By Frank Ariveso

Seven years after Somewhere helped turned Elle Fanning into a rising Hollywood star, the lithe blonde actress has re-teamed with director Sofia Coppola on The Beguiled.  Selected for the competition section at the Cannes Film Festival, the film is another leap forward in Fanning’s transition to adult roles.  She’s also excited about working again with Coppola and being part of an all-star cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst.

“Sofia and I have been friends since I was 11 and I worked on Somewhere,” Fanning says.  “It’s really exciting to work with her again because we’ve been looking for another project and finally it happened.”

Somewhere is a remake of the original 1971 Clint Eastwood Civil War drama about a wounded soldier (played by Farrell, taking over the Eastwood role) from the North forced to hide out in a girls’ school in the South; the Coppola version promises to be a highly combustible drama. Fanning has hinted that there will be plenty of bodice-ripping scenes. “There’s lots of sex in this movie,” says Fanning.

Though she may only have just turned 19, Fanning carries herself with the poise and assurance of a veteran performer, which makes sense as she has spent much of her young life on film sets, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Dakota. As articulate as she is beautiful, Elle speaks in a lively but serious manner, and it’s a bold understatement to say that she’s wise beyond her years.

Fanning made a breakthrough of sorts in last year’s macabre Nicolas Winding Refn horror flick, The Neon Demon (which also made headlines at last year’s Cannes festival).   Her stunning performance proved that she was ready to take on highly complex and demanding roles, and her subsequent appearances in this year’s Live by Night and Certain Women confirmed as much. 

Having already forged an impressive career that includes Babel, (2006), Benjamin Button (2008), Ginger and Rosa (2012) and Maleficent (2014), the tall (5’9”) and ethereally beautiful Fanning is only beginning to test her seemingly limitless potential as the next big thing in the film world.  Later this year she will be seen in the indie drama, Sydney Hall.

STRIPLV: Elle, with The Beguiled, it seems like you’re determined to take on adult roles, especially after your recent work in The Neon Demon and Live by Night.  Is that your plan now?

FANNING:  It’s a gradual transition. It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I stopped being able to play very young characters.  But I think it’s going well because I’m always looking for the roles that represent the biggest challenges, and playing characters that are not only different from each other but also very different from me. That’s the essence of being an actor, and that’s why I love this job so much.  I don’t even consider it a job, and I want to continue doing it all my life.

STRIPLV: What was it like working with Sofia Coppola again?

FANNING:  She’s very calm and quiet, but there’s this underlying sense that she knows what she wants when you’re working with her. Sofia explains things carefully although she doesn’t want to tell you too much about what she expects from you. She just has to give you this serious look, and you know to better get the shot right!

STRIPLV: What’s the atmosphere on her sets like?

FANNING: Sofia likes to keep things very relaxed. There’s no loud voices or a lot of stress getting ready for the next shot. I still remember when I first worked with her on Somewhere, talking to her on the set about the next scene was like chatting on a living room sofa with a friend. All the directors I’ve worked with have left me free to express myself, but with Sofia, the atmosphere is more relaxed.

STRIPLV: Last year was a pretty interesting time for you when you appeared in The Neon Demon and had a chance to go to Cannes for the first time. What was that experience like?

FANNING: Cannes was a very special moment for me. I had just celebrated my 18th birthday, and the night of the presentation of the film in Cannes I should have been back home in the U.S. going to my prom. So I wound up inviting my best friend who was going to be my prom date to come with me to Cannes, and it was probably the best prom night imaginable!

STRIPLV:  What about the very intense and mixed response from audiences to the film itself?

FANNING:  Before the screening, Nicolas (director Refn) and I knew that there would be a lot of diverse and intense reactions to the film. But it was kind of terrifying and exciting to be there in the theater while some people were booing and others were applauding and cheering. It was the perfect reaction, and Nic wants to make films that are going to provoke. That’s the function of art. Then what made things surreal was the AmFar party, which was very glitter and glam like a 70s disco, a bit like The Neon Demon. I met some young people there, and most of them told me that they had enjoyed the film. It was one of the best nights of my life.

STRIPLV: How does it feel to be out of high school and entering this new chapter in your life?

FANNING: I’m feeling really happy although there are times when I feel like I’m in a kind of limbo. I’ve spoken to a lot of my friends, some of whom are now studying in university while others have decided to take a break, and most of us have this odd feeling to be out of high school and not being part of that world anymore. I had the advantage though of knowing that I had a career waiting for me when I finished high school, so that’s made it a lot easier for me.

STRIPLV:   Now that you’re older, is it easier for you to connect with some of the experiences that your sister Dakota has had? Has that brought you closer together?

FANNING: Yes, it has. A few years ago the age difference between us made it harder for us to understand each other and we often argued about things. But lately we’ve started to become much closer, and I’ve even been able to hang out with her and her girlfriends and go to parties together. That’s something we were never able to do before. I’m so happy about that.

STRIPLV:  Your mother and father were both professional athletes earlier in their lives. Did they instill in you a sense of competition or drive to succeed?

FANNING:  Yes. I’ve always wanted to win and be successful. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being competitive. It makes you want to keep exceeding your own limits. I come from a family of athletes. Competition is in our blood.  My mother was a tennis pro, my dad played baseball, my maternal grandfather was a pro quarterback (Rick Arrington, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1970-72), and my aunt is a sports reporter. And when my sister started working a lot in television and film, that was also an inspiration and example for me. There’s a big part of me that feels like I have a legacy to uphold.

STRIPLV:  Even though you’re only 18, do you ever wonder about having children some day?

FANNING: Sure. My parents have been together since they were very young. You almost never hear about that these days. I would love to have their luck in love. But for the moment I’m concentrating on my career. Love can wait.

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