A consummate film actor since the age of 7, Dakota Fanning is ready to shake things up as she takes on the small screen and makes her directorial debut
Written by KELSEY McKINNON
Photography by ZOEY GROSSMAN
Styling by ALISON EDMOND
On a snowy day in Manhattan, Dakota Fanning is huddled over a cup of mint tea, diplomatically weighing the pros and cons of living in New York City. Predicated by her acceptance to New York University, Fanning found an apartment in a prewar building in Nolita and has been based here for the past six years.
One of the pros is that the city has given her a newfound sense of freedom. “This is the only place I’ve ever lived by myself,” she explains. Evidence of her willingness to try new things is on practically every street corner thanks to billboards promoting TNT’s The Alienist, Fanning’s first major television series. “I just heard three people scream my name as I was walking here. I’m like, ‘Oh, f—! What did I do?’ But they were just saying ‘hey,’ so I said ‘hey’ back. I was like, ‘It’s gotta be because of those billboards.’ ”
Based on the Caleb Carr novel set in 1890s New York, the 10-episode psychological thriller (co-starring Daniel Brühl and Luke Evans) sounded almost too good to be true. Fanning had just come off promoting American Pastoral, so the timing was perfect. The only hang-up was that it meant moving to Budapest, Hungary, for the better part of 2017 to film the show. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s so far and such a long time to leave your life,’ ” she says. “Movies are made in eight weeks, you know?”
She decided to think of it as doing a semester abroad and, in the end, wholeheartedly embraced her Hungarian sojourn—the spa culture, “family” dinners with the cast and hosting out-of-town friends. During the workweek, Fanning (who is notoriously prompt for everything) would arrive on set to be laced into an old-fashioned corset. Her character, Sara Howard, is a strong-willed young woman who stands up to sexual harassment as the first female employee at the New York City Police Department. “As we were filming, we were like, ‘God, didn’t we read an article that’s kind of about this, like, yesterday?’ ” she says. “I think that it does go to show how history repeats itself. To move forward, you have to do something different because it’s been this long and these situations are still happening.”
“to move forward, you have to do something different…”
Fanning is doing her part to push the needle forward. A few days after our meeting, she joined the list of female presenters at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (she’s particularly sentimental about this award show, ever since she was nominated there at the age of 7—she’s still the youngest nominee to date, for her role in I Am Sam). This summer, she will appear in Ocean’s 8, the all-female spin-off of Ocean’s 11.
Upon returning from Budapest, she also found the time to direct and produce a short film for Miu Miu (a brand that she and her younger sister, fellow actor Elle, both represent), which she says was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
At 24, Fanning is understandably ready for a break, not just a couple of weeks off, but a complete lifestyle overhaul. “I’ve been balancing work and school for almost 20 years,” says Fanning (she’s appeared in a staggering 40-plus films over the course of her career). “It’s not like going to school is a burden, but it’s a lot of pressure.” After she finishes her last year of credits (she’s studying film at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study), Fanning is thinking of moving back to California—she grew up in the San Fernando Valley but thinks Silver Lake might be a better fit now—to live out her domestic fantasy with a house, a backyard and, eventually, a husband and kids (“three is a good number for me ideally,” she says).
Could this very adult roadmap be the upshot of growing up on a movie set? Perhaps. But this is also the way she has always been—as a child, her favorite “toy” was her pretend kitchen, her favorite book was a book of baby names and she loves to knit. Plus, when it comes to thinking about marriage and children, she reasons, “It’s good to think about these things now because they are already going to overwhelm you when they happen, so if you can prevent that you might as well.”
One thing Fanning expects will be difficult is if her own child wants to act: “My mom gave up everything to be with me full time and make sure that I was prepared,” says Fanning. “I think she’s the reason why I’m OK, why I’m still acting and why I still love it. But I can’t imagine not working after I have a child and I would never send my child to a set without me. So, it’s complicated.” After a few seconds, she adds: “But I’m assuming that the love that you feel for your child would make you give up anything for their happiness, so maybe I would be willing to make sacrifices.” That day may not come for many years, but when it does, chances are she will be ready.
Feature image: VERA WANG COLLECTION dress (sold with bustier and garter, not shown), $9,200. BULGARI ring, $6,400.
Hair by CHRIS MCMILLAN at Solo Artists.
Makeup by LISA STOREY at The Wall Group using Tom Ford Beauty.
Nails by EMI KUDO at Opus Beauty using Eminence Organic Skin Care and Chanel Le Vernis.
This story originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of C magazine.