Dakota Fanning has always been wise beyond her years. The blond-haired, doe-eyed actress got her first major role at the ripe age of 7 in 2004's I Am Sam. Her performance as the precocious child of a developmentally challenged father (Sean Penn) earned her a SAG Award nomination the following year, making her the youngest nominee in history.
Now 23, Fanning shows no signs of slowing down. She currently stars as a police secretary on TNT's period drama The Alienist and has a new film, Please Stand By, about an autistic woman who escapes from her group home to submit her Star Trek script to a Hollywood writing competition, arriving in theaters and on demand today. The latter was something of a-full circle moment for Fanning, as the subject matter paralleled the project that cemented her status as a leading actress. Here, Fanning discusses her new movie, learning to speak Klingon, and the need for female-focused stories.
What drew you to this script? It was so well-written and so moving. [Wendy] had so many quirks: her love of Star Trek, knitting, her dog ... there were so many little things that were woven into her. Most importantly, the character didn't lead with the fact that she was on the autism spectrum. There were so many other things that were more important about her.
In I Am Sam, you played the daughter of a man with a mental handicap. How did it feel to reverse roles? There were definitely some similarities. When we made I Am Sam, there were actors in the film who were developmentally disabled, and in this movie, there were actors on the autism spectrum. I was so thrilled that they were getting the opportunity to be a part of it. I got to know a bunch of them before we started filming, and the first thing I learned [from them] is that everyone on the spectrum is different, so I felt a lot of freedom to make Wendy an individual character—I didn't base her on anyone in particular.
Did you actually learn how to speak Klingon? We had a professional Klingon teacher who would send recordings and the phonetics, so you could break it down phonetically. That was the way to learn it—phonetically—because it doesn't compute for somebody who isn't a superfan. It was a very fun scene to film. Patton Oswalt and I were laughing so hard.
I take it you're not a Trekkie. I think you can be a fan and not speak Klingon, right? I think that speaking Klingon is a whole new level of Trekkie. I was just a baseline fan. I hadn't made it to the Klingon part yet. [Laughs]
What was your favorite TV show growing up? My mom and I always used to watch Nick at Nite when I was younger, and I loved I Love Lucy. I've seen every episode. I used to have so much merchandise and memorabilia from the store at Universal Studios. I had all of it.
You and your sister, Elle, both have incredible style. Did you used to steal each other's clothes all the time? We've started to intermingle our stuff, but we can't share clothes as much because she's a lot taller than I am. Accessories we definitely steal. She had this Tiffany necklace that I wanted, and I would steal it all the time. Then I finally got my own so I don't have to steal it anymore. I was always very territorial over my stuff, so I think I traumatized her a little bit, but that's what you do as an older sister—you traumatize the younger one. [Laughs]
VIDEO: Inside Dakota and Elle Fanning's Childhood Home
You're producing and starring in the upcoming adaptation of The Bell Jar. Are you a big fan of the book? Oh yeah. That book has meant so much to a lot different people at different points in their lives. You almost don't want to touch it, but I want to bring it to life, especially for my generation. I think it's important to see stories like that play out onscreen.
Do you feel reinvigorated by the current conversation about the need for more female directors and producers? I'm definitely excited by all the conversations that are happening. I've wanted to be a director ever since I can remember, and I finally got the courage and the opportunity to try it out. I want to be involved in all facets of making films. Everything is a learning experience. I want to do as many things as I can.