Given that she’s 14 now, one might expect Dakota Fanning to exhibit just a tiny smidgen of adolescent angst. But the preternaturally excitable actress, who somehow comes off as both young and old for her age, is so sunny and positive that it’s hard to imagine her finding anything unendurable. Life, for Fanning, is apparently nonstop fun.
Take, for instance, cheerleading camp, which she attended in August to prepare for her position on her high school’s varsity squad. “For four days, there are 600 cheerleaders on the field all day doing cheers and dances,” she says breathlessly. “And then you have a break and you come back for evaluations. And it’s so much fun. It’s sooo fun.”
So, apparently, is high school—though she missed much of her freshman year because she was making the action film Push, due in February, and the literary adaptation The Secret Life of Bees, out in October. “I loved all my classes. I loved all my teachers. I really feel like I learned a lot,” she enthuses. “I was surprised by just how fun it was. Just really, truly how fun it was.”
And don’t get her started on the kooky Marc Jacobs ad campaign she shot with Juergen Teller and her schnoodle, Lewellen, in 2006: “Juergen Teller is so much fun. He was wearing this hot pink scarf. We just had the greatest time. It was such a blast. It was one of the most fun times I’ve had.”
Some of the other people, places and things that Fanning describes as “fun” include her ninth-grade Spanish teacher, Señor Oses; using fruit-scented Hello Kitty tissues; watching Top Chef, Shear Genius and Project Runway; her 10-year-old sister, Elle, also an accomplished actress; recording her voice for a video game version of the upcoming animated movie Coraline; making a short film with Kate Hudson, who is one of her favorite actresses; and, well, the entire two months she spent near Wilmington, North Carolina, filming The Secret Life of Bees.
“It was such an amazing experience,” boasts Fanning, her icy blue eyes wide, of making the period drama, based on the best-seller by Sue Monk Kidd. “It was so much fun, I didn’t want to leave. Everyone was just so kind and wonderful. I cried at the end. I was like, ‘It’s never going to be this way again.’ I just felt so lucky to be in the movie. I just loved the story so much.”
In the film, she plays a depressed Southern girl who accidentally kills her mother. She escapes her abusive father (Paul Bettany) with her nanny (Jennifer Hudson), seeking refuge in the utopian pastures of an apiary run by a maternal beekeeper (Queen Latifah). Needless to say, no one would describe the film as fun. It’s tearjerkingly poignant—heavy but inspiring, and cut from the same cloth as Fanning’s other fall release, Hounddog, which caused quite a controversy at Sundance for its depiction of her character’s rape. Beyond that affecting but overpublicized scene, the young actress commands a young boy to remove his underwear; takes a swig of beer and puffs an unlit cigarette; and swivels her hips while imitating Elvis over and over again. It’s an adult side of Fanning that has not yet been seen. Of Hounddog, Fanning says, “I really did the movie because it was about such an important issue and something that could help so many, and I know it already has. That’s why I love to do movies.”