At the age of three, Elle Fanning appeared as the younger version of her older sister Dakota’s character in I Am Sam, opposite Sean Penn. The Fanning sisters again played the same character at different ages in Taken, the Emmy Award-winning Sci-Fi Channel miniseries.
But now Elle is coming into her own with roles in Babel, The Door in the Floor and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In Sofia Coppola’s new movie Somewhere she portrays Cleo, the 11-year-old daughter of film star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). Marco resides at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood, living the high life with girls and booze. When Cleo’s mother deserts her, she moves into the hotel with her father, and through his daughter’s influence his life begins to change.
Did you and Stephen do a lot of rehearsing before you shot this movie?
We did a lot of rehearsals beforehand. Sofia wanted us to have that real father/daughter relationship, that big bond, so she set up a lot of things for us to do. He picked me up from school, which was the same school that he went to when he was younger as well. Then we went to eat frozen yogurt at Pinkberry’s.
Then he also came to one of my volleyball games, which is probably the best thing that he did, it was the most fun. But he had hair extensions in for a movie, these long blond extensions, and so my friends were looking at him, saying, ‘Who is this guy with you?’
You do all that bonding, when the movie’s over do you stay in touch?
Right after we did the rehearsals we started doing the movie, so we saw each other every day, and then it stops and we have to wrap. You get sad and you’re like, ‘I’m never going to see these people ever again.’ But after, Sofia and I really kept in touch, we emailed a lot.
Stephen had my phone number, and right when we won the Golden Lion Award in Venice, he called and said, ‘We won, we won.’ That was really fun to hear that from him. Right now we’re seeing each other because we’re doing all this press stuff. So we do keep in touch.
Did you have a back story for your character?
Sofia created these fake memories, so she had us act out things that would have happened before the movie ever started. The person who played my mom in the movie and me and Stephen, we’d sit down and have these dinners and pretend that we were a family, when Cleo was younger and Johnny hadn’t gotten his big movie yet. So whenever we were filming we could look back on that and have those memories of that time, which was really cool.
This film is very much daughter raising father.
Yeah, Johnny’s sort of lost and he has no where to go, he doesn’t really have anyone that’s supporting him or really cares for him, so he’s fallen way down.
Once his daughter comes, she’s been putting up with him for so long that now that she’s getting older she’s realizing what’s going on and she needs a role model. She needs someone to look up to, because now that her mother’s left her, she basically just has her dad right now and he’s not really working out. And at the end you see a glimmer of hope.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this movie?
The most difficult thing was the ice-skating. I’ve done ballet beforehand, so I knew how to do the posture and the balance really helped me out, but I’ve never figure-skated or done any turns or jumps.
Sofia thought she was going to have to get a double to do it, but I trained for three months. I got up every morning before school, and went after school as well. Then after I got a little better Sofia came in and picked out the music and picked out her favorite moves and talked to the choreographer about putting it together.
Sofia didn’t want to see the end result, and Stephen didn’t either, so they just waited until that day, and she reserved that day only for the ice-skating. I did it and they were so excited. I thank Sofia for showing me actually doing it, so it didn’t look like she chose someone else. I know sometimes they just do the feet or the face, but she actually showed it. I worked hard on it, so I feel like it really paid off and I was really excited.
What’s your relationship with your sister Dakota like now that you are also a successful actress?
I’ve always looked up to her because she did the acting thing first. I came out here and wanted to try it. While she went into bigger movies I was still doing little commercials. I look up to her because she transitioned so well from the young adult to the teenager. She’s sixteen now, she’s a senior in school, so she’s just like a big sister and I look up to her for everything, including the movie stuff.
Does she drive now?
Yes, she does. I have not gotten in the car with her [she laughs]. I think she needs a little more practice. She does drive around a little bit. I think she’s getting her driver’s license really soon. She has her permit already. My parents are like, ‘No, we don’t want you to drive.’ They don’t want to let her go.