By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Elle Fanning began her career in the shadow of her big sister Dakota. While still a toddler, she played the younger version of Dakota’s character in the TV miniseries “Taken,” and in the feature film “I Am Sam.” Demonstrating a unique talent, she subsequently was cast in movies without Dakota, including “The Door in the Floor,” “Phoebe in Wonderland” and “We Bought a Zoo.”
At 16, the actress, who at 5-foot-8-inches stands four inches taller than her 20-year-old sister, is now completely out of her sister’s shadow, figuratively and literally. The blond, blue-eyed beauty stars opposite Angelina Jolie in Disney’s live-action fantasy adventure “Maleficent,” a retelling of the 1959 animated feature “Sleeping Beauty.” In this version, Maleficent (played by Jolie) puts a deadly spell on the baby Princess Aurora for a reason. She is angry with Aurora’s father for betraying her years earlier. Initially, she casts a deadly spell on the baby, but subsequently befriends the child and becomes her protector throughout her childhood.
As Aurora, Fanning has no idea what has transpired between Maleficent and her father, the king (played by “District 9’s” Sharlto Copley), but in her happy-go-lucky way trusts the mysterious fairy and her shape-shifting crow (played by “Control” star Sam Riley). Aurora’s curse is to prick her finger on the spindle of spinning wheel on her 16th birthday, and is inevitable, as the story goes, unless she receives true love’s kiss.
Arriving for an interview to talk about her new film, Fanning is bubbly and light, even though she is dressed in a black midriff-baring halter top and shorts ensemble.
“I never wear black, but these Balenciaga shorts I like, and these shoes,” she enthuses, pointing down to her shiny mules.
Fanning is no longer simply Dakota’s kid sister. She’s a Disney princess, who will be admired and copied by little girls around the world who see the movie, and perhaps by their daughters someday too. That idea hasn’t quite sunk in yet with Fanning. After all, she’s still a 10th grader who attends high school in a Los Angeles suburb. Having a doll with her likeness available in Disney stores is “cool.” Even cooler, she says, was getting the chance to work with Jolie.
Q: Angelina is a mother in real life. Did she become a surrogate mother on set to you or what was your relationship like with her?
Fanning: I was incredibly nervous to get to meet her. You hear that name and it’s the most powerful name ever. To get to actually meet her in the flesh, I don’t know what I was expecting. You see pictures of her and she looks so intense, so I’m like “Oh, gosh I think she’s going to be really intense”. So, when I met her for the first time, I didn’t know I was going to meet her that day and everyone was saying, “She’s here.” The knot in my stomach was getting bigger and I turned the corner and there she was, not in the (Maleficent) outfit, thank God—that would have been terrifying—she was in normal clothes. We’re both huggers so we immediately gave each other a giant hug and she shook my shoulders and she said, “We’re going to have so much fun working together.” It was like the nervousness kind of went away. I’m like, “Well, she’s still powerful when she walks into a room”. She has that presence but I got to know a more sensitive side to her where her kids were always on set and she was really playful and joked around. It was nice to have her not be Angelia Jolie. People on set were calling her “Angie” and I’m like “No!” I can’t bring myself to do that. I still call her Angelina.
Q: When you were younger, was there a Disney princess you liked the best?
Fanning: It’s weird because mine was Sleeping Beauty. I felt like I looked like her the most when I was little. I feel like you gravitate toward the one you look most like. She had long blonde hair and she wore a pink dress. I love pink, so she was it. (Playing her) is like the biggest dream of my life.
Q: Are you like her in some ways or how are you different?
Fanning: We’re both very happy. We get excited about things and smile a lot. I think she’s a little more naïve just because she’s so trapped away and sheltered in this little cottage. I feel like I’ve experienced more things and traveled more than she definitely has. But, she’s still curious which I like about her because, in the original animated one, she’s a little one-dimensional. She’s a pretty princess and that’s kind of it, then she sleeps. It was really important for us to create a kind of depth for her that no one really knew before and have more layers and show her actually being a human and experience sadness and betrayal and real emotions that people do instead of just frolicking around in the forest and feeding animals.
Q: What is it about fairy tales that appeal to you?
Fanning: I loved fairy tales growing up. My mother would read Mother Goose and all the nursery rhymes. I think because it’s so universal and everybody knows the story, so I think it’s kind of a safe thing in a weird way because the story is already accepted. We’ll do it but maybe we can change it just a tad and see what people think of that. That’s always exciting to retell it in your own personal way, especially with this one. There’s definitely twists here that are very different from the original and there is just more added because when you Maleficent on screen in the animated one, she’s the villain and she’s pure bad and that’s all she is. But, no one is pure bad or pure good. Something had to push them to make them this angry. I think there are a lot of questions when you watch that (original Disney) one. I think ours answers those questions and you find out why she’s so like this.
Q: She’s misunderstood?
Q: What was the toughest scene for you to do?
Fanning: There were a few. The mud fight scene, even though it was a tiny scene, it was very technical. I look like an insane person because I’m doing a mud fight with creatures that aren’t there so I have to know how tall they are to aim at them and know where they’re going to be placed, so it kind of became a game as to like hitting the bulls-eye and knowing where these guys are. Another scene, it was one of my favorite ones to shoot because I felt the most attached to it, was when I prick my finger on the spindle, because as a little girl—Maleficent didn’t scare me as much as that scene scared me so that was huge, because it was like you’ve seen Aurora jumping around and being bubbly and then she goes into a trance and it’s like what’s happening to Sleeping Beauty. It looks like she’s changing into Maleficent with the purple and green light, because those are Maleficent’s colors. And so, I wanted to make sure that we had the lights there so it could feel like (the original), because I think it was done perfectly already.
Q: Did you have input into Aurora’s look?
Fanning: During rehearsal time, we had a lot of costume fittings and hair consultations. She wears a lot of peasant dresses. The spectacular dress is kind of at the end. The shape, everything was fit specifically (for me), were obviously made hand-done. All the materials could not be washed so it was like, great, I smelled. (She laughs.) It was like a special fabric, and the wig, I had princess hair, and all the style. I love clothes and all that so I had to have as much say.
Q: So do you have a lifetime pass to Disneyland now?
Fanning: That would be very fun. I haven’t asked. But I can just dress up and pretend like I’m working there. (She laughs.)
Q: Did Dakota offer you advice about Hollywood while growing up?
Fanning: It’s funny because we never talk about films. That’s just something we never do. We’re very different and it’s nice for us to have our own thing. We do, do the same (job) but it’s kind of crazy that we fell into that but she definitely led the way. I don’t know if I would have started if she hadn’t because when I started out, I played her at a younger age when I was little. Whatever big sister does, little sister wants to follow so I owe it to her for that, for opening the doors in a way. But we never read each other’s scripts or anything but it’s nice because I can just sit back and watch a movie (she’s in) with an audience and experience it. It’s fun.
Q: Do you guys cheer each other up?
Elle: Oh yeah. We’re very supportive in that way. Hopefully, she’ll come to the premiere. She doesn’t even know the story yet.
Q: What’s your life like now? How do you think it change after the premiere of this movie? Can you walk on the streets without being called out by a fan?
Fanning: I used to get recognized as my sister when I was little all the time. Then I did “Somewhere,” and that changed a little bit, and people recognized me for Elle. The other day, because I guess a lot of trailers (for the movie) are coming out of this, and girls are seeing it, a girl came up to me and said, “Are you Aurora?” I’m like, “Ohhh! Am I Aurora?” I’m still processing that I’m Sleeping Beauty. As a fan myself, I was like, “Man, that’s going to start happening more.” So I’m kind of expecting that, which will be fun. It will be really cute.
Q: You now have a doll that looks like you. How cool is that?
Fanning: (laughing) It’s the coolest thing! My grandma went to the Disney Store and was hoarding all the dolls. She had a thousand of them (sounds like) and she went to the register, they said, “You can only take five.” It’s so weird to see myself in that way. But I think it’s a good one. Sometimes, they’re kind of “Whoa!” But this one is good.