After Dakota Fanning left our roundtable, one of the other reporters turned to me and said, "That was surreal."
Talking to Fanning can be surreal indeed. She’s a tiny, adorable little girl with the wise eyes of an old woman. She’ll giggle and talk about horses and dolls, but she’ll also stop on a dime and talk with more maturity than actors twice or three times her age.
One of the cool things about my roundtable at the War of the Worlds junket was that I was the only web guy there. It’s nice to be at a table with friends like Ed Douglas of Coming Soon! or Dan Epstein of Suicide Girls and UGO, but it’s even nicer to not have my exact same transcript posted on a dozen other sites you probably read. What was weird is that there were two Japanese reporters who were silent for every other celebrity but leapt into action with the first two questions for Dakota (and then got quiet again):
Q: Do you think there are aliens in the world?
Fanning: There could be. It’s so weird to think that there might be.
Q: Do you want to see them?
Fanning: No! Stay away!
Q: What was it like when you first met Tom Cruise?
Fanning: When I first met Tom… He came out of the scene where the aliens come out of the ground, he came out of the scene, he grabbed me by the shoulders and he said, “WE’RE MAKING WAR OF THE WORLDS, BABY!” He started shaking me real hard. Then I realized I was actually going to be in the movie, I couldn’t believe it.
When I met him I realized that when you see him on TV in interviews and things, he’s the same person I know in real life. He makes you feel comfortable and enjoys life and had a great time every day.
Q: You’re working on Charlotte’s Web?
Fanning: That’s done! It comes out next June!
Q: A lot of it is animated?
Fanning: No, it’s all real animals except the spider and the rat. Just like Babe. It’s done filming. They’re editing and moving the mouths of the animals now.
Q: Was it fun? You’re talking to these animals?
Fanning: They’re totally real. Real animals. I would be talking to a real pig.
Q: Was it weird?
Fanning: A little bit. Because I was talking to an animal. But it’s funny, when you have all of them together in one scene – we had horses and cows and geese and sheep and pigs – so you have all the trainers going, “Over here! Over here!” [snaps her fingers]. So we had the cows, which were Dickie and Joanna, we had the horse who was Ike and then we had all these names for the sheep. We had Nigel and Samuel and Emily. Then we had 70 pigs. They were all different sizes. From tiny to enormous ones.
Some of the pigs their ears would turn weird or their snout would get too long, so they couldn’t use them anymore. So they would get a new batch. Every week they would go back to the piggery and get new pigs to raise and train.
Q: If someone has kids your age, should they feel comfortable taking their kids to War of the Worlds, or is it too scary?
Fanning: I think it’s OK. When I was watching the movie – well, always when I watch the movies – I take myself out of the movie, I forget that I’m in the movie, and so when I see it I kind of see it with an audience. I was scared but it wasn’t too scary. I enjoyed it.
Q: You’ve seen all your movies? You’ve seen Hide and Seek?
Q: Man on Fire?
Fanning: Yeah! Like seven times.
Q: When you’re on set you still have to go to school. Do you have a tutor and stuff?
Fanning: Yes. In between shots I go back to school.
Q: Is it tough for you to keep up with your friends?
Fanning: No, because it’s what I love to do, so anything that helps me do acting is what I love to do. I couldn’t do acting if I went to a regular school. Home schooling is what I’ve done for a long time.
Q: What grade are you in?
Fanning: I’ll be in 7th grade next year.
Q: Is it weirder to talk to a pig or be scared of something that isn’t there?
Fanning: You know, I think that talking to something that’s actually there that doesn’t talk back is a little bit stranger. This was like really having a conversation.
Seeing aliens but not seeing them was kind of weird, but Steven would explain it in a way that you felt like they were there. You knew how big they were and kind of what they looked like, so you had a vision in your mind. But one of the most exciting parts of seeing the film was to see what he was talking about.
Q: We hear that Spielberg is very good with child actors. How does he compare with other directors you have worked with?
Fanning: All the directors I work with are different from each other. Steven is different because he’s being doing it so long and he knows a lot about everything – he knows about the music, the cameras, directing, actors, he knows everything about making movies. Working with him I learned so much every day. I try to cram my brain full every day and never took a day for granted.
Q: There are some actors who, when they do a film, have to be that character all the time. Everybody we talked to today has said that you can turn it on and off – you’ll be crying in a shot and when they call cut, you’re all smiles. How hard is it for you to turn it on and off?
Fanning: When you’re doing a scene you become that character, and when it’s over you just become yourself again. You can’t be crying all day! You just kind of come out of it and when it’s time to do it again, if you have to do it again, you go back into it because it’s your character. Steven made everything feel so real, the sets were so real, that it made it easier to slip back into it.
Q: Is acting something you want to do for the rest of your life?
Fanning: Definitely. I want to do it forever.
Q: What made you decide to get into acting?
Fanning: I always loved to play around the house and pretend to be different things when I was little – and still do, with my sister. My mom sent me to this playhouse where you study plays and do plays, and then they thought I should go to an agency, so we did. And then I got some commercials and they said I should come out to California and I got I Am Sam, and then I got all the other movies and TV shows.
Q: Were there any movies that made you want to be in film?
Fanning: I was 6 when I got into movies, so there weren’t many movies I could see that would make me want to get into movies! But I think I wanted to be in movies so I could be somebody different and do things that aren’t in your daily life, that imagination.
Q: It must be hard sometimes to keep in touch with your friends. Do you bring them on set?
Fanning: No, not really. They’re in school. I’m in school and they’re in school too. But I have lots of friends that I see when I’m not working and who I see after I’m done working. So I see them a lot.
Q: Do you have a pet?
Fanning: I have a horse. Goldie. He’s a palomino.
Q: Didn’t you just do a movie about a horse?
Fanning: I did, with Kurt Russell. It’s called Dreamer, and it comes out this October. They actually gave the horse to me on the movie.
Q: That’s a cool gift.
Fanning: It was! [laughs]
Q: You ride?
Fanning: I do. I learned for the movie, and they got me a horse so I could ride more.
Q: You’re going to star in Alice in Wonderland, which is being developed right now. How far off is that?
Fanning: The script’s not written yet. So it’s a long way away. I don’t even know anything about that yet.
Q: Does your mother help you pick scripts?
Fanning: She reads the scripts, but she doesn’t help me or read them to me or explain them. She reads it and I read it and that’s it.
Q: Have you ever wanted to do a film that she wouldn’t allow you to do?
Fanning: No. My mom’s just really happy for me to do what I love. My mom and dad are happy to see me doing something I’m happy doing.
Q: Do you and your sister plan on working together?
Fanning: There’s no plans for that, but it would be fun. She’s played me at a younger age in Taken.
[she talks a bit about some dolls she likes to collect]
Q: Has there been a Dakota Fanning doll yet?
Fanning: No, there hasn’t been! For Dreamer there’s going to be one.
Q: Is it going to be weird to see yourself as a figure?
Fanning: I saw my doll for Dreamer and it’s really weird. It was cute but it was… me as a doll!