It can be a little shocking to realize that Dakota Fanning is still just 24 years old, so entrenched has she been in the popular imagination since her breakthrough big screen performance in I Am Sam in 2001. When she took on the role of a policewoman chasing a serial killer who hunts male prostitutes in 19th-century New York City in the TNT miniseries The Alienist, which aired this spring, it felt more appropriate to see Fanning as among the recent wave of mid-career movie stars who saw the potential of television rather than the twentysomething stars recently minted by the likes of Netflix. And it turned out that she really took to the form—and especially her time on the Budapest set of the period drama. “I’ve loved the experience so much,” she said. “I wanna do something else on TV very badly.” Here, Fanning shares her memories shooting The Alienist, and how she would fix her favorite reality shows.
Did you watch TV growing up?
When I was growing up, I didn’t watch a ton of TV. It wasn’t that my mom didn’t let me, it was just I was busy. But as I’ve gotten older, I cherish my time watching TV, it’s when I zone out. I’ve been really open to and excited about the possibility of doing something on TV, because I’ve been so inspired by the other actors and stories that I watch. I wasn’t kind of actively looking for it, but I was hoping maybe something would come my way.
And The Alienist, is that the first big TV thing you’ve been offered?
I was in a miniseries a long time ago called Taken, that Steven Spielberg produced for the Syfy Channel, and that’s that last time I’ve really done something on TV. And then The Alienist came along and the timing of it couldn’t have been better. It has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.
Wow. Where did you shoot it?
In Budapest, Hungary. I was there for almost seven months. It became my home. I sobbed hysterically when I had to leave.
They set up a Ferris wheel in this square in Budapest, and we were there from March to September. The Ferris wheel kind of goes up when winter starts to end and then it’s up through the whole summer. I would ride the Ferris wheel every once in a while. A friend would come into town and ride the Ferris wheel, because you can see the whole city. On my last night there, I rode the Ferris wheel and was just hysterically crying, and the Ferris wheel would come to the top and I would see the whole city and I would just start to cry because I didn’t wanna leave. I got really attached to my little life there.
Did you get attached to your corset, too?
I didn’t get quite as attached to the corset, no, but I also did in a way. I mean, one of the things about The Alienist, one of the most important things, is the costumes—and especially my costumes. Michael Kaplan is the costume designer, who is a genius.
Flashdance, Blade Runner...
Blade Runner, the new Star Wars, he’s incredible. And so wearing those costumes was a real privilege because they were more than just costumes. I don’t know, he puts so much energy into every little detail. I would have hours-long fittings and I hate to try on clothes, and I would just stand there. I fainted in my first fitting.
Really? Because of the corset?
Well, I had just landed. It was before we started shooting. I had just gotten of the plane, you know you’re sort of swollen and tired and jet lagged and all that, and I went straight to the studio to my fitting with Michael. And they put the corset on, and yeah, I was like, “I’m going down. I’m going down!” I had to sit. And then they would try and be like, “Okay, are you all right now?” I’d be like, “No, nope. Still gotta sit.” But then you get used to it. Your body just completely adjusts, it’s so weird.
Did your whole rib cage change?
My body completely changed. I mean, I’ve worn corsets before but never for this long of a period. Seven months; your body completely changes. You can get it on without even lacing or unlacing. By the end I was just snapping it on, snapping it off. It was like second nature.
Keira Knightley, who I think has been in more corsets than any other human, told me that there was a whole thing with eating. That you have to time your meals, because otherwise it starts to come up.
Definitely. For better or for worse, the corsets kind of put you into the character because it does literally affect everything that you do: Breathing, walking, running, sitting, standing, and definitely eating. Yeah, you do kinda have to time it out because it can not feel so good after lunch.
I thought you said something really interesting on NPR, about what it was like for women then because they could not dress by themselves—how it changes how a woman can live her life if she needs to have someone there.
Totally. I definitely thought about that every single day, the fact that a woman in that time period—which was 1896 on the show—had to have help to do kind of the most intimate thing, which is just dress yourself in the morning, or undress yourself. Those are private moments, and a woman had to have someone there helping her do that. There were so many societal restrictions on women, even down to how they needed help to put their clothes on and take their clothes off. I just thought about that each day when I had my dresser, her name was Dora, and I loved her but, you know, it’s like sometimes you just wanna take off your clothes by yourself. But you really can’t with these clothes. It made me think about that and what that would’ve been like for a lady.
Did you take your corset from the set?
I didn’t, no, no, no. I left it all behind. I left my corset and my heart in Budapest.
Have you gotten new fans coming up to you after the show?
One of the things I was really excited about with being on television was that there was a set time and place for people to watch it each week. Sometimes when you make films you feel like they kind of get released in either every theater in the world or one theater in New York and one theater in L.A., and you wonder if anybody ever is seeing those films sometimes. You feel like they can get lost. So I think that’s what I’ve loved about this experience maybe the most is the accessibility of the show.
But the best encounter that I had was I was getting a bikini wax and my waxer was talking to me about the show, and how much she was loving it. I’m like, “Great, I’m really glad.” I’m literally laying there, facing the ceiling, and she’s deep in my bikini area and I’m talking about The Alienist.
Katherine Langford, Aubrey Plaza, Evan Peters and More Stars Who Prove Television Is Better Than Ever
I was born in Oakland, California. Since I was a kid, I have been acting in plays. The only musical I’ve ever done is Hamilton. Even the early versions were really great, but I’ve made a lot of stuff I think is great and nobody cared, so the success of Hamilton was definitely a surprise.
You won the Tony for best actor in a featured role in a musical. You wore a Comme des Garçons Homme Plus suit to accept it.
That whole night was out of body. For a month, I had been campaigning for something I didn’t know I wanted. And I loved that suit. I’ve gotten to wear a lot of Comme des Garçons’ art pieces, and they’re pretty wonderful.
Had you already been cast in Black-ish?
Yes. The Black-ish creator, Kenya Barris, pitched me the idea of playing Rainbow’s brother. Rainbow is liberal, freethinking, a doctor, and a mom. I told him, when I watched the show, I’ve always been Team Rainbow! I’m from the Bay Area. I really get that hippie shit for real.
What movie makes you cry?
Wonder made me cry. Yeah, I was in the movie! Sitting there, in the premiere of my first film, and I’m weeping. That wasn’t a good look.
What was your first pet’s name?
Kasha. He was a sheltie. When I was born, my parents had six German shepherds and one sheltie. They all had Hebrew names: Shlomo, L’Chaim, Mezuzah, Delilah, etc. So, Kasha.
And what street did you grow up on?
So your porn name is Kasha 44?
Not bad. It’s good for futuristic Internet porn.
Diggs wears a Bottega Veneta suit, shirt, and tie.
13 Reasons Why was the first thing I’d ever done. Living in Perth, Australia, I didn’t have a big social media presence. Then the show aired, and overnight it blew up. I spoke to Selena Gomez, a producer of 13 Reasons Why, and she said, “The message of the show is really important.” So I went through a wave of being like, “Social media is really cool.” But when I read what some people were saying on it, I took a step back. I’ve not stopped posting, but I am careful about my output into the universe. What is your favorite karaoke song? I don’t do karaoke much because I end up screaming. But on my birthday, they just baited me with Gaga the whole night. “Yoü and I” killed me. I love an anthem: something that will rally the troops.
Langford wears a Valentino cape and blouse.
I’m named Aubrey after a song from the group Bread in the ’70s. My mom was really young and she just liked the song. I looked it up in a baby book: My name means “ruler of the elves,” so I’m a queen elf. I was always interested in being an actress. The week I left the East Coast for Los Angeles, I was cast in two films and in Parks and Recreation. My whole life changed overnight. In all those projects, I was the dream girl of all the nerds, so when I read the script for Legion, I thought I was going to play the female lead. But they offered me the part of Lenny Busker, which was originally written as a middle-aged man. Lenny becomes the psychic mutant villain of the show. I was interested in showing I can do unexpected things.
Is it fun to have superpowers?
Yes! I can kill people just like snapping my fingers! That’s a good feeling: minimal movement for maximum destructive effect.
Plaza wears a Paco Rabanne dress.
I always watched a lot of TV. As a kid, I’d gorge on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. When I was 12, I was offered a part on One Life to Live and turned it down. I was nervous about developing bad acting habits as a child. Even at 13, when I did the pilot for My So-Called Life, I knew it was unusually excellent material. It’s so rare to be on an immediate and exact parallel with the character you’re playing. It was a relief to blast all of my teenage grievances out into the world. When Homeland came around, I was scared. My character, Carrie Mathison, is very troubled. To play somebody wrestling with a bipolar condition in very high-stakes circumstances seemed rather fatiguing. But, ultimately, it was too good to ignore. It’s that classic thing: If it scares you, you don’t really have a choice.
Growing up, did you have any TV crushes?
Yes. I had a crush on the kid from the show Mr. Belvedere. And Ricky Schroder. And the Coreys: Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. There was a hotline, something like 1-900-Corey. I was in a crummy mood one day after school and I kept calling it. A month later, my dad got the bill. He was like, “Claire, did you call this weird hotline number?”
You were in Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio. At that time, he was everyone’s biggest crush.
Yes. That was problematic. I couldn’t really have a crush on the guy I was professionally having a crush on! Quite a few gay men have talked to me about the fact that when they were kids watching Romeo + Juliet, they were confused about who they wanted to kiss. It was all about Leo! And I completely understand.
Danes wears a Proenza Schouler dress.
The shaved head was a big deal. On the one hand, it was cool. When you’re bald, rain feels like a head massage. I’d walk in the rain, and people would look at me like I was crazy. I’d be smiling—so, so happy to have the water hit my naked head. But on the other hand, people stared at me, wondering whether I was sick. Some would even laugh at me, without knowing whether I was or wasn’t sick. It was hurtful, but their attitude taught me something about compassion. In the end, being bald was the best thing I ever did—being different changed my life. I wanted to embrace my baldness and, hopefully, inspire people. And, now, that’s become my message to the world.
Millie Bobby Brown wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Calvin Klein Jeans turtleneck.
Beauty note: Go lighter than air. Garnier Fructis Sky-Hi Volume Mousse delivers next-level lift for hair with staying power.
In the Ryan Murphy world of American Horror Story, I have been Tate Langdon, who was crazy; Kit Walker, who was abducted by aliens, which made him crazy; Frankenkyle, a college fraternity guy who gets in an accident, dies, and is sewn together and brought back to life as a monster; Jimmy Darling, who had lobster hands and was part of the freak show; Mr. March, who was a serial murderer; and, in the latest installment, Kai Anderson, a totally insane, megalomaniacal cult leader. Now, in Pose, I play a yuppie in 1987 New York. I get bit by the wonderful bug of the transgender underworld. Pose is more of a love story, but, at this moment, we still don’t know how it ends. I may still go crazy.
Did you ask Ryan Murphy to finally give you a non-insane part?
I go into each job saying, “I don’t want to play anybody crazy again.” But then Ryan calls and tells me, “You’re playing this Charles Manson–esque person who sucks people into a cult and controls them with ‘pinky power,’ ” and I say, “Okay! Sure!”
Peters wears a Bottega Veneta sweater.
Is it hard to act when you’re naked?
Here’s the trick: You have to look at a sex scene as an opportunity to express things that can be expressed best when people are making love. Or fucking. Or whatever. But, in fact, I’m a sex worker in The Deuce, so I have to pretend to fuck someone I’ve just met. And then another guy. And another. So what’s expressed in those scenes is somebody who’s doing a transaction. Then it’s fine to act naked, because all these other things are going on in your mind.
Did you watch any ’70s porn films to prepare for the role?
Yes, I watched some Lasse Braun movies. He was a very playful Italian porn director. But I haven’t seen Deep Throat. I did read the autobiography of Tina Russell, a pretty famous porn star in the early ’70s, when the mood was “we are all fucking and free and we love it.” I do believe in showing that kind of sexual freedom. On the other hand, she wrote that book when she was in her early 20s and was dead less than a decade later of alcoholism. So, for The Deuce, I’m into that combination of things: They’re both true.
Gyllenhaal wears a Marc Jacobs trenchcoat.
I had been offered a lot of parts where I would play the villain, and that was not interesting to me. When my agent called and told me that The Looming Tower was about 9/11, I immediately said I didn’t want to do it. I assumed they wanted me to play a terrorist. But, in fact, I play a real American FBI agent who was fighting against al Qaeda, against evil. I was like, Whoa. Yeah. Finally!
Where were you when the planes hit the World Trade Center?
I was in Belfort, France, my hometown. I was shopping when the first plane crashed into the first tower. We didn’t know whether it was an attack or an accident. I ran into a huge store, and it had a wall of TVs. And then the second plane crashed in front of my eyes. I thought that it would be World War III. And it has changed the face of the world.
Rahim wears an AMI Alexandre Mattiussi jacket and sweater; his own ring.
When I auditioned for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I wore this yellow shirt that I thought was adorable, but they asked me to change my clothes for my second audition, so I guess it wasn’t as adorable as I thought! The costumes are a huge part of Midge, my character. Her outer appearance is something she takes an enormous amount of pride in. Between the corset, the petticoats, the tights and the beautiful dresses, hair and makeup, I feel completely transformed when I walk out of my trailer. That’s my favorite part about being an actor. It always has been.
Mrs. Maisel does stand-up comedy. Were you nervous about being funny in front of an audience?
Comedy is terrifying. It’s probably the worst thing i could imagine anyone doing to themselves–and also the most exhilarating. But I would absolutely not attempt stand-up as myself. Nope. No. No. No. Never. Even as Midge, I do a lot of power posing in my dressing room to gain confidence.
Brosnahan wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress and boots.
For as long as I can remember, I knew something about my life was meant to be meaningful, that I’ve got something to do here,” she says. “I don’t know how I knew, but I was sure I’d make an impact.
Letitia Wright wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, turtleneck, and pants; her own shoes. Beauty: Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup in Color 11.0, Brow Tamer in Dark, Sin Afterglow Palette, Hi-Fi Shine Lip Gloss in Midnight Cowgirl.
A long time ago, I was in a miniseries called Taken that Steven Spielberg produced for the Sci Fi channel. I hadn’t really done anything else on TV until The Alienist. We shot the show for almost seven months in Budapest, Hungary, which became my home. I sobbed hysterically when I had to leave my life there.
Were you also attached to your character’s corset?
I didn’t get quite as attached to the corset. But one of the most important things about The Alienist was the costumes. I fainted during my first fitting. I had just gotten off the plane and was swollen and jet-lagged. They put the corset on, and I said, “I’m going down!” I had to sit. But I got used to it. My body completely changed. For better or worse, the corset puts you into the character. It affects everything you do: breathing, walking, sitting, standing, and definitely eating.
Do you watch television?
Yes! I’m obsessed with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Some of the best TV I’ve ever seen was the breakup of Arie and Becca on last season’s Bachelor. That’s what I’m trying to figure out: With reality television, if it’s all set up and fake, then they’ve got the greatest actors in the world.
Fanning wears a Gucci dress, headpiece, and body chain.
Preacher is based on a very dark comic book, with a lot of humor to break up the darkness. I wasn’t a comic book kid, but I know someone who had a brother who wore black leather jackets, had a lot of piercings, and would never come out of his bedroom. We once broke into that boy’s room, and he had Preacher.
When I heard about the script, I looked at the comic again. On one of the covers, I saw this drawing of a head. I saw a demonic, demented, psychotic person staring back at my face, and I thought, That’s sort of me.
Seth Rogen is one of the producers of Preacher. When I went to meet him, he had huge hair and a massive beard. He was in a haze of marijuana smoke. He was trying to explain to me that the show would have people with assholes as faces and other people would sort of have sex with meat. I thought, No—this isn’t for me, thanks. But, obviously, I had inhaled so much of what they were having that I was mesmerized. I signed up straightaway.
Cooper wears a Giorgio Armani shirt.
Before I was an actress, I wanted to be a basketball player. Growing up in Boston, I practiced all the time. I wouldn’t leave the court unless I made 100 free throws and 100 lefty layups. My friend Phoebe and I would hustle men—we would act like we didn’t know how to play, and then we’d play two-on-two with guys and bet money. We would often win.
I went to college in New York, at Barnard, and that’s where I discovered acting. My first job was playing a waitress from Staten Island on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Eventually, I moved to L.A. I was sick of being a broke, struggling auditioner, so I wrote SMILF.
The optics of SMILF are very autobiographical. Like my character on the show, I play basketball, and I, too, have a baby daddy who’s married to a beautiful blonde actress from Australia. But then the show veers off in a million crazy directions.
Your toddler son on the show is so cute.
Those are twin girls playing my son. They’re the most beautiful humans who have ever lived and will ever live.
Won’t it be awkward when you’re in year 20 of the show and your son looks like your daughter?
It’ll be GILF then. Grandmothers! Actually, we may want to say he was really two girls. That would be a great story to tell!
Shaw wears a Michael Kors Collection coat; her own jewelry.
When they sent me Yellowstone, I freaked out because the show’s writer-director, Taylor Sheridan, is my favorite living writer. I went to the store, got a cowboy hat, and gave it my best. I made a tape at home, mostly because I didn’t want to go in and screw it up in front of a casting director. Taylor called me two days later, and I was so nervous, all I could do was giggle.
You grew up in Dayton, Ohio. That is nothing like Darby, Montana, where you film the show.
Well, growing up in Ohio, I hunted and did stuff like that. In Montana, there are hardly any people. Just land. You’ve got to figure out your outdoor activities real quick or you’re going to be in trouble.
Where was your first date?
I met my first girlfriend at church camp. My dad’s a pastor. I went to Christian schools and Christian everything until I moved to New York. My first girlfriend’s dad was also a pastor. We weren’t really allowed to date, but we were a little sneaky. We found a way.
Grimes wears a Simon Miller jacket; Everest Isles shirt; AG T-shirt; his own necklace.
It’s kind of weirdly appropriate. Do you have a favorite TV show aside from The Alienist?
God, I have so many. Well, I’m a reality TV watcher, too, which we won’t get into that.
No, let’s get into that. What is your favorite?
I like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the Real Housewives of New York, the Bachelor, and the Bachelorette.
Oh, I’m obsessed with the Bachelor and the Bachelorette. It’s high drama.
High, high drama. Especially the last Bachelor. It was some of the best TV I’ve ever seen, the Arie and Becca breakup. I was screaming at the TV, “Leave already. Leave already!”
But the funny thing is, my mom and I always read the spoilers on the blog Reality Steve, but still watch the show. I don’t know why.
You don’t like the suspense?
I read the synopses for most film and TV that I watch before I watch it. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know why I do it, but it won’t make me not watch it. I’ll still watch it.
But didn’t you know that Arie would go for the blonde in the end?
Good riddance to Arie is all I have to say. I’ll be a proud watcher of Becca’s Bachelorette.
Yes, I agree. Does it bother you that they almost never stay together?
You know what, it doesn’t bother me that the bachelor and the bachelorettes don’t stay together because the ones that are together, are really together. Do you know what I mean? t’s either that they just break up pretty quickly and don’t get married, or they have been married for 10 years and have two kids. That’s what keeps me watching. I’m going for the long haul.
You know what I don’t like on the Bachelor and what I need them to stop doing if they’re listening, is introducing the first five guys on the “After the Final Rose.” Did you see that? They have Becca, they put a façade of the mansion behind her, and then have a couple guys come out. They did it with Rachel. That has to stop. It’s so cringeworthy, and I don’t like that at all. It’s cringe-y enough on the night in front of the real mansion. I don’t need a façade of the ivy covered mansion behind her, and I didn’t like that at all.
Do you prefer the Bachelor or the Bachelorette?
I do prefer the Bachelor because I like seeing the dynamics of all the girls interacting with one another.
And as an actress do you find that some of them just seem like bad actors?
They’re either bad actors or the best actors in the whole world. That’s what I’m still trying to figure out with all reality television. The Real Housewives, I don’t know exactly how much of it is real and what’s set up and whatever. I don’t care. If it is kind of set up, then they’re the greatest actors in the world.
With Housewives, do you have ones that you like better than others?
I definitely have favorites. It was funny, at The Alienist premiere in New York, Carol Radziwell was there and she was standing by the bar, and everyone knows how much I love the Real Housewives and I was with people who were like, “Oh my god there’s Carol.” And I get so nervous. I don’t ever go up to people or I get really nervous, but I was like, “I’m doing it. I’m doing it.” I walked over and I was like, “Hi, I’m Dakota. I’m on this show, and I just love you so much.” And her friend was like, “Oh, from Housewives right?” And I was like, “Yeah, but I’ve also read your books.” I wanted to seem like a real fan, too. She was so so nice. She’s been watching the show and she’ll send me an Instagram DM about it every once in a while, so I love that.
You’ve made headway into the Housewives.
I did, I have. I got a little in.
But do you add to your portfolio? It’s a lot of Housewives now.
It is. You know, I’ve fallen off a couple. Beverly Hills, New York, and Orange County, are my—I won’t stop watching. And New Jersey. I won’t stop watching those.
New Jersey‘s got a lot of juice, I have to say. You don’t watch Atlanta?
Atlanta I was watching it because you know, that’s where I’m from originally. I used to watch that one religiously as well, and then, yeah, I’ve stopped watching. I was in Budapest, that’s the other thing. When I was in Budapest with my shows, I would have to … because there’s Netflix in Budapest but there wasn’t anything else. I would have to buy it all on iTunes. I had to prioritize.
Okay, so let’s ask some fun questions. What was the first album you ever bought with your own?
God, probably Britney Spears.
Were you a big Britney fan?
Huge. I was a huge Britney Spears fan. She was the first famous person I ever met. I met her when I came to California. I was six. I was with my mom and my mom’s sister in Fred Segal and Britney Spears walked into the shoe department. And I had the total, classic, starstruck-as-a-six-year-old moment. And she was in kind of a furry coat and sunglasses, and one of those kind of newsboy hats. I’ll never forget it. She was very nice.
What was your first red carpet outfit? What did you wear for the I Am Sam premiere?
I wore a champagne satin dress that had little cap sleeves and a bow. And I think it was Neiman Marcus. And I had a purse that was from Target that was a black patent… it was shaped like a present, and it was black patent and a champagne ribbon that matched the dress.
Did you do interviews on the red carpet?
Was it scary?
I remember when I did interviews I just was saying “thank you” the whole time. I didn’t know what else to say. People were talking about it. I was like, “Thank you. Thank you.” And I remember there was this woman at the premiere and she was like, “Well, it seems like all she knows how to say is ‘thank you.'” And I overheard her say that, and I was like, “Well, there’re worse things to say than ‘thank you,’ right?” I was okay with that. I was just overwhelmed.
What was your favorite Halloween costume?
t was Scarlett O’Hara. I had the green curtain dress made. It was so amazing that I wore it two years in a row, maybe when I was 10 and 11? I loved Gone With the Wind.
Did you have the hat with the fringe?
I had the hat with the fringe. I had the wig. I was on a set at the time, and so the hair person that was working on the movie fixed my wig for me, and it was such a great costume that it had to be worn twice.