Based on Amy-Jo Albany’s memoir about growing up in the care of her gifted but frequently absent musician father, Low Down focuses on what it was like for Amy (Elle Fanning) to turn to the love of her aging grandmother (Glenn Close) while Joe (John Hawkes) struggled as much with his heroin addiction as he did finding gigs. In the years between 1974 and 1976, surrounded by a ragtag bunch of Hollywood outcasts and eccentrics, Amy was witness to heartbreak and tragedy, but still hung onto the love she had for her family. Directed by Jeff Preiss, the film also stars Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Flea.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Elle Fanning talked about why she wanted to do this project, using her imagination to put herself in Amy’s shoes, learning about the jazz music that’s showcased in the film, having to kiss Peter Dinklage, and what most touched her about what she learned of Amy and Joe Albany. She also talked about getting ready to shoot Live By Night (written, directed and starring Ben Affleck) next year, having just finished her work on Trumbo, in which she plays the daughter of Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane, and growing up at the same time that her roles are getting older and more complex. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ELLE FANNING: For this, I didn’t. They sent me the script, and then it was based off of a meeting. So, I read the script first, and I looked at Joe and Amy [Albany] and saw the book. And then, I met with (director) Jeff [Preiss] and Amy together, and we just had lunch and talked about it. That ended with them giving me the book to read, and giving me Joe’s music to listen to that night. I knew there was going to be a lot of research and stuff to do because I was playing a real person and I wanted to get that right with Amy watching me. There was definitely a pressure because someone’s life is a really big deal. You want to get their life right. And Amy was so helpful. She’s the nicest, calmest person you’ll ever meet. She gave me her phone number, and she would call me at random times. One time, I was at the airport, and then I was pacing through the airport, talking to Amy about herself. And she was on set, every day. We had a good friendship, so I was nervous, but after awhile, I let the nerves go and it was okay.
What was it about this story and this character that made you want to play her and explore her life?
FANNING: I liked that it has a lot of emotion to it. That’s definitely something that I look for. I like those layers in things. Especially because it’s based off of real people, I think that makes it even more impactful since you know it actually happened. That’s how I felt when I was reading it. I was like, “Wow, this actually happened to these people.” That was big for me. I loved Amy. It was definitely a challenge because I had never played a real person before. Instead of creating a character and getting to make up whatever I wanted, I couldn’t do that. How she wore her hair and what type of style she had was already set. In a way, it was nice ‘cause then I could just focus in completely on the way she was feeling. I didn’t have to create something beforehand because it was already created, so that was nice.
FANNING: I feel like with every character, you try to put yourself in that person’s position and just completely use your imagination. That’s what I do, at least. Everything is just pretend. I also had John [Hawkes] there. We had the best cast in the world. They were so real and in it that when you’re filming, you’re just there. We were in downtown L.A., filming in the smelly places. We were there, and that helps a lot, as well. For Gram’s house, it wasn’t the same apartment, but the same building that Gram lived in. That was really cool.
This movie showcases a very specific type of music that you probably weren’t very familiar with, prior to doing this movie. Did you listen to a lot of the music, to get you into it?
FANNING: Yeah. I didn’t know Joe Albany. I’d heard a little bit of jazz music, but it wasn’t something that I knew much about. The director, Jeff, is super passionate about jazz. That’s his thing. And Amy obviously knows so much about it, just from learning from her dad. Jeff played a lot of music during filming. It was something that was just always there. And Flea knows a lot about it, too. That one scene where Flea is telling me about one of his records was completely ad-libbed. He just knew all that information. They knew a lot, so they educated me.
FANNING: I know! And that actually happened. It was such an odd thing in Amy’s life, so we had to put that in. Peter is the coolest guy, ever. Everyone fell in love with Peter. Everyone had a crush on Peter. It was really funny. Those scenes were just really special. I don’t know if people were nervous for me to do that kiss. When Jeff talked to me about it, I was like, “Yeah, I know, it’s fine.” He had his fake moustache on, which was different. It was great. I’ll never forget all of that. It was very cool.
What most touched you about what you learned about Joe and Amy, and what their lives were like?
FANNING: Seeing Amy’s struggle and everything that she went through when she was young, and then seeing how she is now, where she’s married and has two kids and is a really strong lady who has overcome so much. For me, that was really big. When I talked to Amy about her dad, she never said anything bad about him. She was like, “I loved him so much. I loved him out of all proportion.” Even though they had a love-hate relationship, and she hated when he did drugs, she still was completely a daddy’s girl, to the core. She just wanted him to be there for her, so bad. She definitely gave him the benefit of the doubt, a lot of the time, because of that. She also had to grow up pretty fast and become the parent. She saw a lot of things that she probably shouldn’t have seen, at such a young age, but she never resented that. She can forgive easily. That was cool to hear.
FANNING: I’ve been very busy. I just got back from New Orleans, where I was doing Trumbo. They’re still filming that right now, but my section is done. Right now, I’m going back to school next week. Halloween is next on my radar.
Do you know which of the many projects you have lined up might actually shoot next?
FANNING: I know that I’m doing Live By Night, that Ben Affleck is doing and is going to be in. I’m not sure exactly when that’s going to film, but I do know that it’s next year. After the holidays, that’s something that I will be doing. There are a lot of things, I just don’t know exactly when they’re going. I think that next year will probably be busy.
What are you most looking forward to about working with Ben Affleck, who’s proved himself as a director and who’s also become an acclaimed writer/director?
FANNING: It’s amazing! I would love to direct and write, so I feel like it will be a huge learning experience for me. I think he’s such a good director because he was an actor, so he knows how to talk to actors. I’m really cool to just see how that is. I’ve never worked with a director who is also acting in it. I think it’s going to be really fun to see how that is, and to go from doing a scene with him to him going into director mode. Maybe I’ll get to do that one day, so I need to pay attention.
How was the experience of making Trumbo? Could you ever have imagined you’d have Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane playing your parents?
You’re growing up, at the same time that you’re getting older in your acting roles. Does that get overwhelming for you? Do you ever find that you need to take time away to find yourself, or do you think you’re handling that pretty well?
FANNING: I think I am. It’s cool because, as you get older, you get offered older parts. You’re older, so you can’t play 10 anymore. That was always very exciting for me. I liked that. As my sister got older, I saw how excited she got when she got to do all of that stuff. I was always like, “One day, I’ll get to do older parts.” I thought that was cool. It’s happening now, but when you’re in it, you don’t think about it. You’re just reading a script and seeing if it’s right. I also do still have time to be with my friends and be me.
You started acting so young that, initially, you couldn’t have been choosing only the projects that you were most interested in and wanted to be in. Was there a moment for you, when you went from doing whatever jobs you got to actually really reading scripts and only pursuing the ones that spoke to you, in some way?
FANNING: Yeah. I don’t remember exactly what age I was. It was probably after Somewhere, or after Super 8. Sometimes you get to read a script and can decide whether to do it, which is fun, but also a lot of pressure. But of course, I still have to go in and audition, as well. It definitely used to be that they’d want a little blonde girl, and I’d go in and audition, which made me so nervous. It was the most nerve-wracking thing. I get a lot of butterflies at auditions because I get so scared. It’s scary because you’ve never met the people before. You have to meet them, and you have to hurry up and get to know them in five seconds. And then, you have to spill your emotions out to these strangers. It’s funny.
Low Down is now playing in theaters.