Effie Gray star Dakota Fanning: People want child stars to fail… and it’s mean!

The Twilight actress tells RadioTimes.com: “I think sadly in general people want to see others fail rather than do well and I don’t understand that”

She is the star of the Twilight films who won her first major awards nomination aged just eight. But Dakota Fanning says that being a very young actress had its drawbacks.


“When I was younger people would ask me strange questions that, looking back, were not appropriate to ask a child,” she tells RadioTimes.com.

“Journalists would ask me: ‘oh you must not really have any friends, how do you make friends?’ Well that’s a horrible question to ask a little kid, it’s terrible.

“Of course I had friends. It’s such a weird thing to ask anyone. But I have never allowed that negativity to get to me. I only focus on what the people closest to me feel. You can’t try and please a world of people.”

Fanning has indeed come a long way since her breakthrough part as the daughter of Sean Penn’s character in the 2001 custody saga I Am Sam (and it was for this that she won her first awards nomination, for a Screen Actors’ Guild prize). Now aged 20, she has 55 acting credits to her name, with roles in more than 30 feature films, the best known of which is probably the part of Volturi Guard Jane in the Twilight movies.

We were talking ahead of Friday’s release of her latest film project – the Emma Thompson-scripted movie Effie Gray, in which Fanning plays the titular heroine: a young ingénue who finds herself betrothed to the great art critic John Ruskin (played by Thompson’s husband, Greg Wise) who turns out to be a cold and cruel man. He cannot even bear to touch his young spouse.

But returning to our opening theme, how has Fanning managed to pull off such a slate of films at such a young age – and still retain her enthusiasm and work rate? Her extensive list of successes includes the part of nine-year-old Pita Ramos in Man on Fire (2004), the 2005 film War of the Worlds (where, as Tom Cruise’s daughter, she played another child of a Hollywood icon); and let’s not forget the 2006 film Charlotte’s Web where she was a terribly cute Fern Arable desperate to save the little pig Wilbur from the butcher’s knife.

So how did she avoid the supposedly traditional child star trajectory of early success followed by rebellion and then a diminished output?

“I guess partly because I have never thought of myself as a child star,” she replies. “For some reason whenever people say that [phrase] it seems very negative to me. I don’t know why. I also think it kind of diminishes younger actors. I think that no matter what age you are, you are an actor. So I have always thought of myself like that. I never thought that there was an option not to continue being an actor. I love making movies.

“I think that that is the trajectory they want to happen to young actors and that’s kind of mean.”

Is it about envy?

“Maybe. I don’t know, I don’t know the reason. I think sadly in general people want to see other people fail rather than do well and I don’t understand that.

“There are lots of reasons for it. I always get questions like it’s so hard to believe that I could possibly still be an actor and still enjoy what I do. It’s not actually that hard to believe for me.”

Her passion for acting withstands even the toughest roles. In Effie Gray she was required to wear a series of tight corsets and – on those days when they were filming in remote Scotland in the wind and rain – endure the awful British weather.

Surely this must have dimmed her passion for acting just a smidge?

“On days when you are tired and hungry and have to stand in a lake in Scotland, you realise it isn’t always glamorous,” she laughs.

“It was so cold, I had even more layers on, I could barely move. I even had long johns. It isn’t the accepted idea of fun but if you are having fun and feeling good about what you are doing you know you are in the right place. If it starts to feel miserable you probably should do something else. I do it for the work, I truly do.”

The terrible British climate has not deterred her from wanting to come back and film in the UK, when and if the time permits, although she has no definite plans. At the moment she is taking some time off, pursuing her university degree in film studies; (she laughs when I suggest that she could teach her tutors a thing or to about the practical side of making movies with her track record, but she insists she still has a lot to learn).

She will also be hanging out with friends, including her Twilight co-stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. But don’t call him “R Patz” as I did.

“He is a friend but I don’t call him that! I think it’s kind of rude!,” she laughs. Does he not like it? “I have never asked but when I do hear it for some reason it’s kind of weird to me”.

After her brief rest, there will be more acting roles (though she won’t say what) and, if she gets her way, a directing gig sometime in the near future.

“All movies are so different and all the characters that you play are so different,” she rounds off. “But there is always something that you haven’t done yet. There are so many stories in the world that, hard to believe, have yet to be told.

“I am at an age when people are just starting their [professional] lives and I have been lucky to have had a lot of experience up to this point. But I am also lucky to just begin again.”


Effie Gray is released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 10th October