EB White’s Charlotte’s Web is one of the most beloved children’s books of all time. It has previously been adapted into a musical cartoon, but everything old gets remade again in Hollywood, and now there’s a live action version hitting theaters this weekend. There’s an all-star cast of animal voices, but the lead human is none other than the preternaturally mature Dakota Fanning.
To be honest, I find the people interviewing Dakota Fanning more interesting than she is. It’s not that Fanning is boring – she’s perky and sweet and well spoken even when going off what is obviously the script – it’s that the journalists never seem to know how to deal with her. This looks like a little girl, but the answers she gives are not the halting giggles most kiddie thesps give – Fanning is better at a junket roundtable than some seasoned adult actresses. But she doesn’t get annoyed when asked lame questions, but she gets very in to answering more adult questions (check out her talking about her very adult sexual scenes in her next film here, which was clipped from this interview). Next time I interview her I’d like to know what her thoughts are on the economic impacts of microlending.
Q: Would you like to have a pig for a pet?
Fanning: One day I definitely would. I worked with them fro so long – they’re so smart and so cute. How can you not love them? I think if you don’t love pigs, you’re a little bit weird.
Q: What actress is your role model?
Fanning: There are so many. I love Jodi Foster – I would love to be like her and Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep. There are so many wonderful actors and actresses, some that I have worked with and some I would love to work with in the future.
Q: What’s the secret to acting with animals?
Fanning: My character doesn’t ever really have to talk to the animals, to have any conversations really, so that made it easier. They didn’t have to read any off-camera lines or anything like that. That made it a lot better.
Q: But are you sitting waiting for hours for the pig to turn and look at the camera?
Fanning: If the pig wouldn’t turn they would bring another pig in.
Q: Fire the pig immediately.
Fanning: They would change pigs depending on how they felt that day.
Q: There were 47 pigs – did you get to know any of them individually?
Fanning: I worked with pretty much all of them equally. We would get them as little babies and train them right from the start. They were all really good, and they were all a little bit different – some were affectionate and better at being held, and some were better at following me around and stuff. They were all good at one particular thing.
Q: Was this a book you were familiar with?
Fanning: Definitely. I read the book so many times. My mom has read it, my sister started reading it when we started the movie and it was great for her to see the scenes coming to life. I love the book so much and it means so much to me, about friends and life in general. I think it can help everyone.
Q: So you had some ideas about Fern’s character before you started.
Fanning: It came from reading the book; I tried to portray her as EB White had written her. I had two scripts – I had the book and the script, so I portrayed her as those showed her.
Q: When you saw the movie which animal surprised you the most?
Fanning: All the animals were there except Templeton and Charlotte, so I really knew all the animals – all the horses and cows and sheep and pigs and geese were there. There was only a couple of times when there was a CG pig, like when he was flipping. They did an animatronic pig like twice, and they did animatronic geese because they would get tempermental with the other animals.
Q: How much does Fern know about the animals? She has a line where she says, ‘They’re all my friends, except the rat’ which makes it sound like maybe she knows the dynamics in the barn.
Fanning: I think she is kind of into because she’s always there and listening to them, but imagining at the same time. She’s in her own little world there, but then she grows out of that. I think Fern knows a lot about their stories and their relationships – that the cows are always making fun of the sheep and Wilbur and Charlotte are friends, but I don’t think she knows specific instances.
Q: Is this your first movie with a boyfriend?
Fanning: I guess so! It’s symbolic of Fern growing up and getting interested in her appearance and getting interested in boys and just not going to the barn all the time. That was important for Fern, but not for me in real life yet.
Q: What was in the book that helped you with Fern that wasn’t in the script?
Fanning: I just basically had to do the script, so if there was something that wasn’t in the script, I didn’t have to portray that, so I didn’t think about what wasn’t in the script. I love the book, but I only did what was in the script.
Q: Actors learn something from every role – what did you learn from this movie?
Fanning: You know, I learn something different from everything, and on this movie I learned a lot – of course about animals, which is for my life. And I got to work with Gary Winnick, who is such a great, amazing person and a wonderful director for this because he has such a huge heart, and I think that’s what this movie is about. I learned from him how to make a book into a film and still preserve the legacy of that book.
Q: What kind of movies do you like to watch?
Fanning: I haven’t seen a lot of movies this year, but I like all kinds. I like comedies and dramas, I like action movies. I think probably my favorite is dramedies, where it’s kind of funny and serious at the same time.
Q: Denzel Washington recently said you were the most beautiful co-star he ever had. Would you return the compliment and say he’s the most handsome co-star you’ve ever had?
Fanning: [laughs] You know, Denzel was so amazing to work with – and yeah, he’s a very handsome guy! Of course! I think he’s a wonderful person on the inside and the out.
Q: What kind of director do you like best – the kind who lets you have your space to figure things out, or the kind who guides you closely, who tells you how to say your lines?
Fanning: I’ve never really worked with a director that gives line readings. On the movies that I’ve done it’s just been room for anything – any ideas anyone else had. That’s the kind of directors I’ve worked with. I’m sure in the future I might work with other ones, but the ones I’ve worked with have always been open to ideas, and the scenes would always change.
Q: What kind of advice have you given your sister about acting?
Fanning: I haven’t given her any advice, and not for any particular reason. I just never have. She just has gone out and done it and enjoyed it as much as I have and had fun and done great.
Q: What do you have lined up after Hounddog?
Fanning: I have Coraline, an animated movie. I play Coraline in that, and Terry Hatcher is in that as well. It comes out in two years, unfortunately. I think it’s the beginning of 2008.
Q: You sing in this movie – is that something we’re going to see more of?
Fanning: In Untitled/Hounddog I sing!
Q: Do you sing Elvis in that?
Fanning: A bunch. I sing Hound Dog, of course.
Q: Is there music you listen to get psyched up?
Fanning: I really am not the hugest music person. I know there are some people, like I have friends who love music and they’ll go in their room and listen to music for hours. I kind of don’t do that as much, but sometimes I get in a zone and I’ll listen to my iPod a lot more than usual.
Q: What’s in your iPod?
Fanning: Tom [Cruise] actually gave me my iPod, so I didn’t choose what’s on there. [laughs] There are a lot of different things, there’s like Buddy Holly and Queen and Gwen Stefani. There’s all kinds of music.