Dakota Fanning’s been busy. She’s been working steadily all her life, but in the past three years alone, she’s delivered Now Is Good, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, The Motel Life, Very Good Girls, Night Moves and now she’s got The Last of Robin Hood on the way, too. She stars in that one as Beverly Aadland, the young actress who winds up catching the eye of superstar Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline). Ultimately, she falls for him too and the two indulge in a passionate affair while Beverly’s mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon), tags along to supervise.
With The Last of Robin Hood making its way into select theaters on August 29th, we got the chance to sit down with Fanning and discuss how she’s been choosing her roles lately and what it was like jumping into this true story. Hit the jump to catch what she said about working with Kline and Sarandon, honoring the truth to the situation while making the character her own, how having worked as a child actor helps her today, the book-to-film adaptation of Brain on Fire and more.
DAKOTA FANNING: Really? [Laughs] I don’t know. Being an actor, you make movies and then you move on and then you come back for a day and talk to some people in a hotel room and then you move on again and then you go to a screening and move on again. You obviously remember it, but I don’t keep up with it quite like that. I just do movies that I’m drawn to and with people that I want to work with.
Is there any specific genre or type of character that you find yourself drawn to more than ever now?
FANNING: I think I’ve always been drawn to – I mean, this movie is not a simple story, but really, at the core, it is kind of a simple story and I really like movies that are just about human interaction, people and relationships, and life experiences. I enjoy that and those tend to be kind of smaller movies and so that’s what I’ve been doing lately, I guess.
I can see that same description applying to Night Moves now that you say it. It focuses on a big event, but it’s got simple, human connections at the heart of it.
FANNING: Yeah, which I feel like the best movies do have that. If you make it about all the craziness going on, you lose sight of the people and what do you connect with? You can’t connect with an explosion.
Do you have any interest in doing a big budget, action-heavy movie again? I guess your last one was Twilight and that’s a while ago now.
FANNING: Right. Yeah, I feel like if you say you’re never gonna do something in an interview, it’s like the stupidest thing you can do. I’m totally open to whatever. I’m at a phase in my life where I’m open to everything and anything so I’m sure that I will. I hope that I will. But I also don’t choose movies based on the size of them.
That’s probably a good approach! And it looks like you’re doing just that because every role I’ve seen you in over the past few years has been so layered and different.
FANNING: Yeah, I’ll be honest, I think that’s important, too. I think it’s important to challenge yourself and to challenge other people’s idea of who you are as an actor and also keep it interesting for yourself.
FANNING: I mean, everything. I’ve played a real person before, but every time you do fill a certain responsibility because it’s a real situation and a real person that lived and experienced all these things, so that’s always a challenge and it’s a challenge to do a film that’s in a different time period. [It’s] exciting to work with such great actors.
Did you know who was involved when you first signed on?
FANNING: Yeah, I did.
You’ve worked with loads of incredible talent before, but when you hear that Kevin Kline and Susan Sarandon are involved is there an intimidation factor in play at all?
FANNING: I wasn’t intimidated. I was just drawn to it because of that. It’s like, how can you not do a movie where you’re gonna work with Kevin Kline and Susan Sarandon’s gonna play your mom? It’s such an opportunity. It was so incredible to get to know them and work with them. I really loved every minute. So yeah, that was a really exciting point.
What was your first conversation with Kevin like? I feel like there’s no way of doing that without it being somewhat awkward.
FANNING: No! Kevin is so nice and funny. He just puts you at ease because he’s so funny. When I first met him he already had dark hair and he was already tan and he was already kind of in the Errol frame of mind. There would be times where I would be talking to Errol and times where I would be talking to Kevin, and then I saw him after the movie was done and I went to his house and had dinner with him and his family and he was like back to Kevin looks wise and I was like, ‘Gosh, this is so strange. I know you as this person and now you’re this person.’ It was funny.
FANNING: I think I’ve always been able to snap out of things. I think it has something to do with maybe starting so young and just playing pretend one minute and then not, and doing that and having to go to school. You know, I kind of had to so I’ve always been able to. I mean, there are some days where it’s intense and you’re just in it to a degree, but I get so much enjoyment out of meeting people on the set and having relationships with them that if you’re just so intense all the time, you miss out on that, I suppose.
Are there any other things you’re able to do now that you think directly relate to having started so young? Are there any positives or maybe negatives to starting as a kid?
FANNING: I mean, I think it’s all positives. I’ve had so many different experiences with so many different kinds of actors, directors and crews and I know I’ve learned so much about different ways to make films and different people’s process, so I have kind of a database in my brain to draw from, which is amazing. Negatives? It hasn’t negatively affected my life. Truly. So yeah, I guess just experience, just having the experience to draw upon is helpful when you’re trying to figure out things on set. You’re like, ‘Oh, how did we do that that time?’
Do you ever bounce ideas off your sister now?
FANNING: My sister and I, we don’t really talk about acting. I think we would start laughing at each other if we did. [Laughs] We’re more just sisters. We talk about other things. We talk about it in so much as, you know, ‘Oh, was that person nice? Oh, this person said this funny thing.’ I know where she is and who she’s working with or what movie she’s doing, but we don’t really talk about actually acting. I think we would feel so forced. It would be embarrassing for some reason. [Laughs]
Have you ever worked with two directors before?
FANNING: No, this was my first time.
FANNING: Yeah, they’ve had such a long relationship with this project and with these characters, and so they both have so much knowledge on it. It was cool to have two different people to collaborate with and they’re such wonderful guys. So kind.
How much of a creative collaboration is this? Do you feel the pressure to stick to history or turn this into something that’s your own?
FANNING: I think you can kind of do both and I think that’s what I tried to do, where you stick to what happened because it’s the truth and, you know, that’s the story so you stick with that, but there are some details that you have to sort of let go and let it be your own thing. I think it’s a mixture of both of that. I think it’s easy to get bogged down in wanting everything to be just so and try and make it totally accurate. You can only do that so much because it’s not the 1950s and I’m not Beverly and I can never be exactly her.
Did you do a lot of research before you jumped into this?
FANNING: I really didn’t. I researched it as much as I knew what she looked like in terms of looking at photos of what her hairstyle was and things like that, but there’s not a lot that is out there about the story that’s from Beverly’s perspective.
The first thing I did when I found out I was covering this was go to her Wikipedia page and it’s just this tiny little bit of information.
FANNING: Exactly. Everything I had was from Florence’s perspective or from some source, from this person or that person. I just wanted to focus on the script and create something that was kind of my own point of view.
FANNING: I think in the beginning when we see her and you see her relationship to what she’s doing, singing, dancing and acting, and how she can totally take it or leave it. I think also when she’s approached to meet Errol Flynn, her sort of nonchalance about meeting him, which just simply comes from being really young and just kind of blindly confident, I think that says a lot about her. She wasn’t really impressed by Errol. She was to an extent and wanted to please him because that’s what her Mom had taught her, but she also was very sure of herself and I found that very interesting.
Do you have an opinion on what she did with him? At times, I’m watching this and thinking, ‘That’s flat-out wrong,’ but then it’ll be too hard to look past the fact that they really did seem to love each other.
FANNING: Yeah, I don’t care if it’s right or wrong. It happened so it doesn’t matter, you know what I mean? It’s like, it happened so my opinion certainly doesn’t matter. I’m just portraying them and I think when you play any character, you can’t judge what they’re doing as the person that’s playing them.
One thing that I found really interesting about your work here is that Beverly never says how she’s feeling. Other people say it for her, but she never really does. However, when I’m watching you in this movie, I can still figure out what Beverly’s thinking through reactions alone. Is that effect something you’ve got to think about while you’re performing on set?
FANNING: I think there’s two stories going on for me as any character; there’s the story that’s happening and the things that you say and what other people say, and then I think there’s the inner life of the character. If you think about real life, half of our life is spent inside our own head and our own thoughts. So yeah, I try and let the audience into that life, too.
FANNING: [Laughs] Yeah! No, no such luck. I did a movie with Richard Gere that’s called Franny and I’m also doing a movie that’s based on a book called Brain on Fire.
I bet I was the only person to ask about that one at the Night Moves junket.
FANNING: Oh yeah, you did!
I feel like I’m so aware of encephalitis because there was so much talk about it, but really, I don’t know what happens to people who really have it.
FANNING: Yeah, and this is like a rare form. It’s like the one that nobody gets!
Are you going to jump into that soon?
FANNING: It’s still in its beginning stages for sure, but I really look forward to it.