Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are good friends and co-stars — last year in “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” most recently in “The Runaways,” and soon in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” opening Wednesday.
But they’re also neatly paired opposites.
Stewart might uncomfortably remind you of the young person living in your house, or the one you used to be — prone to bad posture, complicated moods and eye-rolling exasperation.
Fanning, however, is a picture-perfect role model.
She dutifully fits in a morning of interviews on an already crammed day in Manhattan. Dressed in fashionable but appropriate tight black leggings and loose white blouse, she listens to questions attentively and answers in calm, direct sentences.
“She’s so professional,” one TV reporter after another says after leaving Fanning’s hotel suite.
Well, she should be. She’s only been doing this for about two-thirds of her life.
“It’s really funny, in my baby book, it’s like, ‘Okay, what’s your kid like at this age?’ ” the 16-year-old recounts later, sitting in the hotel restaurant. “And my mom wrote, ‘She’s very talkative, she likes to act out everything, she could be a little actress!’ And I was, like, 1, or something crazy like that.”
By the time she was 5, Fanning was acting professionally. (Up until then, apparently, she’d just sat around. Slacker.)
And soon she was building a career that’s had a few big successes (“I Am Sam,” “War of the Worlds”) and the inevitable controversy (“Hounddog”) — along with a fun sidetrip to the phenomenon known as “Twilight.”
“It’s not like anything else,” she says of the blockbuster series. “It’s sort of its own genre.”
Fanning joined the franchise in the last film as Jane, one of the “Volturi” — ancient and unforgiving enforcers in the vampire world who aren’t particular fans of the undead Edward Cullen, let alone his warm-blooded beloved, Bella.
“Jane’s a young girl but at the same time very old, which is kind of fascinating,” Fanning says. “There’s some teenage emotion running through her — she’s sort of jealous of Bella, sort of threatened by her. She’s used to being the best and the biggest.”
Fanning knows about the competitive spirit. She grew up in Conyers, Ga., born into a family of professional athletes. Her father, Steve Fanning, played minor-league ball, her mother, Joy Arrington, played pro tennis. (Grandfather Rick Arrington, meanwhile, is a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.)
“My mom started me on tennis when I was 3,” Fanning says. “That’s what I was going to be, a tennis player. And I guess I could have been. But I don’t like getting sweaty. I don’t like getting hot. And my mom sort of realized, ‘Oh my God, she’s not going to be an athlete.’ That really came out of the blue for them.”
But, Fanning says, they adjusted. And more.
“They quickly realized that both my sister and I were different from what they had expected their kids to be,” she says. “And they supported that. Really, they sacrificed so much for us, basically gave up the life they had planned. But they wanted us to be happy. I remember them saying, ‘Find a job you enjoy doing so it’s not a job. Do what you love.’”
And what little Dakota — and, soon, kid sister Elle — really loved to do was act.
Her performing background was limited to a neighborhood children’s theater; detergent commercials and small parts on sitcoms soon offered brusque on-the-job training. “Half the time you just go in and play around,” she says with a shrug about her work, “and then they say ‘Cut’ and you’re back to being yourself. That’s what’s always worked for me, anyway.”
Still, there was no playing around when she got her first big movie, “I Am Sam,” opposite Sean Penn.
“I was too young to be intimidated, I suppose, which is a good thing,” she says. “I didn’t really know who Sean was. Obviously my parents had told me how unbelievable he was, but I guess I didn’t know enough to be nervous.”
It turned out to be an enormous break — and not just because the film, a slightly mawkish melodrama about a developmentally disabled parent, won Fanning real attention.
“Sean was, like, the first major actor I ever worked with, and he taught me so much,” she says. “Mostly to be quick on my feet. Three-fourths of ‘I Am Sam’ is not in the script, it’s in ad libs. Because Sean taught me not to be so stuck on the lines, just to go with it sometimes.”
It turned out to be the real kickoff to Fanning’s career and led to a string of films with other formidable talents, including Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro and Steven Spielberg.
She has no shortage of fans. Kurt Russell declared her “the best actress I will work with in my entire career.” Kris Kristofferson compared her to Bette Davis. Glenn Close called her “an old soul — one of those gifted people that come along every now and then.”
All of which Fanning takes with grace, and in stride.
“Obviously I know who people are now, but I have a healthy relationship with that,” Fanning says of her famous colleagues. “Instead of being scared, I’m just excited to learn from them and feed off them.”
As Fanning entered her teens, though, she entered dangerous territory for a child star. She was getting too old for kids’ movies yet wasn’t particularly keen on tween comedies. If she was going to keep working, and keep interested, she had to look for more challenging fare.
She found it with a vengeance.
“Hounddog” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, one month before the actress’s 13th birthday, telling a story of abuse, alcoholism and child rape. Critics slammed the movie for being queasily exploitative — and accused Fanning’s parents of exploiting their daughter by letting her appear in it.
At the time, Fanning was briefly, uncharacteristically sarcastic. (“It’s called ‘acting,’” she reminded people about her on-screen travails.) Since then, she’s grown more philosophical — if no happier.
“It was completely out of nowhere,” she says of the controversy. “And so crazy, because what the movie was about was overcoming adversity and not letting it define you. And what they were doing was defining me by a role I played. It was really sad, because the movie was supposed to help young girls who had been through something like that, trying to get rid of that stigma. And all (the outcry) maybe did was silence other young girls from coming forward and add to that stigma. That was terrible.”
Terrible, but, says Fanning, understandable.
“It has a lot to do with people having watched me since I was a little girl,” she says. “People feel that they know me, which is normal, but also sometimes own me in a way, you know what I mean? And I get that. But people have to realize that I’m getting older. I’m growing up. I’m going to be doing different things. You’re going to see me in films in somewhat compromising situations, but that’s what I need to do, to do different things, to challenge myself. And hopefully, the fans that I already have will be able to take that journey with me.”
That journey got a little bumpier with “The Runaways.” In that based-on-a-true story drama, she played Cherie Currie, lead singer of the ’70s teen-punk band — and indulged on-screen in “somewhat compromising situations” including drinking, drugs and lesbianism.
“I really grew up a lot during that, and learned a lot about myself, and got close to some people who really changed my life,” Fanning says. “And the singing — that was something I didn’t even know I was capable of, so that was great too, putting myself out there in a way I hadn’t before. I wish I could do it all again, it was such a great experience. I’ve still got all that music on my iPod.”
The movie — which co-starred Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett — sputtered and died at the box office. No one, however, is predicting the same fate for the two friends’ next film.
“When you’re at one of the ‘Twilight’ premieres, and you see the people who’ve camped out two weeks just to get a glimpse of their favorite person in the movie, you get a sense of how big this is,” Fanning says. “And the story has something for everybody. There’s that forbidden love kind of thing. There are the big action sequences. And then there are the scary people, like me!”
Well, in full bloodsucker makeup, perhaps. But in real life, there’s nothing scary about this poised, polite young actress.
HIGH SCHOOL GIRL
Nothing too unusual either, she insists. When she was younger, Fanning joined the Girl Scouts and collected dolls; currently a high school junior, she’s been busy taking college admission tests and is already looking forward to next year’s prom.
“I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any milestones,” she says. “I think acting’s only enhanced my life. I’ve been to so many more places than the average 16-year-old, I’ve met so many people from so many walks of life. I feel really lucky and I think it’s got a lot to do with my family — our parents are so removed from this business, and so happy just to be our parents. I can honestly say I have a completely normal life. Probably more normal than normal people!”
And with that, she shakes my hand and goes off to do another interview. And then a photo shoot. And then prepare for that night’s Council of Fashion Designers of America awards show, where she’ll be presenting a prize to jewelry maven Alexis Bittar.
As just another normal day in the normal life of perhaps Hollywood’s youngest, sanest star gets under way. [Source]