2014 has been a busy and eclectic year for the preternaturally gifted Elle Fanning. The 16-year-old actress has starred in the second highest grossing blockbuster of the year (“Maleficent”) and one of the most successful stop-motion animation releases of all time (“The Boxtrolls”), but she’s kept diversity alive by staring in humanistic Sundance dramas like “Young Ones” and Oscillioscope’s latest, “Low Down.”
She’s already been on the radar for top-shelf directors like J.J. Abrams (“Super 8”), David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), and Cameron Crowe (“We Bought A Zoo”), and respected auteurs like Sofia Coppola (“Somewhere”), Francis Ford Coppola (“Twixt”), and Sally Potter (the deeply underrated “Ginger & Rosa”). While the general public might not be hip to her yet, the secret is out on Fanning, perhaps the most talented actress of her generation; a young Meryl Streep who just keeps steadily adding to her impressive CV.
Based on Amy-Jo Albany’s memoir of the same name, “Low Down” examines the troubled life of pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes) from the perspective of his young daughter Amy-Jo, as she watches him grapple with his drug addictions in the 1960s and ’70s jazz scene. As Amy-Jo, Fanning is a revelation, charting the innocence of a young girl that is slowly shattered by her drug-dependent father, yet still never her losing her sense of wonder or affections for her tragic dad.
We spoke to Fanning on the eve of the film’s release in Los Angeles this weekend. Here’s some highlights including four of her favorite movies, and actors she admires like Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, and Marilyn Monroe.
Elle Fanning on Sofia Coppola and her love for depressing movies.
I love “Virgin Suicides,” that’s like my favorite movie. I think all the girls in it are amazing. Sofia’s really good at casting people. I just like the way it looks and the layout of it. I feel like every movie when you watch it has a different tone. It’s funny because I’m a very happy person but I like super depressing movies. I loved “Blue Valentine.” Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are incredible in that. I just feel like there’s a different feeling whenever you watch films and you can escape and just do something different. I like to see things that are different.
Her attraction to dark roles.
I like to cry in films and actually feel things on a really deep level. I’m a very sensitive person so it’s nice to kind of get in touch with that emotion which sometimes you try to block out. Or you’re having happy days and you don’t ever think about that emotion that’s inside of you. When I’m acting I can release that emotion. Maybe the character’s never experienced that feeling in their life. I’ve had characters where I’ve never experienced what they’re going through but it’s fun to put yourself in someone else’s place and feel that emotion, that tragedy or whatever. It’s exciting to me to get there, to make it honest. It’s kind of refreshing even. It’s weird, after I’m done with a movie, I’ll come home and my parents will be like, “You look a little older.” And I feel older each time too! But everyone always learns from their past and takes their past with them.
Her co-star and dad in the film, John Hawkes, left a huge impression.
Our director, Jeff Priess, his filming style was very free. He sometimes wouldn’t say cut after a scene to see what happened. So we’re at a dinner table, Jeff doesn’t say cut and we don’t want to sit in silence so John starts to tell this whole story in character. He had read the book [the movie is based on], retained this information, and told a story that was in the book—something that Joe would have experienced in real life. It thought he was making it up the whole time, I was in awe, like “Oh my god, this is like incredible!” Afterwards, Amy the author was there and she said, “Yeah, that happened.” Amy realized what he’d done, but we were all like freaking out! We thought it was the coolest thing. Just to be able to think of that, he’s amazing.
The good anxiety of having to become close with other actors really fast for the sake of the honesty of the movie.
For me, I love the adrenaline of it. It’s like you don’t have much time to do many takes and that oddly helps. I get very nervous but then the nerves go away and the nerves kind of turn into something good. I’m still young so it’s nice to kind of observe, that’s what I do a lot. I do a lot of observing. Making sure that you’re comfortable when you’re filming—I feel like you have to hurry up the meeting process with people. It’s like a quick hey hello and then you’re like spewing out all these emotions to these strangers in a weird way. Especially on an indie, you have to kind of speed up the closeness process, but try and do it through character and honesty.
Marilyn Monroe made her want to act. And she finds the actress extremely underrated.
I watched the “Seven Year Itch” when I was seven, I was young. I watched it and I didn’t know much about what was actually going on in the story, but I just watched Marilyn, the entire time. I had seen pictures of her and then I asked my Dad can we go to the store and get the “Seven Year Itch”? We had to go to some crummy store to get it. I’m not sure why, we probably could have just gone on the Internet but it was fun. I saw her and I was like completely … I’m obsessed with her still. I love her and it’s definitely a performance that I think about a lot. I think whenever you see a picture of her, she’s not faking it. If she’s having a bad day, she looks like she’s having a bad day. It’s hard to hide that so I feel like she’s very truthful. She was an incredible actress.
“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” is one of her favorite films.
There’s so much in it that I adore. I love “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio are both amazing in it. I love that movie. The performances are so—it’s just so believable I find. It seems like they really live in that town, that it’s a real place. What they’re going through, It’s not like it’s over dramatized or overembellished. It’s cut down to the core, I think that’s what strikes me the most.
Fanning’s upcoming roles include Jay Roach’s “Trumbo” with Bryan Cranston, John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night.”
“Low Down” is now playing in New York and opens in Los Angeles today.