Dakota Fanning has come a long way since playing the adorable seven-year-old girl in 2001’s “I Am Sam.” Fanning has grown up before our very eyes, acting in over 30 films in her short 20 years. In addition to partaking in mainstream fare like the “Twilight” series, Fanning has dipped her toes in plenty of indies, such as “The Motel Life” and the upcoming “Very Good Girls.” In “Night Moves,” director Kelly Reichardt’s slow-burning thriller about environmental activists, Fanning plays Dena, a young woman whose determination helps fuel an extreme act.
We sat down with Fanning to discuss the film’s controversial angle as well as ask what it’s like to grow up in front of the world. “Night Moves” opens in select theaters this Friday.
How did you first get involved with the project and what you drew you to the script?
Kelly’s name immediately drew me to the script. And then I got this script and they said, ‘Kelly would like to talk to you and are you interested in making a movie?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m totally interested.’ And it was Peter and Jesse and that sounded so exciting and it was a movie with Kelly Reichardt, the idea was so exciting.
Your character has a certain devotion to the task. How did you bring that devotion and that urgency to her?
I think that I wasn’t really thinking about it until after, after the movie. Especially with making a movie with Kelly. When you are in it you are just so in it and the way she makes films is so natural and real life-like that it’s almost like you’re not even playing a character, you’re not even in a movie. It’s like you’re actually kind of doing it. So afterwards when I was answering these questions about it and thinking about it…I think her devotion and her urgency comes from a place of being a young person kind of stepping out on their own for the first time and wanting to do something important and independent of their family and their parents and something that makes a big statement. Kelly had mentioned something in the very beginning that perhaps she came from a wealthy family and she was kind of rejecting that and doing something on her own, which I can relate to. Wanting to do something that is just yours and that you can see the impact of and that you can take responsibility for, good or bad, I guess. Just something that she just deems this the right thing to do and sees this as a bold statement. I think in a time where it’s really hard to see changes being made, I think everyone feels like they are doing these little things and not seeing the big result at the end, so it’s very tempting to do something kind of wild and radical to just kind of say, “Is anything happening?” I think that is kind of what she is doing here.
People are looking at this film in two ways, from an extreme-activism angle or from an eco-terrorism angle. Do you fall on either side of that line?
I think just knowing how Kelly feels about eco-terrorism, I think she feels very strongly that that’s not the right term. Peter was saying earlier, “I don’t really think that word helps anyone.” I think that’s kind of true it doesn’t really help anyone. Ultimately these people are doing something that some people might deem crazy but they’re trying to bring down something that they feel shouldn’t be there in the first place.
The film has traveled around the world quite a bit to different festivals. Did any of the places you visited with the movie (Venice,Toronto and Rio) have a different environmental reaction to it compared to the U.S?
I feel like people in different places have responded to different parts of the film. Probably in America people are most wanting to talk about the “violence” of some of it. In Italy it was about the emotion and is there guilt? Is this a movie about being guilty? Why are they doing this, that sort of thing. I think ultimately those questions are kind of hard to answer in any part for this particular film and kind of the mindset that Kelly had making it, which is that it’s not really a political film. It’s not really about having a message. It’s just a movie about three people and this is the story that she chose to write about. And this is what they do. That’s just what it is. I think that any piece of art you are supposed to have your own individual opinion and experience with it. I think this is no different. Everybody is going to take something away differently, but I don’t think there’s anything Kelly is trying to get you to take away. She’s just trying to make a movie about humans.
Can you tell me a bit about working with Kelly and experiences working with other female directors?
Working with Kelly was the most amazing experience. She is so amazing in every way. As a director she makes you feel so in control. And everyone that works with her — she’s kind of worked with a lot of the same people in all of her films — has a long relationship and they just love her and trust her. I think that’s the biggest thing you see. I certainly went along with this. You just trust her instincts. And she does one take of things. Peter and I had a four page scene with all this dialogue and she did one take, one shot of it and was like, “We got it.” Peter and I were just like, ‘Yeah we got it? OK!’ You totally go with her and her presence is so huge and she’s so funny and so smart and really amazing to be around.
And as far as working with female directors, I’ve actually, if I think about it, I’ve worked with a lot of female directors. I think for some stories it potentially makes a difference and for some stories it doesn’t make a difference. I think for this movie Kelly is Kelly and yes she happens to be a woman, but I don’t know if there’s something different about it. But I’m certainly happy she’s making films. That’s what important.
You’ve essentially grown up on screen and now your sister is doing the same. Can you tell me about what that is like? What are the pressures especially being a teenager growing into a young woman in this industry and how do you and your sister deal with those?
I know it must seem so different to any other person growing up. But I think that every person growing up feels like the world is watching them in some way. Whether it’s everyone at school or everyone in your little town. When you’re young you think it’s all about you and what you look like and what you wear can destroy your whole life. And then you grow up and realize life is not actually about me. It doesn’t really matter. I should be happy and it’s not about what other people think of you. The world continues to spin whether you have a zit or not, you know? The world doesn’t fall apart, it’s OK.
So I think that, of course people know who you are and the actual world does talk about you and your choices and all of that and I think it’s the same decision a young girl growing up in Minnesota would make. You either listen to what other people have to say about your life and your choices and who you are and start to believe that, or you make the choice to only listen to the people that you know love and care about you and support you no matter what. I think it’s the same thing for my sister and I. We have a really great family and really great friends. So that’s it. You don’t worry about what other people say and I try and not feel that pressure because if you feel that pressure you just would say no to the day. If somebody told you, OK today somebody is going to say you look ugly and that dress is disgusting. Alright well I’ll just stay in here then, I don’t want to hear it. But it doesn’t matter. Who cares if someone thinks you look ugly!
Do you ever give your sister any big sister advice?
Not really about work. We don’t really talk about work that much. More just sisterly things. But she has a strong will and her own opinions so I don’t think she needs a whole lot from me. I’m sure I could use some of her advice.
You’ve had the opportunity to act in a wide variety of genres and styles of film. Is there anything you felt like you haven’t gotten to do yet or are dying to do?
Yeah there are so many things. I would love to direct a movie. I don’t know when that will be or what that will be. But that is something that I 100% know I want to do one day. And working with such great directors and seeing how different people make their films is so amazing and so fun to figure out what kind of film I want to make as a director. Because that might be something completely different from what I would wanna make as an actor. So that’s something that I want to do. It’s so hard to say a particularly thing I would wanna do in acting, because there’s so many different things. I never thought I would play an environmental activist, or a Victorian woman. You’re able to do all of this stuff and you’ll never know what’s gonna be next.