Since her debut role (when she was just 2 years-old) as the younger version of her sister Dakota’s character in “I Am Sam,” Elle Fanning has spent over a decade establishing herself as one of America’s greatest child actresses, deriding any sentiment that she’s simply “Dakota’s little sister.” From “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to “Somewhere” to “Super 8,” the younger Fanning has shown remarkable range and depth in her work, a notion furthered with her stunning performance in Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa.”
The film — which premiered in Telluride last month and is having its premiere in Potter’s native UK (where the film was shot and produced) at the ongoing London Film Festival — stars Fanning as Ginger, a young woman coming of age amidst both Cold War-era London and challenged relationships with her lifelong best friend, Rosa (Alice Englert), long-suffering mother (Christina Hendricks), and free-thinking, irresponsible father (Alessandro Nivola). Like she has so many times, Fanning offers a remarkable onscreen maturity in the film, pulling off intensely emotional scenes — and a perfect British accent — with grace and subtlety.
Fresh off wrapping her work on “Maleficent,” a “Sleeping Beauty” adaptation where she plays opposite Angelina Jolie, Fanning sat down with Indiewire just after the film made its London Film Festival debut.
You’re only 14 years-old. But despite that, you already have a really impressive career behind you. You’ve worked with some amazing filmmakers — both Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola, David Fincher, J.J. Abrams and now Sally Potter — and had a wide variety roles. How have you gone about choosing your work?
Mostly it’s just that the scripts come and it’s whatever I connect to and I’m drawn with the characters. Off the bat you have to relate in some way. With “Ginger and Rosa,” I went in and auditioned for Sally and for me it was both the script and the connection I had with her right off the bat. She’s an amazing a woman and our relationship is really intense. We are so close and after I met her I was just like ‘I have to do it. I have to do this movie!’
What was it about working with her that stood out compared to other filmmakers you’ve worked with?
In the beginning we had a lot of rehearsal time. Like three weeks. Which was a lot more than I’d ever done before. So that was sort of different in a way. But it was so important for this film just because the relationships between each character are so crucial. Especially between Ginger and Rosa. They have to seem like they’ve known each other their whole lives. They’ve spent every second with each other, which me and Alice [Englert] had to create in those three weeks of rehearsal time. From that we had to have our bond. We talked about how when you have a best friend and you have that way of talking to them sort of in secret code. And me and Alice, instead of trying to create that the first second we met, we had three weeks to do it and so we could genuinely create that because we spent so much time together. Which was great.
It’s set in 1960s London amidst the Cold War, and the time and place really means a lot to the narrative. How did prepare yourself to be immersed in that as a character?
A lot came from Sally because she grew up in that time. She told us a lot about how frightening it actually was. I mean, I can imagine how scary it was. I just had to put myself in that position that, you know, any moment with just the press of a button there could be no tomorrow. Everyone could be dead. Which is the most frightening concept, and people were actually living that way back then. At any moment, the whole world could have been blown to pieces.
Was this your first time doing a British accent in a film? Because I have to say you’re pretty incredible.
Yeah! It was my first time that I did any accent! I auditioned for Sally and I had to do the accent and I was so nervous. I was like ‘I’m going to mess it up in front of her.’ But I did a lot of preparation with Sandra Frieze the dialogue coach and we really perfected and polished it before filming so when we were on set I could just sort of forget about it because I’d been doing it so much. I could really think about the character and not worry about the accent. Because you can’t see the actor worrying about the accent on screen. The audience can tell. So I just tried to get it so comfortable that it was just how I talked.
And you were doing scenes opposite a lot of Americans also doing British accents… Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks play your parents. Did you all continue speaking in the accents when they yelled cut?
We didn’t. We sort of chose not to. But because we were in London and almost all the crew were from London, when we heard them speak it was a nice way to get back into the rhythm again. But I felt like I was always thinking in the accent — offscreen as well. It was just programmed into my mind. Even when I come back here I start thinking about it again.
What was it like on set in general? There’s a lot of dark aspects to this film. I mean, your character does quite a bit of crying (which you also seemed to have mastered the art of).
It was definitely not a dark set. Sally made it very happy and light. But when we did do those days… especially the sort of ‘explosion scene’ toward the end. It was 12 pages in the script, which is a lot. And me and Christina were like ‘Oh, gosh, here’s the scene!’ We were so nervous to do that scene. But we shot film in chronological order, basically — which was great in that that scene came right at the end of shooting. Because of that, I was just so built up by then — I’d been thinking about the scene the whole time. So I just let it out. Ginger couldn’t really hold it any longer, and I couldn’t really hold it any longer.
Well, it worked out. It’s a really, really powerful scene. But moving on from ‘Ginger’ a bit, I’m curious who else you want to work with in the future?
I would love to work with Marion Cotillard… and my sister! I’ve never worked with Dakota before in a movie. It’d be so cool to be on screen interacting with each other one day. It will happen, I’m just not sure when.
Is it helpful having a sister that’s a couple years older than you and also in this business? Does that help you stay grounded? Do you work together to find something stable inside what much be a challenging professional world to exist in?
I think our parents and our whole family play a big role. I mean, when I do a movie, that’s just a couple months out of my year and out of my life. All the other months I’m just at home, running around doing errands with my mom and going to sleepovers. I feel like I have that side of my life, and then I also do the films — which is just sort of a plus.