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In Depth

People In Film | Elle Fanning

Elle Fanning is Somewhere

In Sofia Coppola’s new film Somewhere, Elle Fanning plays Cleo, the mature daughter of an adolescent movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). She may be only 12 years old, but for critics and fans alike, it’s clear that she is not only a match for, but also an asset to, every adult in the film. In his Variety review, Justin Chang notes, “Fanning matches [Dorff] nuance for nuance, rendering their onscreen relationship effortlessly convincing.” Screen International’s Mark Adams echoes the sentiment, highlighting that “Fanning is wonderful as the self-confident but also rather fragile Cleo, and Dorff’s performance reaches new levels when they are on-screen together.” In casting Elle to play Cleo, Coppola realized that the young lady was a force all herself: “You want to watch Elle; she stands out, she has this sparkle, she is full of life, and she brings so much to Somewhere. I tried not to interfere too much with what she was doing, because she’s so good and was so instinctual.”

Ellen Fanning Comes from Somewhere

Elle Fanning was born and raised in Conyers, Georgia––a far cry from Hollywood, California. While Dakota, her older sister (by four years), led her into acting, her family’s fame lay not in entertainment, but in sports. Her mother played tennis professionally under her maiden name, Joy Arrington. Her father, Steve Fanning, was a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, Rick Arrington, was a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. And her aunt, Tiffany “Jill” Arrington, was voted “Sexiest Sportscaster in America” in 2001. But her biggest family influence remains her actress sister Dakota, of whom Elle explains, “"We don't really talk about movie stuff at home. It's more about sisterly stuff. I like singing, dancing, sketching and we draw together. It's fun.”

Elle Fanning Goes Somewhere

"I just do; I put myself in the character’s place. Acting is making believe, then being natural – and going with whatever happens."  Elle Fanning

In a 2009 interview with Vanity Fair, Elle Fanning described her introduction to the art of film acting as follows: “I was 18 months in I Am Sam with Sean Penn. I rolled around on the grass.” For that film, and for Taken the next year, Elle was cast as a younger version of her sister in the film. But starting in 2003, when Elle was picked to be a rambunctious ward of Eddie Murphy’s Daddy Day Care, the young star was off and running. In the next seven years, she would appear in 13 features (starring in most), show up in eight major TV shows (several in recurring roles), and star in a few shorts here and there. She would also evolve from rolling in the grass with Sean Penn to becoming one of the best young actors working today. In Phoebe In Wonderland, Fanning’s performance as the emotionally disturbed girl in the tile brought descriptions like “wondrous” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) and “a touching, subtle portrayal of a troubled child” (Stephen Holden, New York Times). For playing the mute daughter of Ryan Reynolds in The Nines, Peter Sciretta at Slashfilm.com suggests that she “displays a charisma and cuteness that makes you wonder if she might someday surpass her older sister Dakota."

Elle Fanning Has Been Somewhere with Focus

Two of the films for which Ms. Fanning has received the most attention have been from Focus Features. In Tod Williams’s 2004 The Door in the Floor, Elle plays the surviving daughter of a married couple (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) whose lives fall apart after their two teenage sons die in a car crash. Covering the film for NewEnglandFilm.com, Sandy MacDonald noted, “Elle Fanning may make you wish there were an Oscar category for four-year-olds.” Three years after The Door in the Floor, Fanning showed up in another Focus film, Terry George’s Reservation Road. Here she plays (again) the sister of a young boy killed in a fatal hit-and-run. In a cast which includes Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly, and Mark Ruffalo, the young Fanning holds her own. The site Dose notes, “The grown-ups in this movie could really learn a thing or two" from her and the Denver Post calls her performance “note perfect in every scene.” 

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