Elle Fanning

I was Marilyn Monroe for Halloween when I was 7. . . . I did the makeup and the mole. I did all the poses with blowing kisses and all that.Elle Fanning

Despite the fact that she’s missing five teeth, actress Elle Fanning has plenty of reasons to smile. Like her big sister, Dakota, Fanning is, at the ripe old age of 12, already a grizzled veteran, with nearly a decade of work under her belt, and has a heavyweight résumé of decidedly grown-up films that includes I Am Sam (2001), The Door in the Floor (2004), Babel (2006), Reservation Road (2007), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Now, though, Fanning is about to enter another phase in her career with the release of Sofia Coppola’s new film Somewhere, in which she stars, alongside Stephen Dorff, as the daughter of a hard-partying Hollywood actor who lives in a suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel and is stumbling, perpetually bleary-eyed, through both his work and his life. For all of her youth, Fanning’s performance in film is a mature one, as she struggles to reconcile her parents’ stunted adulthoods with the premature onset of her own.

Following her first trip to Venice, where Somewhere took top honors at the city’s film festival this past September, Fanning went into production on her next film, the J.J. Abrams-directed sci-fi thriller Super 8. (She also stars in Andrei Konchalovskiy’s recently released 3-D version of The Nutcracker.) We recently caught up with Fanning in Los Angeles, where, between shooting scenes for Super 8 and doing her science homework, she sat down to talk about working on Somewhere, her obsession with Marilyn Monroe, her impressive list of on-screen dads (Penn, Pitt, and Bridges among them), her grand plans for when Dakota goes to college, and why she’s going to have to find someone new to steal clothes from if she gets any taller.

LAUREN TABACH-BANK: You were born in Conyers, Georgia, but you moved to Los Angeles when you were really little. How old were you?

ELLE FANNING: I was probably about 2 when I came out here. My sister came out first to see if the whole acting thing would work out, and then we all moved out here. I don’t really remember Georgia that much, but we go back if we can. I have 14 cousins there, because my dad’s the youngest of eight kids. Some of them are my age, and then there’s some that are younger or older. One of them is, like, 20-something.

TABACH-BANK: Are you and Dakota the only actresses of the group?

FANNING: Yeah, we’re the only actresses. Everyone thinks it’s really cool that we’re in this business, but they’re also just our family.

TABACH-BANK: Do you go to school?

FANNING: I do! I just started seventh grade, so, I’m like, “Oh, my god!” I was really nervous at first about the whole thing with getting to your class on time, because now we have so many different classes-that freaked me out. But I’m doing good.

TABACH-BANK: What’s your favorite subject?

FANNING: Science. But I love artsy stuff, too. We take art, and I love all that. But I also like science for some reason. I just like finding out why things happen.

TABACH-BANK: I Am Sam [2001] was the first movie you did.

FANNING: Yeah, I was really little for that one. I played Dakota’s character at a younger age.

TABACH-BANK: Do you have any recollection of making that movie?

FANNING: You know, I was watching the behind-the-scenes of it not that long ago. I think my sister remembers more about it, because she was older. She says stuff about it all the time.

TABACH-BANK: What’s it like for you to look back and see yourself so young?

FANNING: It’s so weird.

TABACH-BANK: It must be like watching a home video almost-except a very expensive one with Sean Penn.

FANNING: [laughs] Yeah, it’s funny. I was so little, though. Like, “I looked like that?”

I love artsy stuff . . . But I also like science for some reason. I just like finding out why things happen.Elle Fanning

TABACH-BANK: It’s interesting because you’re so young, but you’ve already worked with so many great people. Is there anyone who stands out as somebody who was special to you or who has guided you?

FANNING: Oh, wow. I mean, it’s amazing that I get to meet all these people. I’ve learned so much from all of them. I just worked with Sofia Coppola and that was amazing. I learned so much from her. I can’t even describe how much fun I had.

TABACH-BANK: Had you seen her movies before?

FANNING: I had seen Marie Antoinette [2006], and then I just recently saw The Virgin Suicides [1999], but I haven’t seen Lost in Translation [2003]. Marie Antoinette was especially girly. You wanna live there, you know? It’s amazing. It was so much fun making Somewhere with her. It wasn’t even like filming a movie. It was more just going to the Chateau [Marmont]. The Chateau became our home. We moved in.

TABACH-BANK: So you lived there while you were shooting?

FANNING: Basically . . . You know, I came to work there every day, but I was just there from morning to night, you know? It was really cool. The whole crew kind of fit in our room-it was such a small crew. But we all felt like a little team. I think that’s why Sofia’s movies feel different from other movies. They feel so intimate and natural . . . just totally natural.

TABACH-BANK: Had you been to Chateau Marmont before? It’s such a big place with so much history.

FANNING: I’d been there before for some interviews and photo shoots, but I hadn’t spent that much time there. Now, I feel like I know it so well. When I first got there, I was like, “Am I walking where Marilyn Monroe walked?”

TABACH-BANK: How did you get the part?

FANNING: I auditioned. I met with Sofia and I didn’t even know what the script was. We just met each other. And then I got called back, and we went to the Chateau and I read lines with Stephen. She wanted to see our connection, I guess. Stephen and I spent a lot of time with each other before filming. Sofia wanted us to do a lot of things together. So he picked me up from school one day, and we went and got frozen yogurt from Pinkberry. Then, another day, he came to one of my volleyball games.

TABACH-BANK: That’s so sweet.

FANNING: Yeah, it was so funny. He had extensions in at the time for another movie, and all my friends were looking at this guy who was cheering me on at the volleyball game like, “Who is that guy?”

TABACH-BANK: Did they recognize him or were they just like, “Who is this really weird guy?”

FANNING: Well, he had the long hair. . . .

TABACH-BANK: You’ve had some hot on-screen fathers.

FANNING: [laughs] Oh, my god, yeah!

TABACH-BANK: Brad Pitt, for example. . . . But you were probably so young that it didn’t resonate.

FANNING: Brad Pitt-that was really cool. I did Babel [2006] with him, but I never had any scenes with him in that movie because he was in Morocco filming and I was in Mexico. But there was one day when we were working on the same day, in L.A., and I got to meet him, so that was really cool. We’re like, “We’ve been in two movies together, but we’ve never met each other!” [laughs] Because we were both in [The Curious Case of] Benjamin Button, too. He was really nice, though.

TABACH-BANK: So there’s Sean and Brad and Jeff Bridges has also played your dad [in The Door in the Floor, 2004]. It’s funny, they’ve almost all won Oscars. Do you ever bump into any of your many movie dads?

FANNING: Like, at events and stuff, I see them sometimes. Whenever we see each other, they’re like, “You’ve gotten so tall! The last time I saw you, you were tiny.” That’s always the first thing most of my [movie] dads say.

TABACH-BANK: What was it like going to the Venice Film Festival with Somewhere? The movie won, didn’t it?

FANNING: It was so cool. I’d been to Milan, because we had to go there to shoot Somewhere, but I’d never been to Venice before, so it was very fun and extravagant. We were like, “This is our Twilight moment!” because people were shouting our names. We were all sort of nervous. “Are they gonna like the movie?” You know? But then at the very end of the screening, people stood up and clapped, and we were like, “Oh, we did it!” It was great.

TABACH-BANK: Did you take a ride in the canals?

FANNING: Oh, yeah. We went everywhere there on a boat. It was a lot better than being stuck in a car.

TABACH-BANK: Is Sofia the first female director you’ve worked with?

FANNING: No, I’ve worked with a couple others before, but not many. Normally, they’re all men. But it’s cool working with female directors because I’m a girl, so you do relate to them more. You can talk to them about other stuff like clothes and all that.

TABACH-BANK: Are you into fashion? I did see a picture of you in Venice where you came out in that Marc Jacobs dress.

FANNING: I love fashion! I love clothes! I really like vintage clothes, so in my closet there’s a lot of ’50s stuff. I go to the stores and shop around.

TABACH-BANK: What’s your favorite vintage store?

FANNING: There’s this place in L.A. called Playclothes. It actually recently moved, but it used to be really close to me. I’m going to have to go and find where they moved now. [laughs]

You’ve gotten so tall! The last time I saw you, you were tiny.’ that’s always the first thing most of my movie dads say.”Elle Fanning

TABACH-BANK: Do you have a favorite outfit?

FANNING: Um, let’s see . . . I like mixing things. I wear a lot of boots. Love boots. And then jeans, but I like to wear them with a really ruffly top. Or I love high-waisted anything.

TABACH-BANK: What about designers? Who do you love?

FANNING: Lord, it’s hard to say. I wore the Marc Jacobs dress, so I love Marc Jacobs. He has a vintage flair. But I’ve always worn a lot of vintage stuff, so it hasn’t been a lot of  
designers. If I see something that I like, I just buy it.

TABACH-BANK: Do you and Dakota share clothes?

FANNING: Yes. We’re sort of the same size. I’m taller than her, though . . . She does not like that at all. [both laugh] She probably doesn’t like me wearing her clothes either, but we do still share. I sneak into her closet and grab things out and put them on. She’s a senior, so she’s going to college soon. But we share a bathroom.

TABACH-BANK: Soon you’ll have your own.

FANNING: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]

TABACH-BANK: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

FANNING: I like to hang out with my friends, but I also do ballet. Because I’m filming now, I haven’t been able to do it as much, but I normally do ballet five days a week with a teacher.

TABACH-BANK: Is there anyone you’d really like to work with? Who was your favorite actor growing up?

FANNING: My favorite actress is Marilyn Monroe.

TABACH-BANK: She’s gonna be tricky to work with.

FANNING: Yeah. [laughs]

TABACH-BANK: Have you ever seen any of Marilyn Monroe’s films? Or do you just like her look?

FANNING: Yeah, I mean, of course-I love her look and everything. But I’ve seen The Seven Year Itch [1955] and I loved that. I watched that all the time when I was little. I liked the dress. I was her for Halloween when I was 7. I did the makeup and the mole and I did all the poses with blowing kisses and all that. But also, of course, I’d love to do something with my sister. I’ve never really acted with her before. I’ve played her at a younger age, but we’ve never been in the same scenes together.

TABACH-BANK: If you weren’t an actress, what do you think you’d want to do?

FANNING: Ballet, if I get good enough, which is the hardest thing ever. So I would probably like to do that, because I feel like you could always come back to acting. You can do it at any age. But I also love to sing, so maybe that would be something else.

TABACH-BANK: What kind of music do you like?

FANNING: I love Beyoncé.

TABACH-BANK: Have you ever seen her in concert?

FANNING: No. I’ve never met her or anything, but she would be the person that I’d want to meet. I bet she’s just so cool.

TABACH-BANK: You know she has that dual-personality thing where she’s apparently Sasha Fierce when she goes out on stage. Do you feel like you have a different personality when you’re working?

FANNING: Nah. I’m more, like, my normal self all the time. I just love doing what I do. 

Lauren Tabach-Bank is Interview’s entertainment director.