Dakota Fanning is already 14. For any other actress in the universe, that would be an insanely young age to have already starred in a dozen or so films alongside Hollywood’s biggest stars. Because Fanning is such a cultural icon of childhood, it’s hard to believe that she’s well into her teens and has already taken on extraordinarily mature roles. In her current role, in The Secret Life of Bees, she returns to the darker, violent corners of the South, playing a girl who runs off with her black nanny to escape her abusive father and find a sense of family. Here she talks to her good pal and fellow Bees actress Queen Latifah.
QUEEN LATIFAH: How are you? How’s school?
DAKOTA FANNING: It’s good. I’m going back tomorrow.
QL: How’s cheerleading going?
DF: It’s my favorite thing.
QL: Why is it your favorite thing?
DF: It’s so much fun. I get to be the flier, too, which is the one who’s on top of the pyramid—so I get to do all the fun stuff.
QL: So how do your classmates treat you?
DF: Really the same. Last year was my first year. That was ninth grade, and it was great. I made some really good friends. Cheerleading helped because I met them all over the summer, so I knew people when I first went to school. Now that I’m in 10th grade, it’s like I’ve been there my whole life. It’s so normal.
QL: How did you prepare for your role in the The Secret Life of Bees?
DF: I read the book when I was first attached to the movie and then the script, and then they sent me a documentary to watch on beekeeping. And then one about the Civil Rights Act, too. When we got there, [Bees director] Gina [Prince-Bythewood] did this mock discrimination against me and [co-star] Jennifer [Hudson].
QL: We heard about that!
DF: We were in a drugstore. Gina said, “Now, Jennifer, no hitting, as much as you’ll probably want to! It’s not going to be physical or anything. It’s just going to show you what it would have been like for you and Dakota if you had lived then.” A bunch of other actors were also in the drugstore, and Gina gave us a list of stuff to find, and everyone started really discriminating against us. We got into this whole argument. It was really eye-opening.
QL: The funny thing is—I don’t know if you realized it—Jennifer somehow missed the fact that it was an improvisation. She thought it was real.
DF: She did?
QL: Yeah, kooky gal! She thought these people were really discriminating against her and ignoring her and giving you preferential treatment. She thought it was real. She was a little paranoid anyway.
DF: She was! She had done a lot of research, so she was scared to even go out of her hotel room!
QL: Do you remember something funny that happened on set?
DF: When that girl fell?
QL: I can’t tell people enough about that. What was so funny was that everyone refused to laugh. The whole camera department took it so seriously.
DF: Except those two guys behind the flags.
QL: The flags were just shaking because they were laughing so hard. [both laugh] We couldn’t stop laughing . . . But it was one of the most intense scenes. It’s very important-you’re learning about your mom and seeing all these items that belonged to her, and then as soon as they said, “Cut,” we were dying laughing! I’m proud of us as actors. I don’t know how we just flipped the switch like that and got into character and then, “Cut!”—and we’re on the floor!
DF: I’ve never laughed that hard. I can’t believe we made it through.
They said we should go to California for pilot season. If you get commercials, you’ll get TV shows. I went there, and it was like, Okay, we’ll leave on Saturday. But I kept getting things, so we kept extending our stay. Then I got my first movie. and after that I never went back home.Dakota Fanning
QL: How did you get into acting in the first place?
DF: When I was about 5, my mom took me to this playhouse where you study and do a play at the end of the week. At the end, the head of the playhouse came up to my mom and said, “Have you ever thought about getting her an agent? Your daughter is the only one who actually tried. She should really consider acting.” My mom said, “Okay,” and we waited three months, then went to an open casting call at an agency in Georgia. I got three commercials in 10 days. One of them was a Georgia Lottery commercial with Ray Charles. I’m on the piano bench with him, and he’s singing “Georgia on My Mind” in a big ballroom. Then they said we should go to California for pilot season. If you get commercials, you’ll get TV shows. I went there, and it was like, Okay, we’ll leave on Saturday. But I kept getting things, so we kept extending our stay. Then I got i am sam —my first movie. And after that I never went back home.
QL: How do you feel about acting? Is it just something that you feel?
DF: I just love it. I love the feeling I get when I’m on a set; I love reading the scripts, playing the characters, getting to be someone else. I love every aspect of it, I really, really do.
QL: How do you avoid the paparazzi? Do they hunt you down a little bit?
DF: You know, they really don’t. They’re probably going to now that I said that. One time, I was walking down the street, and this guy did jump out and ambush my mom and me, and I screamed! It was the funniest thing.
QL: What about peer pressure? Let me talk to you about that real quick, because you’re 14 now, right?
QL: And you just had an onscreen kiss. How was that?
DF: It was great. Tristan [Wilds] and I knew each other pretty well by the time we did that scene, so we were pretty comfortable with it. One of the great parts of the movie is our characters’—Lily and Zach’s—relationship. It’s a great story line, and I was so excited to do it because he was the nicest guy.
QL: And he’s adorable.
QL: Now are you considering your first real-life kiss?
DF: You know, yeah! [laughs]
QL: How you gonna play it? [laughs]
DF: I mean, now that I’m in high school, that’s one of the fun parts about it. I look forward to whatever happens . . .
QL: Girl, does someone have a crush on you? Are you getting little notes with “Check here to be my girlfriend”—type things?
DF: [laughs] Not quite yet.
QL: Do they still do that? They don’t still do that.
DF: I don’t think so.
QL: Text me.
DF: Yeah, text me.