It's hard to believe that on April 9, Elle Fanning turns 19 years old. Hard to believe, because it seems like just yesterday we fell in love with her as the adorable 6-year-old in The Door in the Floor. And hard to believe that at 19, she has over 30 films under her belt, including five here at Focus. After making The Door in the Floor in 2004, she appeared in Reservation Road in 2007, Somewhere in 2010, and then added her voice to The Boxtrolls in 2014. Fanning will be starring in a new film, The Beguiled, this June.
Born in Conyers, Georgia, to a family of athletes––her dad played minor league baseball and her mom was a professional tennis player––Fanning demonstrated very early on that she had the determination, talent, and vision to succeed. It didn't hurt that her older sister, Dakota, had already set a path for Hollywood. Having witnessed her transformation from a little girl to vibrant young women on screen, we can’t wait to see how her career and life unfolds in the future.
Sofia Coppola as her mentor
Elle Fanning has worked with some of Hollywood’s most talented directors: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and J. J. Abrams (Super 8). But arguably her most influential director is Sofia Coppola. “I’ve known Sofia since I was 11,” Fanning tells Women’s Wear Daily. “Ever since Somewhere, we’ve tried to find something else.” That “something else” became Coppola’s thriller, The Beguiled.
For many, Coppola’s 2010 Somewhere marked Fanning’s graduation from child actor to more sophisticated roles. When Interview paired Fanning with another celebrated Coppola alum, Lost in Translation’s Scarlett Johansson, for a conversation, they highlighted how Coppola’s film changed her life. Somewhere denotes “a change—both a progression in her abilities as a performer and a distinctive taste in selecting projects,” wrote Interview.
Director and actress worked together to let Fanning’s budding maturity register in the character’s own emotional sensibility. Fanning plays Cleo, an 11-year-old who is unwittingly pushed out of her carefree childhood by having to observe the antics of her irresponsible, movie star dad (Stephen Dorff). “Ms. Fanning can do more with her eyes than performers many times her age,” writes The New York Times’ A. O. Scott. “She conveys jealousy, concern, curiosity and need, and above all the wisdom and half-intact innocence of a person who has witnessed too much.”
Watch Somewhere now on iTunes.
Young characters, old soul
Before she was even three, Elle Fanning was already a pro. Following her older sister, Dakota, into show business, Fanning appeared in several early projects, like the film, I Am Sam, as the younger version of her sibling. But it quickly became clear that she had her own distinct personality. She was cast in a series of films as a young child caught up in a very adult world. In Tod Williams’ poignant drama, The Door in the Floor––adapted from John Irving’s A Widow For One Year––Fanning plays the daughter of a couple, played by Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, enmeshed in a bitter separation. Fanning “impresses as a curious, questioning child with an old soul, played without affectation or cuteness,” notes Variety’s David Rooney.
Three years later, Fanning appeared in Terry George’s Reservation Road, another powerhouse drama about a family in crisis. As part of an all-star cast that includes Jennifer Connelly, Joaquin Phoenix, and Mark Ruffalo, Fanning plays a young daughter observing her parents undergoing a terrible tragedy, even as they attempt to shield her from their grief.
Get The Door in the Floor now at Amazon.
Watch Reservation Road now on iTunes.
Making her voice heard in animated films
There is something magical about Fanning’s presence. Her twinkling eyes, porcelain complexion, and sunny smile can easily bring joy to any situation. But she can also conjure up a character from just the sound of her voice. While she has done voice work in both the American version of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic My Neighbor Totoro and Astro Boy, she really shines as the mischievous little girl who saves the day, Winnie Portley-Rind, in The Boxtrolls.
When the film’s directors, Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, first thought about voices, they considered Elle Fanning––partially because of the extraordinary job her sister Dakota had done in Coraline. To hear how her voice meshed with that of the film’s lead, Isaac Hempstead Wright, the filmmakers cut together clips of both of them from previous films. He “sounded like a naïve boy who’d been raised by monsters somehow,” recalls Stacchi. “And Elle Fanning sounded like the daughter of the richest man in town”––who was exactly who they wanted her to play.
Watch The Boxtrolls now on iTunes.
Next up, The Beguiled
In recent films, like Mike Mills' 20th Century Women and Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, Fanning has completely shrugged off the mantle of child actor. In The Beguiled, Fanning is one of the Southern women (including Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) who care for a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) in their isolated girls school during the Civil War.
“The main crux of the story is about the dynamics between a group of women all stuck together,” explains director Coppola to Entertainment Weekly. It’s a story that Harper’s Bazaar bets is “is bound to be your guilty pleasure of the summer.” For Fanning, the film promises her the opportunity to stretch her creative potential and enjoy the process being an actress, a joy that never gets old for her. “Everything still feels fresh for me––every new character, new script, new environment,” Fanning tells The Independent. “I still get very excited by it.”