| Adam Robezzoli
|Standing no more than 4'7" tall, 11-year-old actress Dakota Fanning has enough charm to make a drill sergeant smile. I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down and speak with her recently during her first visit to Phoenix, the initial stop on a one week cross-country expedition to promote her new film, Dreamer. I've never been so impressed by someone her age, and by the end of this article, I think you'll feel the same way.
In Dreamer Dakota plays the role of Cale, the daughter of talented Kentucky horseman Ben Crane. Due to financial difficulties, Ben has to work for other horse owners, making their horses the prime racing machines that bring home big-money rewards. One of Ben's fastest horses, Sonador, is injured mid-race, and is given to Ben along with his letter of termination. It is the story of Cale and her father coming to know one another through their mutual love of horses, and Cale's determination to nurse Sonador back into the racing champion she once was.
Not yet a teenager, Dakota has already starred alongside such talent as Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, and--now in Dreamer--Kurt Russell. How has someone so young joined the ranks of A-List actors four times her age? The answer seems too simple to be true: Dakota loves her work, and she is exceedingly talented.
Dakota's fellow actors have repeatedly gushed about how mature and talented she is, with Kurt Russell, who plays Ben Crane in Dreamer, recently being quoted as saying, "I guarantee you, she is the best actress I will work with in my entire career."
That is a strong statement, but Dakota has even higher praise for him. "(Kurt Russell) is somebody who will be in my life forever. Someone that will always be with me, and I am so lucky that I have him in my life."
For the amount of admiration and respect coming to Dakota from co-stars and the media, she doesn't let the praise puff up her ego. "I think, when people say (how mature I am) I just want to act my age even more! I guess, I just feel like the age that I am, and not any older." However, she is quick to add, "It is fun to be able to act older sometimes. I think that's what I love about acting, that you can meet people and do things that you would never be able to do in real life."
Her feature film debut in 2000 with I Am Sam was at the age of 6, making her acting career stretch over half her life at this point. Even so, she handles her fame with an ease and facility that is admirable to say the least. She playfully responds to a comment about seeing her face on posters and billboards by saying, "I went to the movies with my friend, and my face was on the [popcorn] bag. They were like... 'Wait! You're on the bag!' So it's funny."
With fame and all that comes with it, it is reassuring to know that this young Hollywood star has her priorities straight. When asked about the most important thing in her life, she earnestly replied, "My family is always the most important." She later continued, "I am a Southern Baptist, and I grew up in the south, so every Sunday I went to Sunday school. So I've grown up in a family where that's really important." After being asked if it was important to her, she quickly responded, "Very, very, very."
When asked if she has ever worked with other actors who declare their faith, she fumbles for a response (a definite rarity with Dakota), "Nobody, really... Not many people do that. You know, like when you're working... I mean it's sad. I mean, I wish they did. But, they don't... But I do!"
Joining the ranks of 2.8 million other young girls, Dakota in September became a Girl Scout. It is indicative of the fact that she is in no hurry to grow up, nor is she anxious to play more "mature" roles.
"Every year a new door opens for roles, so when that time comes... I think it's fun just to live in the moment, to take it as it comes and look forward to what you're doing."
Now that is something we can all take to heart.
Interview Photos Frank Di Bugnara / LIFETEEN.com