From writer/director Martin Koolhoven, the brutal Western thriller Brimstone tells the epic story of survival of a frontier woman (Dakota Fanning), who is being hunted by a vengeful preacher (Guy Pearce) in the old American West. As the preacher does every diabolical and twisted thing he can think of to shake her, Liz’s bravery proves that she will do anything she can to protect her family.
While in Budapest to work on the upcoming TNT series The Alienist (about a crime reporter and a psychologist conducting a secret investigation into a series of gruesome murders in New York during the late 19th century), actress Dakota Fanning got on the phone with Collider, for this interview about the intense Brimstone shoot, having a good time even when the material is dark, what she liked about the story and character, and what it was like to play someone who couldn’t speak for much of the film. She also talked about making the leap to TV and why she wanted to sign on for The Alienist, along with Daniel Brühl and Luke Evans, the awesome experience she had on the ultra-secret Ocean’s 8, and how she’s seriously thinking about tackling her first project, as a director.
Collider: This is not a happy story. It really illustrates just how harrowing and dangerous it was to be a frontier woman. How intense and draining was this shoot, and were you able to create any light moments, on set?
DAKOTA FANNING: It definitely was an intense shoot. There were a lot of challenging parts to it. There were some practical challenges, with some of the locations we were filming in, and it was the dead of winter in Eastern Europe, which is super cold and dark. And then, there was also the challenge of the subject matter, in general, which was intense, a lot of the time, and required a lot of focus and mental energy. But, I am always able to find the fun in that. I find those challenges to be exciting and fun, and I love pushing myself. I welcome that. I’m always able to find light moments on any set, no matter what. Just because a scene is heavy doesn’t mean that you have to be heavy, all day long. I was working with people who had a sense of humor and wanted to have those light moments with me. (Writer/Director) Martin [Koolhoven] has a very Dutch, matter of fact sense of humor. And Guy [Pearce] is an awesome person. So, we definitely had a good time, despite the subject matter.
This character gets so much thrown at her that she’s put into the victim role, but her strength and will is so strong that she keeps on fighting against it. Where do you think that will came from, especially seeing how weak and accepting of her fate that her mother was?
FANNING: That’s what I liked about the story. I probably wouldn’t have done it, if she’d just succumbed to the circumstances, and didn’t persevere and fight. That was really important to me, that she was strong. I think, for me, where I felt that she found that inner strength was through being a mother. It wasn’t just about herself. She’s not just fighting for herself, but for her child and to protect her child, and that was the root and core for most of the decisions that she makes. That’s how I rationalized her will.
What was it like to play a character who has no tongue and cannot speak. Did you find yourself trying to gauge her facial expressions, and did you take to the sign language pretty easily?
FANNING: Yeah. I wish I had, but I actually didn’t learn sign language. I just learned my lines. I took to that easily, but I didn’t have that much to say. I enjoyed really getting to explore communicating in a film without words. That was something I had always wanted to do and didn’t know it, until I did this film. Every day, we communicate more with our energy, body language, face and eyes. That really is what communication is, and not so much words. And it’s rare that you get to explore that in a film. I welcomed that and was really excited by that. I also tried not to over think it. With all of the characters I’ve played, I feel like I’ve tried to communicate through my eyes and face, as much or more than with words. That’s something that I like to watch in films, and something that I like to bring to the characters that I play. This was just the first time that it was actually written into the story.
I know that you’re in Budapest working on The Alienist, which really sounds terrific and fascinating, but you haven’t done TV in awhile. What made you want to sign on for that, knowing that it would be more long-term, and what is it about that character that made you want to delve deeper into her, for a longer period of time?
FANNING: I would say that this is my first time doing television. If you look at the television that I’ve done, it was like E.R. when I was six and Spin City when I was seven. Those were great experiences, but I’ve never been a regular on a show, so I’m saying this is my very first time. The reason I wanted to do it was that, first of all, I loved the story. I love the other actors that I’m working with, and the character that I’m getting to play is a super strong woman, especially for the time in which she lives in. She’s the first woman to work at the New York City Police Department, and that’s really cool. And as for why I wanted to do TV, I think work is work, and telling stories is telling stories, no matter where they’re shown. I’m such a huge fan of television and what’s happening in television, right now. You are able to visit characters and visit a story, week to week, push things in a different way than you can in a film, and you are able to go deeper, simply because you have more time. I’m just excited to do that. It’s always good to do new things. It felt, for so many reasons, like the right time in my life and the right piece of material. I’m thrilled!
It seems like all of the cool people, including yourself, are a part of Ocean’s 8. How was the experience of working with so many incredible women on that?
FANNING: I don’t think I can say too much, but it was an awesome experience and really great to be a part of it. I admire the women in it greatly. I think I’m allowed to say that.
You’ve been acting pretty much your whole life, and you’ve had a career that many actors only ever dream of, before you were even technically an adult. Have you ever wavered in your decision to transition from child to adult actor, and to keep this as your profession, or do you still love acting the way that you did when you started?
FANNING: It sounds so cliche, and believe me or not, I don’t care, but I love what I do. I truly find such a sense of peace and calm when I’m working, and it’s an inner peace that I’ve never been ever to achieve, doing anything else. It’s where I feel most myself. I can access my power and strength, as an artist, and I can’t imagine not doing it. I love it! It’s never been an option for me not to, for no other reason than why would I stop doing something that brings me happiness? I’m grateful to have been doing it for as long as I have because I have so many experiences and memories, and I’ve gotten to learn from some of the greatest actors, directors, writers and cinematographers. I feel like my career has been a privilege. I can’t imagine my life without it.
You’ve said that you hope to try your hand at directing. Is that the next big goal you have?
FANNING: Yeah. I definitely have been thinking about it for quite some time, and I’ve always known it would happen, one day, but I’m really starting to be more active in thinking about what that first adventure will be. It’s on my mind. I’m doing The Alienist for awhile, so that won’t be happening for awhile, but I’m definitely mentally ruminating on the whole thing.
Brimstone is in theaters and on VOD.