The stunning transformation of Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning, unlike many child stars, successfully transitioned into adult stardom. For the most part, child stars tend to leave Hollywood altogether or go through a bit of a wild streak à la Lindsay Lohan. Nevertheless, Fanning has broken the mold, having grown up beautifully and gracefully into a full-fledged actor. The star is known for her many roles, from I Am Sam to The Twilight Saga.

Be it a drama, action, or suspense, Fanning can do it all — and she’s showing no signs of slowing down, it seems. Though she’s been working for most of her life, that doesn’t mean it’s gotten old. Quite the contrary, she told Entertainment Tonight that she continues to approach acting “from the place I always have, of just pure love.” Still, the stunning transformation of Dakota Fanning over the years proves that the former child star has only gotten more talented and formidable as the years have gone on.

Dakota Fanning has always handled rejection well

Rejection isn’t easy for anyone, especially a young child. Just hearing the word “no” can send a toddler into a tantrum. But for Dakota Fanning, rejection has always been pretty easy to deal with, even as a young girl. In an interview with The Guardian, Fanning recalled how she would go on a ton of auditions when she was younger, and she got pretty used to not getting the part.

In fact, Fanning said she would often reason with herself about why she didn’t land the role and didn’t take it to heart. “I had short hair and was different looking,” she explained. “And I would say, ‘You know, they probably just really wanted someone with brown hair, or longer hair.’ And my mum would say, ‘You’re probably right.'”

That’s a pretty fantastic attitude for anyone to have, let alone a girl as young as five, which is how old Fanning told The Guardian she was when her mother took her to her very first audition. In the years since, Fanning’s ability to brush off rejection has probably come in handy.

Dakota Fanning has been acting for so long, it's natural for her

Dakota Fanning is unquestionably a total professional when it comes to acting. She’s been doing it so long, it’s no wonder she’s had such a wildly successful career. As Fanning’s IMDb page proves, the actress really hasn’t slowed down since she started acting.

Fanning’s first credited role was on the medical drama ER in 2000. That same year, she also appeared in other shows, such as Ally McBeal and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. From the get-go, Fanning has been busy working, so much so that she almost goes on auto-pilot while acting.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fanning explained that acting truly comes naturally to her. “I know how to hit a mark without looking,” she admitted. “I instinctively know where my eye line should be. That’s all 100%.” However, she added, “But your character and the story are always different, so the emotional part is not muscle memory. You’re still surprised by stuff and get the adrenaline.” Fanning may be able to always hit her mark, but she still gives 100 percent to every role, even if it would be easy for her to just phone it in.

Dakota Fanning's big-screen debut landed her among A-listers

In 2001, Fanning’s career took off in a whole new way. Not only did she land a role in a feature film, but that role put her right alongside A-lister Sean Penn and helped Fanning make her mark in Hollywood. In I Am Sam, Fanning starred as Penn’s daughter who is caught in the middle of a custody battle between her parents, with her father’s mental capacity being a large plot point.

The movie also stars Michelle Pfeiffer, so it’s likely that Fanning learned a lot from the talented and established actors she worked with on set. As she told Entertainment Tonight, “I learn by watching people, by observing them work, observing their personalities, [and] the way they interact with other people.” There’s no telling just how much Fanning absorbed on the set of I Am Sam, but regardless, her work on the movie was fantastic.

As Biography noted, Fanning earned a Screen Actors Guild Award for her part in I Am Sam, an impressive feat for such a young child. But when it comes to Fanning’s talent, no one should really be all that surprised by her success.

Dakota Fanning loved working with a certain costar

Dakota Fanning had been working for a few years when 2003 rolled around, but that year was special; she landed a role in Uptown Girls. Her role would end up meaning a lot to her, even years later, thanks to the time she was able to spend with her onscreen nanny, the late, great Brittany Murphy.

In the film, Fanning played a young girl with a very rigid view of the world. Murphy, on the other hand, played the young girl’s light-hearted, fun-loving caretaker — and the two had amazing chemistry. In a throwback Instagram post, Fanning shared a sweet photo of herself and Murphy on set with the caption: “Brittany Murphy was a ray of sunshine that made every day of filming magical for me.” Murphy passed away in 2009, just six years after Uptown Girls was released, but the star clearly still holds a special place in Fanning’s heart.

Dakota Fanning developed a close relationship with Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds

One of Dakota Fanning’s biggest roles when she was younger was in the apocalyptic action flick War of the Worlds. In the 2005 movie, Fanning plays the daughter of Tom Cruise’s character as their family tries to survive an alien invasion. Fanning was still a young girl when the movie was filmed, but when she looked back on her time working on the project, there was one unexpected perk that came to mind.

On an episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Fanning explained how the movie really helped her to develop a close relationship with Cruise. “He has sent me a birthday gift every year since I was 11 years old,” Fanning revealed. “I always think, ‘Oh, when I’m 18, he’ll probably stop. Oh, 21, he’ll stop. But every year [he sends them]. It’s really kind.” Working with Cruise might have been an awesome experience in and of itself, but the lasting relationship Fanning has with the actor is just the cherry on top.

Dakota Fanning learned a valuable lesson while filming The Secret Life of Bees

As Dakota Fanning got older, she started to learn a lot more from her roles. Not only was she honing her craft, she was also absorbing a lot of the situations her characters had to go through. For instance, when Fanning landed one of the lead roles in The Secret Life of Bees as Lily Owens, she learned a lesson in discrimination, one of the main focuses of the film.

As Fanning explained to Interview magazine, the director of the movie put into motion an exercise in discrimination. “When we got there, [Bees director] Gina [Prince-Bythewood] did this mock discrimination against me and [co-star] Jennifer [Hudson],” Fanning said. The exercise went as follows, per Fanning: “A bunch of other actors were … in the drugstore, and Gina gave us a list of stuff to find, and everyone started really discriminating against us. We got into this whole argument. It was really eye-opening.” Working on The Secret Life of Bees wasn’t just good for Fanning’s career, it also helped her learn a lot about the world, too.

Dakota Fanning had a fairly typical high school experience

As hard as it may be to believe, Dakota Fanning actually had a pretty normal life in high school. Despite her early fame and success as an actor, she enjoyed doing typical high-school things, like becoming a cheerleader and making friends.

“It’s so much fun,” Fanning said of cheerleading when speaking with Interview back in 2008. “I get to be the flier, too, which is the one who’s on top of the pyramid — so I get to do all the fun stuff.” Fanning also explained that being a part of the cheerleading squad helped her connect to other people. “I made some really good friends,” she said. 

“Cheerleading helped because I met them all over the summer, so I knew people when I first went to school,” Fanning continued. “Now that I’m in 10th grade, it’s like I’ve been there my whole life. It’s so normal.” For a child star to feel “normal” is pretty great, especially for someone as talented and successful as Fanning. And hey, if she wanted to play a cheerleader in a movie, she has plenty of experience.

Dakota Fanning harnessed her dark side for the Twilight films

One of Dakota Fanning’s most iconic roles was in The Twilight Saga. Fanning joined the cast for New Moon and played a member of the vampire Volturi family, Jane. If you haven’t seen Fanning in the Twilight films, you should know that her character is pretty evil and, as Fanning told Entertainment Weekly, it was actually pretty fun for her to harness her dark side.

“It’s one of the first times that I’ve done that,” Fanning said of playing an evil character. “And this is a character that really takes pleasure in causing people pain. And that’s kind of a fascinating character to get to play. So that was definitely one of the reasons that I wanted to do it.” For people who were used to seeing Fanning as a young, cute, sweet little girl on screen, her part in Twilight was definitely shocking, but the actor killed it (pun totally intended).

Dakota Fanning spent a lot of time alone during her teen years

The older Dakota Fanning got, the more likely it became that she would have at least some kind of breakdown. Looking at other former child stars (ahem, Britney Spears), it wouldn’t have been surprising for Fanning to need some time out of the spotlight. But, that didn’t happen. Ever the true professional, Fanning didn’t really go through a “breakdown” phase. Instead, she went on with her life and her career, but she did admit that she got a little lonely at times.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fanning explained that she would often work alone as she got older — and it would feel quite strange to her. “I have all these weird little isolated lives on film sets,” she said. “Since I turned 18, I go everywhere alone, so I think no one will ever know how it was to live and film 35 minutes outside of Philadelphia in a small town, where I was totally by myself. No one will know what my little life was like.”

Dakota Fanning lives for her work

There are definitely a lot of perks to being an actor. There’s the money, the fame, the glamour of it all — but none of those aspects of acting are what Dakota Fanning really cares about. The star works so hard because she genuinely enjoys it. Sure, you might expect that she would burn out at some point, but as she’s grown up from her child star days, she’s only gained an even greater appreciation for her field.

“When I was younger, I kept doing this because I found it fun,” she said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “It made me happy. I think that I still approach what I do with a very childlike spirit. That hasn’t changed.” Fanning added that even though acting comes with many advantages, that’s not why she does it. “I don’t do what I do for any of the other stuff that comes with being an actor. I really do it for the experience of making work and actually being on set. That’s what I live for. That’s where I’ve always felt most myself.” Perhaps it’s her love for her job that has allowed Fanning to continue in her career without any major hiccups.

Dakota Fanning is all about women's empowerment

Historically, many of the powers that be in Hollywood haven’t been all that interested in women’s empowerment. As the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have demonstrated, too many men have exploited their power at the cost of their women counterparts in the industry. Unsurprisingly, Dakota Fanning is one of the many stars in Hollywood who enthusiastically supports both movements, the star revealed to The Mercury News. “I think people finding their voices and standing up to injustice is exciting. It’s totally time for the conversation to take place,” she revealed.

Fanning is also one to seek out roles that advance women, like her role as Sara in The Alienist, and she finds doing so exhilarating. When Fanning spoke to Entertainment Tonight, she explained that she really appreciates getting to work with other talented women. “It’s so exciting to be a part of female-driven projects,” she said. “I love being around other cool ladies. It’s fun to be around women that you look up to, women that you admire, women that inspire you.”

Dakota Fanning isn't your standard role model

As someone who has grown up in the entertainment industry, it would make sense that Dakota Fanning would be pressured into being a role model. After all, she has really lived a quiet and graceful life, with no big public blunders to speak of. But when she thinks about it, Fanning doesn’t try to be a role model, nor does she necessarily want to be someone young people look up to.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Fanning explained that she’s never really even thought of herself that way. “I don’t live my life or make my decisions to be a role model for the masses,” she divulged. “I try to be a good example for my sister and be a person my family would be proud of.”

For Fanning, it’s more important to be there for her younger sister, Elle Fanning, who is also in the entertainment business. Of course, that doesn’t mean people don’t look up to the former child star (because how could you not?), but she’s not exactly trying to be a goody-two-shoes; she’s just plain good.

Dakota Fanning doesn't regret being a child star

As many former child stars go on to have impressive careers as adults, many may wonder if the stars have regrets. Fans may be concerned that a sweet little Disney Channel star would one day grow up and begrudge that she began working so early on in life. But you should know Dakota Fanning doesn’t feel that way. For Fanning, being a child star is part of what makes her life so special, and she wouldn’t change it for the world.

In an interview with Variety, Fanning explained that she got annoyed when she heard people make assumptions about her life as a child star. “When I look back and I think of the experiences being an actor has brought me, I just don’t know a lot of other people our age who have been to the places we’ve been and met all different kinds of people and the friendships,” she said. “It’s added so much to my life and it does kind of hurt me a little bit when people try and somehow turn it into a negative and I don’t like it.” Fanning has no regrets about working so young — and she doesn’t need anyone else’s opinion on it, either.

Dakota Fanning handles backlash with grace

Just about every celebrity has had to deal with some sort of controversy during their careers. Whether it was because of a relationship ending, inappropriate comments on social media, or drama on the set, actors are no stranger to making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The same can be said for Dakota Fanning, although she knows how to handle controversy with grace and kindness.

In 2019, Fanning caught some flack for her role in the film Sweetness in the Belly. The movie tells the tale of a Muslim orphan who grows up to be a nurse in Ethiopia. When people heard Fanning was slated to play the orphan, there was some backlash as Fanning is white. Instead of ignoring the controversy or getting defensive, Fanning calmly responded. “Just to clarify,” she began in an Instagram story (via Us Weekly). “In the new film I’m a part of, Sweetness in the Belly, I do not play an Ethiopian woman. I play a British woman abandoned by her parents at seven years old in Africa and raised Muslim.” Fanning went on to explain that she recognized having the “great privilege to be a part of telling this story.”

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