By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Elle Fanning arrives for an interview looking like a fairy princess in a pink Vivienne Westwood cocktail dress with a full skirt. When it’s pointed out that she resembles royalty, she wryly points out that that would be a previous character she played. (She, of course, played Sleeping Beauty in the hit live-action Disney movie “Maleficent” with Angelina Jolie.)
The 16-year-old younger sibling to wunderkind Dakota Fanning is here to promote her latest movie, “The Boxtrolls,” the third stop-motion animated feature from the Portland, Ore.-based production house Laika. Coincidentally, Laika’s first stop-motion animated movie “Coraline,” featured Dakota, who voiced the title character.
In “The Boxtrolls,” based on Alan Snow’s bestselling fantasy adventure book “Here Be Monsters,” Fanning provides the voice of Winnie, the bratty and neglected daughter of the mayor of Cheesebridge, a town made up of humans and the titular creatures that roam the streets at night collecting junk that they reuse in their warren below ground. The townspeople have been purposely misinformed that the Boxtrolls are dangerous, which has given the power-seeking Snatcher (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley) an opportunity to achieve the one thing he most covets: to join the elite White Hats, who sit behind closed doors eating cheese all day. In exchange for that reward, Snatcher vows to wipe out the Boxtrolls. The creatures, though, which are actually gentle and shy, find their champion in Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a boy they have raised, and eventually Winnie (Fanning), the mayor’s adventuresome daughter.
Fanning, who hails from Conyers, Ga., already was familiar with Laika, having accompanied her sister on a visit several years ago to their headquarters to watch the painstaking process doing the stop-motion animation on “Coraline.” The busy actress is also a sophomore in high school, and hopes one day to attend college like her older sister.
Q: So, your character’s a little snotty, huh?
Fanning: She definitely is. She’s a little brat.
Q: Was it kind of fun to play that?
Fanning: I definitely enjoyed it. I’ve never played anyone like her before, because she’s so on the edge. You’d think she’d be so cute and sweet, but she loves blood and gross stuff. She’s just so into it. I think the audience, at first, doesn’t want to like her, because she’s so spoiled, but as the movie goes on, you get to see her sensitive side, and you realize she just wants the attention from her dad. She means well. She’s not mean. You kind of respect her sass.
Q: Winnie has a British accent? Was it tough to do?
Fanning: It was kind of scary, because there are a lot of British actors that are in this, and this it’s all about my voice, and then you think, “Why don’t they just get a British girl?” I was already comfortable with the rhythm, so it was okay. I did two movies before where I had an English accent, so I was comfortable with that. But I also had to find her specific region she from; what is she going to sound like. So we made her a little posher sounding than I’ve ever done, because her dad’s the mayor, so she’s a big deal.
Q: She’s starving for attention though, and she’s just not getting it. It’s just really sad.
Fanning: She feels like her dad cares more about cheese then her. She wants to get attention from anyone, but especially him, and his circle.
Q: Do you ever crave attention like that?
Fanning: When I was a kid, for sure. You like the attention, especially from your parents. Luckily for me, this is an extreme case in our film; it’s definitely very exaggerated. Luckily for me, I feel like my parents always paid attention.
Q: Do you like cheese? What kind of cheese do you like?
Fanning: Yes, I like goat cheese, burrata cheese, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese.
Q: How do you feel about Boxtrolls?
Fanning: They’re adorable. At first, when I thought of Boxtrolls, I thought of trolls under a bridge, with crazy hair. But these guys are so cute; they have so much personality. Because the name—I guess that’s why people misunderstand them. They sound like they’re going to be scary monsters. They’re actually very scared of us. They’re very scared of everything.
Q: Did they show you either a model or a sketch of your character, when you started?
Fanning: When they sent me the script, they gave me a big notebook of sketches: of Cheesebridge, the town, of Eggs and Winnie. She wasn’t in her complete form like she is now. Her dress kind of evolved and changed. Her hairstyle changed bur she had the red curls and she looked like herself, pretty much. I could go off on that. But each time I went into the booth, they would show me more of Winnie. They would send my voice to the animators, and they would get inspired, and from there, they would animate her.
Q: How did Dakota react when she learned you were also going to do a Laika movie?
Fanning: She was very excited that I was going to be a part of the Laika family. She worked on “Coraline” for seven or eight years, which is a long time. I was really small when she started working on “Coraline,” so I feel like I’ve known about Laika and about stop-motion photography for a while. I’d met Travis before, because I went to Portland with my sister when she was visiting the “Coraline” set. I saw all the puppets for that. She didn’t really give me any advice on it, but at least going into it, I knew what to expect and how it was, so I wasn’t just jumping in without knowing anything.
Q: You’re carrying on the tradition.
Fanning: Yes. I know she has her Coraline doll and now I have my Winnie doll.
Q: Do you find your co-star Ben Kingsley scary?
Fanning: I heard that he was going to be in the film, and I was really excited, but then I realized, “Oh, I’m probably never going to work with him,” because we’re all separately (recording). I did have sessions with Isaac and Jared Harris, but that was it. I never got to work with Sir Ben. I met him at Comic-Con for the first time, and he sounds nothing like his character at all. He’s definitely intimidating, but he’s also very nice. I just can’t believe he made himself sound like that, but that’s why he is who he is.
Q: Was he more intimidating than Angelina Jolie as Maleficent?
Fanning: We were talking about how Maleficent and Snatcher would make a good team, even though with Maleficent, you kind of feel bad for her. Snatcher’s definitely meaner than she is. To work with both of them was very intimidating. They’re names; everyone knows who they are. Once you can get over the name, your nerves calm down.
Q: What do you like most in the movie?
Fanning: When you watch the film, you know it’s Laika because of its sense of humor, and all the little details. I find myself not just looking at what you’re supposed to be looking at, because I’m looking at the background, and looking for little funny things that they’ve added in, different signs throughout the town. That’s part of what makes this movie so special, and knowing that it’s made from real hands. You can really see the heart that’s put into it. I feel like these little Boxtrolls are very scared, and they have to get out of their comfort zone. I like the message, which is if you overcome your fear, good things will happen. Don’t just stay in your box. Get out of your box.
Q: How was it working with Isaac?
Fanning: It’s funny because she’s a huge fan of “Game of Thrones,” so while I was making this she was going all fan girl with me with Isaac (who’s on the HBO show). She was texting me, “Is Isaac nice?” I’m like, “Yes!” She’s like, “Tell him I love ‘Game Of Thrones.’”
Q: Is there a kind of role that you would like to play, that you haven’t been able to play yet?
Fanning: I definitely felt like Winnie was very different, because I never had played someone with her attitude. Especially from coming off of playing Sleeping Beauty (in “Maleficent”), where she had the blonde hair and she’s a princess and she’s so sweet. I think it would be fun to play someone a little darker.
Q: What are you working on next?
Fanning: I’m about to do a movie called ‘”Trumbo” in New Orleans with Bryan Cranston. I play his daughter, so that should be fun.
Q: How do you juggle school with your acting career? And do you have subjects that you would really like to pursue more?
Fanning: I go to a normal school. It’s the same school since I was in fourth grade. I have two more years left before I graduate. They always work with me. I have a teacher that goes with me to sets, and I have to do all the same stuff that everyone else does. This is a big year—with my SATs and all that stuff.