The first time I interviewed with Dakota Fanning, she was just about 10 years old. She was sweet, eager, and excited when I asked for her autograph. Today, Dakota Fanning is a young woman and an accomplished actress, and really stepping up her game as Merry, the conflicted, angry teen in American Pastoral.
While Fanning has always been known for her professionalism and approachable nature, after seeing her performance as Merry, I had to ask if that sweet little Dakota I interviewed years ago ever went through a period where she felt conflicted and angry, and if not how did she prepare for this character to be so convincing. Also, what are her career plans moving forward.
Q: From sweet little girl to a teenager filled with anger, what was it like for you to finally play a character so completely opposite from your roles in the past?
I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to playing this character for a long time. I was attached to this film for a really long time so I had a while to think about it. She’s a challenging character. She is difficult to understand, maybe impossible to understand. It’s rare when you get to play a character that almost never redeems itself. They’re committed to their beliefs and that’s that. I kind of liked getting to play someone who was unapologetic. Sometimes you talk about a character and say, “Oh, I can relate to this” or “I can relate to that.” But this is one of those times where I always hesitate to say that. I can’t relate to too much about her, you know. I was interested in that and interested in the challenge that comes with playing a character like Merry. She’s sort one of a kind. Different from anything I’ve ever done, for sure.
Q: How much research did you do to prepare for this role? Was it a tough transition to go from that sweet little girl to someone so angry?
I start when she’s already angry so there was no transition from sweet to angry. I had as much knowledge as I can, having not lived during that time of what was going on. It’s all so pretty detailed in the script what she’s angry about. You see it in that first scene when she’s watching Lyndon Johnson on the TV. You see it right away. I felt what I needed was there and what I already knew was enough. It was written in the script what she was angry about so I was like, that’s what it is. I didn’t want to overthink and reason and rationalize it. It’s pretty straightforward the things that are upsetting to her. And she’s kind of irrational so I kind of just went with that.
Q: The underlying theme of American Pastoral is people being lumped together in a box so to speak and trying to break out of the box or group they have been put in. Have you ever felt like you’ve been judged or put in a box where you’ve felt the need to say, “No, I’m not that person?”
Yeah. Of course. We all have to an extent. For me, people have a certain idea of the kind of person I am just because I’ve done this for such a long time but I’m still so young. I feel like sometimes people try to define who I am. But I’m 22, and this is when I actually define who I am. For sure I’ve felt that way but I’ve also let go of worrying about that a long time ago.
Q: You literally grew up in front of the world, and like anyone that hits their teenage years, they want to rebel so I would imagine you went through the same things. How did you deal with that, and more importantly what or who kept you so grounded to not fall into the typical young Hollywood trap?
I was always taught to present myself in front of other people in a professional, rational, normal way. Then the things that happened in private are private. There are things I wouldn’t want anybody to know. [laughs] I feel I never really put that weird pressure on myself to rebel or not rebel. I just kind of went with the flow. I don’t put pressure on myself to behave any way; I’m just myself. There’s nothing I can think of that’s a specific thing I’d want to tell anybody now about an angry time. But, of course, everybody experiences that.
Q: Ewan McGregor Directed this film and was one of the stars. Is it easier to have a director who speaks the actor’s language and knows first hand what an actor goes through during filming?
Yeah, Ewan’s main thing on the film was to make the actors feel comfortable. He made it a very collaborative experience for each one of us. That was the most important thing to him so it felt like a very safe environment. I’ve worked with directors who do the same thing but it was very natural to him since he has been an actor for so long and that’s his primary job. It was the best part of making the film was getting to work with him and getting to be part of his first (directing) experience. I hope it’s the first of many.
Q: At 22, you’re at an age where a lot of actors are just starting their careers. You’re already well into it having done over 40 films to date. What would you say you are now looking for in roles?
I think I’m looking for characters that are different from anything I’ve ever done before and that will challenge me in a new way. I’m not looking for anything specific. When I’m reading a script or thinking about something, my decisions are based on selfish reasons sometimes—a moment that you want to be the one to do. I want to do that. I want to be the one in that film or I want to work with that director. But it changes. Again, I don’t try to box myself in and say, “Oh, I need to be doing this.” What do you mean? I can do whatever I want. [laughs] I don’t have to choose one path; at least I don’t want to. I want to be able to do all different things and surprise myself and surprise other people..
Q: You have such a wonderful foundation of skills, experience, and connections for someone in this business at 22, would you say that has prepared difficult you to take more risks than someone your age just starting out?
Maybe. Sometimes people have preconceived ideas of who you are and what you do and what you can do because they feel like they know me. So sometimes I think it works a little bit in reverse. But, again, I don’t care. [laughs]
American Pastoral opens nationwide on 28th
Interview by: Izumi Hasegawa @HNW_Izumi
Edited by: Jody Taylor – @RealJodyTaylor
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