By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Few recent high school graduates know what they’re going to do next. Elle Fanning already knows what she hopes to do for the rest of her life: act.
The Georgia-born actress—kid sister of actress Dakota Fanning—already has been plying her trade for 15 years, having gotten her start in Hollywood as a toddler in the miniseries “Taken,” and subsequently played a younger version of Dakota in the highly acclaimed father-daughter drama “I Am Sam,” opposite Sean Penn. Forging her own career path, Elle also played the title character in the indie drama “Phoebe in Wonderland,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Boxtrolls,” “Maleficent,” and the Oscar-nominated Hollywood blacklist biopic “Trumbo,” in which she played the daughter of Bryan Cranston’s title character.
Tall, blond and gregarious, the 18-year-old has played her share of ingénues onscreen. In the Nicolas Winding Refn horror film “Neon Demon,” she tackles her most grown up role to date, applying her innocent, youthful looks to great effect as a mask to treacherous soul. She plays a young model that has just arrived in Tinseltown. When she becomes the “it” girl, her contemporaries aren’t too happy about it, and do what they can to crush her dream. But Jesse isn’t quite as innocent as she appears. She co-stars alongside Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and Keanu Reeves in the cautionary tale about Hollywood … and the figurative and literal bloodsucking that goes on.
Wearing a summer-like red jumpsuit decorated with gold flower decorations to a press conference, the poised young actress spoke about her journey in Hollywood from child actor to grown up.
Q: What cautionary advice, if any, did you get from your sister?
Fanning: I was pretty young when I moved to L.A. from Georgia. It definitely was a shift. It was different from the small town that I grew up in. My sister (started acting) before I did. She paved the way in that sense that little sister wants to do what big sister does and try it out. But for “Neon Demon,” she didn’t read the script. We’re very separate with our scripts and things. She was at (the film’s premiere) last night. She loved it although one of the scenes made her sick. (She laughs.)
Q: What have you learned in your years of living here?
Fanning: L.A. is my home. I go to school there. I just graduated two days ago. (She laughs.) There’s a seductive side to it. Our movie had to be placed here because it’s a unique place.
Q: What did you think of your character?
Fanning: I think my character was the most evil of them all. She is, in a way, Dorothy coming to Oz, but evil. Jesse is kind of the toxic poison that corrupts everybody else. I like this film because it’s like “A Star is Born,” a young girl comes to the big city, but she has a plan the whole time. There’s this mystery underneath her. She uses her youth and innocence as a mask to disguise it. There are a lot of different ways to look at it. For me, that was the most challenging part of it and the scariest part of it, not knowing what’s next. In the script, she was a little different; we made her a little darker than she was in the script. It was nice to show that side and definitely you’re driven by fear too. We filmed in chronological order so things were changing all the time. I just had to trust (Nicolas Winding Refn, the director) and everyone in the entire cast; we were all in it together. We’d come to set and Nic would ask me what I wanted to do. I never felt so free to create things. It was kind of a given power, in a way, kind of like Jesse. She finds her power, for sure, in the movie.
Q: Were you shooting this film while you were going to school?
Fanning: Yes. I went to a regular school in the Valley (a suburban area of Los Angeles). I’ve gone there since fourth grade, since I was nine. When I do films, I have a (on-set) teacher that goes with me. She works with my school. And they sent all the work so I could keep up.
Q: Are you living in two worlds at the same time in where you’re in a film that’s so grown up?
Fanning: I know my friends are going to see it; they’re very excited about it. To me, it feels like a young film. In Cannes, it was definitely a young (person’s) film. They really liked it. You have to keep things separate. It can’t all be about movies. I graduated and then I had the premiere the next night. I just got to start doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, hopefully, at a young age. That sounds like the best thing because then you just get to get better.
Q: Beauty is a complicated subjected no matter what your age, isn’t it?
Fanning: Especially now with social media and stuff.
Q: Are you going to go to college?
Fanning: Not right now.
Q: How was graduation?
Fanning: It was so fun.
Q: You were at Cannes recently promoting this film so you missed your prom?
Fanning: I brought my friend with me. And I’ve already been to three proms before so I don’t feel like I missed out.