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January 2005
Hide and Seek: An Interview with Dakota Fanning

Hide and Seek: An Interview with Dakota Fanning

By Todd Gilchrist

Dakota Fanning is only 10, but she's already worked with some of the most talented actors in Hollywood: Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, and now Robert De Niro. Her latest film pairs her with the talented thespian for "Hide and Seek", a psychological thriller about a father and daughter dealing with the apparent suicide of their wife and mother (played by Amy Irving). She recently sat down with blackfilm.com to discuss working with De Niro, and also described her upcoming role in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, where she acts opposite Tom Cruise.

Are you 10 or 11?

Fanning: I'll be 11 next month.

Do you scare easily Dakota? Do you like scary movies?

Fanning: I love this one. I loved seeing it. It was frightening.

Was it harder for you to watch this movie or was it harder for you to be in it, to react to everything that was going on around you?

Fanning: You know, when I was filming it, it was so intense and I had to maintain all these emotions throughout the sequences. We often had a good time when we weren't doing stuff like that.

Was it scary with Robert De Niro, at first?

Fanning: He made me feel so comfortable and he was so kind to me and I learned so much from him, to watch and act. He's so committed to the scripts, so focused, so I loved it.

Had you seen his movies before?

Fanning: My favorite was Awakenings.

You seem to be so comfortable with the big actors, like Sean Penn and now Robert De Niro. I know you've said in the past that you admire actors like Jodie Foster and when I was watching it, I was thinking of Jodie Foster when she was a little girl and she was doing, like some of these very mature roles. Is she still your role model?

Fanning: Yes, I know there are so many actors and actresses out there that I really like, and I would really like to work with her one day.

She was actually saying that you were giving HER advice during this movie, which is rather funny from an eleven going on 25 year old. Where does that come from, that maturity about you? Where do you think that?

Fanning: I always have a good time and everybody that I've worked with has been so nice to me and especially Elizabeth. We had a great time together, and I've done two movies with her - this one and then I did the one in Kentucky, Dreamer, so we did that and so we're really good friends now, and as well Famke.

In such an early career you've worked with such talented people. Now you're working with Spielberg again, with Tom Cruise.

Fanning: He is so incredibly nice and Steven is incredibly nice and that movie comes out on June 29th and I think it's wonderful.

How was it working on that film that project? It's a really huge movie, right?

Fanning: Yeah. It's great.

Do you feel that when you're working on it?

Fanning: Yeah, it's really exciting, and it's going to be really, really good.

Can you tell us about your character?

Fanning: You'll have to see, it's a secret.

You're a daughter in the film.

Fanning: Yes, but that's all I can say.

Now you're going off to Australia to make Charlotte's Web.

Fanning: Charlotte's Web. Yes.

That's a long way. You've never been there before right?

Fanning: I haven't ever been there. But it's really funny because the director of this is from Australia, so it was exciting to tell him about it.

Is it a coincidence that stacks of books from the very top?

Fanning: I know. I couldn't believe that. It was so funny.

But had you already got the role at that point?

Fanning: No, it was a coincidence. When I saw it, I was like, yes! I'm doing it. I loved that book. It's so sad, I cry every time I read it.

What are you doing with Charlotte's Web? How are they doing it? Do you know? Do you have any idea of what the mechanics of Charlotte's Web are going to be?

Fanning: Yeah, they're going to do it with all real animals, so.

It's not CGI or

Fanning: No, we're doing it all with real animals. Yeah, like Babe.

How long are you going to be away for?

Fanning: From the end of March through to the end of May.

Are you taking your family with you?

Fanning: My mum's going to go with me, and then my Dad and my sister and my grandmother will visit.

Other kids on the set right?

Fanning: She'll be like doubles, and stand-ins but there's always kids there.

Now, 11 year olds don't normally go and see R rated movies. Have you seen the full movie?

Fanning: I have actually, yeah. I saw it.

When you were offered the role, did you see the full script?

Fanning: I did, I read the whole thing and I just wanted to do it so badly, because it was such a different character that I'd never played before. It was so different from myself. All the other characters that I've played, I could always find something in them that's like me but with this one, there's nothing like me at all.

The haircut, how did that discussion come about?

Fanning: Yeah, John Polson and I kind of talked about and I'd never had dark hair in real life or in a movie before so it was kind of a change, and also it kind of made me look a little bit more scary for some reason.

What about your younger sister. Can you give her any advice?

Fanning: When she was filming The Door in the Floor, I was actually in Mexico doing Man on Fire, so my grandmother went with her and my Mom went with me. So she was having a good time so I've never really been at the same place with her, so... she's been doing good, though, she really likes it a lot.

Who decides what you do? Is a joint decision involving you and your Mom, or what?

Fanning: Yeah, it's kind of everybody, it's a group decision of what is great, what's good to do at that time, but I read this script and I just knew I had to do it. Just to get to work with Robert De Niro at such an early age, I just feel so lucky.

Was he already committed to making the film when you read that script?

Fanning: I'm not sure if he was. He was, yeah, actually he was.

What was your first meeting with De Niro like?

Fanning: Oh, he was so nice, really nice. It was with John Polson and him and me, and we had a great time.

Is he very quiet, very shy?

Fanning: He was very kind and generous to me and my birthday was on the set and he actually gave me a doll that looked my character, with the brown hair and blue eyes.

Was it freaky for you?

Fanning: No, it wasn't actually an Emily doll, it was just a doll that looked like her. It was cute, it was great.

What's your favorite part of acting, is it the creative part, or the performing part, is it meeting people, or everything together?

Fanning: I really like all the parts of it, but one of my favorites, there's a lot of things that I like about it, you get to be somebody else, unlike yourself, and you get to meet new people and go to different locations. Like I'm going to Australia, and I'd probably never do that. Like Mexico, I probably would never have gone there if I didn't do that movie, so, and you get to meet wonderful people that, and memories you'll have for the rest of your life.

Do your friends say, oh Dakota, you're so lucky, you get to meet all your favorite movie stars, and travel. What do they say to you?

Fanning: You know, they have things they enjoy, the same as I enjoy acting, you know what I mean? So they think it's great and I'm just their friend. We're just friends.

Do you knit sweaters for everybody on this one too?

Fanning: I did scarves.

And this one too?

Fanning: Uh huh.

The doll that the director gave you. Is it a little Emily Strange doll by any chance?

Fanning: No, actually Bob gave me an American girl doll.

Do you ever talk about how things could eventually change when you get older? Are you convinced within yourself that this is what you're going to be doing for the next?

Fanning: Yeah, I definitely hope so. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I hope to get to, and this is definitely something that I really love.

How hard was it to get in because there are so many kids, children that are wanting to act, especially professionally? How hard is it getting in the door and establishing a movie career? How did that all come about?

Fanning: When we lived in Georgia, my Mom took me to this playhouse where you start a play and do a play at the end of the week and they said that I should go to an agency, so we did, and then we came to California for six weeks for pilot season, and it all kind of started there. We've been here for four years, and we've never really gone back.

The first thing you did, was that a Tide commercial?

Fanning: That was the first acting I ever had, in Florida, for about a week, and it was so fun.

So from a pie commercial, who gave you a call to say you're going to work with Bob De Niro, and it's Spielberg again, and it's Tom Cruise. Who called you to work on War of the Worlds, did Spielberg call you directly and say, hey we need you here?

Fanning: I read the script and just really liked it. You know, we did it, and Dreamworks was off doing the other project that I was working on at the time; it was actually Dreamer. Dreamer and Dreamworks, kinda neat. So, I was doing Dreamer when I read the script, they really wanted me to do it and I wanted to do it really bad so I did with Tom.

What would you have learned the most in the last five years? What is one of the biggest lessons you've learned?

Fanning: I think on the movies, I think I've learned something from everyone I've worked with. With Bob, he's just, what I've learned from him, I just watched him and watched him act. He's so good at his craft. I just loved to.

You've done so many different genres and now with the War of the Worlds for the second time you've done sci-fi's, especially alien things, what genre do you like the most. Do you like aliens and space ship stuff?

Fanning: I've been lucky enough to get a taste of different kinds, the sci-fi, the comedy, drama, the thriller type. I love doing all of them. I've never really picked one because I've gotten the chance to do all sorts of different characters and I've heard it just grows, as you get older and older. It's exciting for me to get to see what comes on next.

You did Cat in a Hat, I know, a really crazy sort of comedy but you've played some pretty serious characters.

Fanning: Yeah, I think, I did Uptown Girls which is a comedy, kind of crazy character, and then Cat in a Hat was kind of nutty and fun.

When you do a role like this do you get into a situation where you think what is it really like to do that, and to lose your Mum or something like that?

Fanning: When I'm doing things like that, I always think what would my character be feeling and thinking at the time, of whatever she's doing. So it's kind of what I think I did. To do those scenes. To put myself in that position.

What about when you were being pursued by De Niro, when he becomes Charlie. He was pretty nasty in the last section of the film. How as it to work opposite who was that?

Fanning: Well, when we would do the scenes, I was just amazed at what he was doing and afterwards I would just like, you really scared me. He's such an amazing person, that even when I was acting, I didn't feel like I was acting. It felt like it was really happening so it was great.

There was a few different endings of the film, there was one where you ended up in a mental institution or something like that. If you were to pick the ending of the movie, which ending would you have liked the most?

Fanning: You know, I liked the movie, I loved the way the movie would have been, both are great, great choices and I will still have the great memories that I have, and the movie turned out beautifully, whichever way they chose.

The ending does kind of leave it open for a sequel. Has anybody even talked about it, the fact that you have inherited Dad's genes in this one?

Fanning: Yeah, I haven't heard anything about that but I know it does kind of leave something there, you know.

Is it something that you would do, a sequel?

Fanning: Yeah, definitely, I really enjoyed doing this one.

Alice in Wonderland?

Fanning: Well the script is being written right now by Les Bohem who wrote Taken and so he's in the process right now and I can't wait to see it.

Is it for television?

Fanning: No, it's a movie.

Are you a fan of the book?

Fanning: I am, and the animated movie.

The Disney one?

Fanning: It's great.

There's been a few versions of Alice in Wonderland. Are you nervous about stepping into very classic shoes?

Fanning: Well, my sister and I really, really liked the movie and everything, and I loved the book, so I think it would be exciting to take on something like that.

Favorite character?

Fanning: In Alice and Wonderland? Alice of course. I love Alice.

Do you have an acting coach or do you go to acting school? Do you train at all or does it all come naturally?

Fanning: I don't really go to classes. Sometimes when I do a movie, I get a coach I go to but I've never been to classes.

Do you miss being around kids your own age?

Fanning: Well on the set there are always kids, stand-ins, and doubles, and Bob brought in his kids sometimes and things like that. There were always kids there to do stuff with.

What about education generally? Do you miss having a formal, continually formal education?

Fanning: Well I only went to school when I was like to about five and so now I've been at home school since I was six, by my teacher, and school's very important to me and I just love it.

Do your parents want you to go to college afterwards? Do you want to pursue that?

Fanning: I guess they do.

You learned Spanish right?

Fanning: Yeah, I learned Spanish for Man on Fire.

How was that?

Fanning: Pretty good. I switched from Spanish to French but now I'm back to Spanish.

Did you speak Spanish to people in Mexico?

Fanning: I did, I kind of had to do stuff for my Mum because she didn't know how to do it so Mum was like, call me over, and I'd have to do it, so I'd have to buy stuff for her because she didn't know how to do it.

Do you prefer Spanish or French?

Fanning: I love both.

Do you plan to travel to France?

Fanning: I would love to go to Paris. It's one of my dream vacations.

Have you had any weird contact with a fan?

Fanning: You know, nothing has been anything that was bad. Nothing strange or unusual. They've all been really nice and I'm really happy they enjoy the movies and if we didn't have fans, we wouldn't be here.

Who do you play in Dreamer? Can you talk about it? That's the next one that's coming up.

Fanning: War of the Worlds actually.

War of the Worlds is first, then comes Dreamer.

Fanning: Right. I play Kurt Russell and Elisabeth's daughter and Kris Kristofferson is also in it, and David Morse and Luis Guzman and Freddy Rodríguez and it's a horse racing movie so I got to learn how to horseback ride, and I rode some racehorses actually and I learned to take care of horses.

Have you seen pages on the Internet that are devoted to you?

Fanning: I've seen a couple of them, those are so nice, that people take the time to do that, I'm so honored that they would do that for me and that's great.

But you never like to say no, this is wrong

Fanning: No, I never do. Normally they're all good.

They're not saying you're marrying anybody, right?

Fanning: Exactly.

What's your favorite film that you have worked on? Like, if you had to pick out your favorite film ever, what's your favorite film?

Fanning: Gone with the Wind.


Fanning: I was Scarlet O'Hara for Halloween. I had the green velvet curtain dress.

You weren't as bad as she was, right?

Fanning: I was good, I had the green curtain dress, and I had the hat, and a black wig, again, a black curly wig and a big hat.

Was there a Rhett?

Fanning: There wasn't, see I was in Louisiana filming Dreamer but if I was here, my best friend James would have been Rhett for me but instead he was James Bond. It was funny because his name was James too.

And what's your favorite kids' movie?

Fanning: Well, I love the Incredibles, I thought that was so funny, and I liked Shrek II and Shrek I.

When you do Charlotte's Web, is it going to be very faithful to the book? Are they changing it?

Fanning: Just like the book. It's going to be just like the book.

Have you seen the original, the other movie that was made?

Fanning: Yeah, and I loved it, loved it.

It's shooting in Melbourne right?

Fanning: Yeah, Melbourne.

When you worked with Elisabeth in the second film,

Fanning: I have to be nice to her.

Was it easy to kind of, since you already knew each other from this film, did you just kind of pick up where you left off?

Fanning: Yeah, it was just like usual, so weird, because I was really mean to her and really nice to her in that one, so that was good.

Do you want me to tell you a few swear words in Australian?

Fanning: Thank you so much. Bye.

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