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Sundance Darling Elle Fanning on How She Stays Grounded and Working With Angelina Jolie on 'Maleficent'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire January 21, 2014 at 4:29PM

She may just be months away from turning sweet 16, but make no mistake about it, Elle Fanning is an actress to contend with. At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival with two very different works, the futuristic western "Young Ones" and Jeff Preiss' devastating character study "Low Down," Fanning proves her formidable range.
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Low Down

She may just be months away from turning sweet 16, but make no mistake about it, Elle Fanning is an actress to contend with. At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival with two very different works, the futuristic western "Young Ones" and Jeff Preiss' devastating character study "Low Down," Fanning proves her formidable range.

"Low Down" serves as bigger showcase for the actress. In the true story, Fanning embodies Amy Albany (whose memoir the film is based on), a girl forced to cope with her drug addicted father, pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes), while coming of age during the '60s and '70s. Glenn Close co-stars as her stern but loving grandmother.

Indiewire sat down with Fanning in Park City to discuss the challenging role, her upcoming performance as Princess Aurora in Disney's "Maleficent," and how she stays grounded.

Amy is portrayed as a bit of a hermit in "Low Down." She had no friends to speak of, except for her boyfriend. I'm sure that's not something you could easily relate to given how social your profession is.

Amy [Albany] was on set every day so there was a little bit of pressure (laughs). But we never talked about the friends thing. I mean she went to school but the film doesn't really go into that. I play her at 13 and then 15, and she had the boyfriend, Cole, when she was 15. She's living in a really difficult area in a difficult time with a drug addict father. In the book, in the memoir that Amy wrote, she loved her father so much. She thought he was the greatest guy. Obviously he's such a troubled person. But I wanted to make sure it comes across that she's a survivor and strong about it, and not mad about it. "This is the best I was given so I'm going to do the best I can."

Are you one to maintain a lot of friendships in your personal life, or is it difficult to because you're so busy with your career?

I go to regular school, I'm a sophomore, so yeah! I mean when I'm not in Sundance (laughs), or when I'm not filming, I'm just at school doing teenage stuff. Going to sleepovers and stuff like that. And yeah I do, I have a lot of close friends who are supportive. The normal school thing is the best, not being home schooled or anything.

Low Down

Was that your decision to attend regular school?

Yeah, I mean my sister [Dakota], she went to school when she transferred into normal high school, so I went as well. We just went together to the same school. It's the best decision because I have friends my own age.

Especially as an actor I can't imagine it any other way. You have to study life!

Yeah, true. Exactly!

Amy is a silent observer for so much of the film. Were those scenes more difficult to play than the ones in which you speak?

A lot of the time in some things it's harder to not say anything because the lines aren't written on the page for you — you're just observing something going on. And you have to make sure you're thinking about everything that's happening and you want it to resonate. You have to be really in the moment, which sometimes can be harder.

The film stars John Hawkes and Glenn Close, but you're the lead. Were you nervous to carry this film?

You know, it was exciting for me. In a way, it's all told through her eyes. But John is definitely the main guy.

In Amy's life...

Yeah, I always thought he was the main person. I'm there witnessing a lot of things. But yeah being with these people who were so good, I'm just like… It's just exciting. Gave me tingles.

What intimidates you now? You're only 15, but you've already worked alongside stars like Angelina Jolie, Michael Shannon and John Hawkes.

Things do intimidate me for sure (laughs). Meeting everyone for the first time. With Peter Dinklage [who stars in "Low Down"], everyone had a huge crush on him. All my friends were like "Game of Thrones"! It was a huge deal meeting him. I get nervous meeting people.

You've appeared in both indies and blockbusters ("Super 8," the upcoming "Maleficent"). Is that a conscious decision on your part -- to mix things up?

I like to choose opposites because it's fun to experiment. I did "Low Down" right after "Maleficent," and they're so different. "Maleficent" is green screen, nothing's really tangible. You're touching air and then there's a fire breathing dragon! But that's exciting to do. I love doing both.

Indies are always fun because you're on location and you're experiencing. You're really there in the moment.

Maleficent

How excited are you to see yourself in "Maleficent," given you shot the whole film with green screen?

Very! I haven't seen anything except for the trailers that people have seen. It's going to be fun. Being a princess is every girl's dream!

Did you grow up watching "Sleeping Beauty"?

Yes, it's my favorite one! I thought I related her to the most because I had the long blonde hair. Cinderella had the bangs. I was like, "Aurora is like me!" She was mine (laughs).

I know it's Maleficent's movie, but how big of a part does Aurora play in the tale?

It's like "Wicked" in a sense. You go back and discover more about Maleficent. But I'm definitely in there. It's a strong kind of relationship with me and Maleficent. Most of my scenes were with Angelina.

How do you go about selecting your projects now? You're one of the most, if not the most, in demand teenage actress.

Well they come and I just want to — obviously reading and making sure. The characters are interesting. I just want to make something I can play with a little bit. It's fun to do that. I love making them really real and kind of odd in a way. Just making sure they're unique and unlike something you've seen before. Because that's what you want to do! Everyone likes new and fresh things — it excites people. So it excites me when I read something that's different.

Onscreen you come across as an old soul despite your age. Do you consider yourself one?

To me I'm 15. I'm excited I'm about to turn 16. Sweet 16! I have my dress. I'm having a dinner with my friends — all girls. Very, very girly! So to me, I'm thinking about that stuff. Formals coming up and prom.


This article is related to: Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie, Low Down, Young Ones, Interviews