THE INGENUEElle Fanning
By Merle Ginsberg and Laurie Sandell
EVER SINCE SHE STARTED ACTING at age 3, all we've read about Elle Fanning is how beyond-her-years sophisticated the now 16-year-old is. And when she arrives at Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont, there's little to visibly contradict that observation: She's decked out in Marni tweed cigarette pants ("very Marilyn Monroe-y," she says) and shoes, an Acne sweater, and this season's Prada face-printed bag. And at 5'8", she's almost easy to lose in the crowd of other leggy blondes with big aspirations and designer clothes in the hotel's lobby—ground zero for starlets.
Except for two things. First, she's not trying. She doesn't have to, having made more than 25 movies, including this month's Maleficent with Angelina Jolie; Low Down with Glenn Close; and Young Ones, written and directed by Jake Paltrow (the latter two premiered at Sundance). And second, Fanning doesn't have a jaded bone in her body. That's obvious when she gets super-animated about her two passions: acting and fashion. Her jubilant, girlish self emerges, revealing the contrast between lovely ingenue and the child who grew up on a film set and is hanging onto every remaining moment of innocence.
While she's gone to the Sundance Film Festival three times ("The first time, I was 9"), attended Chanel Haute Couture shows (at 12), shot a Miu Miu campaign, and made movies with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, the high school sophomore is most surprising—refreshing, even—when talking about dolls, junk food, boys, and homework.
"I love to do my homework in the doll room," Fanning says, giggling, of the playroom at home she once shared with her big sister, actress Dakota Fanning. "It's where we keep our collection of Madame Alexander dolls! We get one every Christmas and every birthday." She confesses a penchant for French fries and Milky Ways; is relieved that, finally, boys her age are nearly her height; and unlike her friends, will not be taking driving lessons yet because of work. And while she might have been drawn to Maleficent by its fairy-tale-size, reportedly $200 million budget and by the prospect of working with Jolie ("She was so amazing—you should have seen her walking around the set in her witch costumes, feeding her twins"), it was the Sleeping Beauty story that actually got her. "You know how each [Disney] princess has a different hair color and dress?" Fanning asks. "I identified with Aurora and her long blonde hair, so to get to play her was a huge thing, because she's mine! My princess."
During the three-and-a-half-month shoot, Fanning did her schoolwork with a traveling teacher. "I'm just used to it by now," she says breezily. "I like discipline. I'm not happy when I have nothing to do. I prefer doing everything!" More evidence of Fanning's inner 16-ness: the ways she does not identify with girls her age. "I don't normally wear much makeup," she pronounces. "Everyone does what they're comfortable with, but you don't need all this foundation and stuff. Then you can look forward to something when you're older!" And despite her true love of fashion—Rodarte, Oscar de la Renta, Prada, Valentino—she knows her limits: "I like to dress my age. You don't want to look too old when you're not, or too young when you're not." But keeping herself interesting is one of the more mature parts of the way Fanning approaches life and stardom. "When it comes to what I wear, I always try to choose something no one's seen before. I at least try to create a look that's interesting, even if someone hates it!" How adult is that? —Merle Ginsberg
PROVENANCE: Conyers, GA
CURRENT RESIDENCE: L.A.
BIG BREAK: Playing the younger version of her older sister, Dakota Fanning, in I Am Sam (2001)
SEE HER NEXT IN: Maleficent, out May 30
WHO KNEW? "I refuse to wear jeans!"