everything—breakups, cheap wine, art projects, and of course, designer dresses.
At a post-screening panel with Millennial screenwriter (and Golden Globe nominee) Liz Hannah, Fanning revealed her on-set anxiety, her future career strategy, and what happened when she started living alone in New York City.
Here are highlights from the room where it happened…
I’ve always been a very calm person—well, maybe not calm. I guess it’s more that I’ve been a very confident person… When you’re directing a movie, you’re viewed as a leader, but you’re also totally reliant on everyone else. People keep asking your opinions on everything—from the big stuff to things like, “Dakota, red napkins or blue napkins?”—and admitting you don’t know anything about napkins, “I don’t know, what do you think?” That’s the hardest part. But part of my job [as a director] was that I hired other people to make this movie with me, and I knew I needed to trust them. (We went with the blue, by the way.)
I was worried in the beginning about having a main character always wearing Miu Miu and being amongst other people who were dressed really plainly. That seemed really strange to me, so we made sure every character had some Miu Miu. But we knew going in there would be standout moments with special pieces, like a white dress, and [Miu Miu] socks!… We also knew the cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski, was going to use the fabric as part of his shots… you would literally see [Eve Hewson’s] life through her clothes.
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Dakota Fanning has always been wise beyond her years. The blond-haired, doe-eyed actress got her first major role at the ripe age of 7 in 2004’s I Am Sam. Her performance as the precocious child of a developmentally challenged father (Sean Penn) earned her a SAG Award nomination the following year, making her the youngest nominee in history.
Now 23, Fanning shows no signs of slowing down. She currently stars as a police secretary on TNT’s period drama The Alienist and has a new film, Please Stand By, about an autistic woman who escapes from her group home to submit her Star Trek script to a Hollywood writing competition, arriving in theaters and on demand today. The latter was something of a-full circle moment for Fanning, as the subject matter paralleled the project that cemented her status as a leading actress. Here, Fanning discusses her new movie, learning to speak Klingon, and the need for female-focused stories.
What drew you to this script? It was so well-written and so moving. [Wendy] had so many quirks: her love of Star Trek, knitting, her dog … there were so many little things that were woven into her. Most importantly, the character didn’t lead with the fact that she was on the autism spectrum. There were so many other things that were more important about her.
In I Am Sam, you played the daughter of a man with a mental handicap. How did it feel to reverse roles? There were definitely some similarities. When we made I Am Sam, there were actors in the film who were developmentally disabled, and in this movie, there were actors on the autism spectrum. I was so thrilled that they were getting the opportunity to be a part of it. I got to know a bunch of them before we started filming, and the first thing I learned [from them] is that everyone on the spectrum is different, so I felt a lot of freedom to make Wendy an individual character—I didn’t base her on anyone in particular.
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