Elle Fanning followed her older sister Dakota into movies at a precocious early age, but it was in Sofia Coppola's small 2010 film Somewhere that she first stood out as an actress of astonishing grace, at 13 years old. This year, she graduated from high school into some very adult onscreen parts, from Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, in which she plays a good-girl model turned bad, to Ben Affleck's upcoming Live By Night, in which she plays an aspiring Hollywood actress who resorts to pornography. For our Royals portfolio, we paired this teenage screen veteran with Anya Taylor-Joy, who is the latest fresh-faced star to emerge from the indie film scene.
Elle Fanning's expert tutorial in opening up W's first-ever his-and-hers issue (subscribe to get it for yourself: www.wmag.com/getw).
How did you get involved with The Neon Demon?
I had seen [director Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film] Drive. I was filming a movie in Springbok, South Africa, which is a six-hour drive outside of Cape Town. They only had, like, two TV channels. One was in Afrikaans, and the other one was a movie channel that only played either The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Drive, and that was it. So I I know those two movies by heart. And I looked up Nick because Drive is so different, so interesting. Then I kept hearing about a script out there that was super wacky — Nick's new film — and it was about models. He asked me to come over to his house in L.A. to meet with him, and I was like, "Oh god, I gotta look like a model."
What did you wear?
I wore heels, obviously, to make my legs look longer. Black slacks, and this light pink Balenciaga cropped shirt. I got my hair kind of straight, and no makeup — you know, fresh face. I hadn't read the script yet. And then he gave me the script and I read it and I was like, "Oh my god, this is insane." It's unlike anything I've ever read before. And he films in chronological order.
That's unusual, too. So you filmed in chronological order in L.A.?
Yes, the Neon City itself.
Did you go to school at the same time when you're in L.A.?
It kind of depended. Sometimes I popped in if it was an important day or a big test or a lab dissection that you don't want to miss because then you have to do all this extra work. So it's better to just go and, you know, scrape out the fish.
Did you have fun at the prom?
I had so much fun at the prom. I love the prom. It's all about the afterparty, though.
Just like the Met Ball.
Yeah. I got to go to my first Met Ball afterparty. The first time I went to the Met Ball, I was 13. So I definitely didn't go to the Boom Boom Room when I was 13. But finally my sister allowed me to hang out with her friends. It was really fun with the cool girls.
What do you play in Ben Affleck's upcoming Live By Night?
It's set in the 1920s during the Prohibition. Chris Cooper plays my dad, he's a sheriff in Florida. And then I go to L.A. to become an actress. I want to go to Hollywood, but I kind of just make it to L.A., you know what I mean? And I become kind of [a] porn [actress] in the 1920s. And then I get addicted to heroin while I'm out there.
Oh my god. Little Elle.
I know. I'm all smiling while I'm saying it, too. So then my character goes back [to Florida], and my dad beats me to get the devil out of me. I become kind of born again, I have all these sermons. Everybody listens to me because I'm this weird young girl who has these track marks and everything.
Sounds like an amazing part. Is it fun for you to do period?
Really fun. And with the costume designer, Jacqueline West, everything is so particular, too. All the socks are from that time. It makes it so much more authentic. And I have dark hair in it. I have three different wigs. They're kind of the short, cute thing, but one's long, from when I'm in my porn days.
How's your dad going to see this one?
I was thinking about that. But honestly, there're no weird scenes. Also the things that I wear [as a porn actress] are things that, like, Rihanna wears on the street. It's long-ago bad stuff. Did I ever tell you that Karl Lagerfeld loves my dad?
No, how did he meet your dad?
When she was young, my sister had a photo shoot with Karl. She was, like, 12, and my dad had to go. And my dad [Steven Fanning] never goes to shoots or anything. He's such a dude, you know? But he kind of looks like a young, Robert Redford-type. My dad's really cute, which is super embarrassing. So Karl met my dad and really liked my dad. Then when I went to my first Chanel show, he invited my dad.
My dad was sitting at the Chanel show in Paris. I saw Karl and I was like, "Hey." And he's like, "Where's Steve?"