Dakota Fanning may be just 16 years old, but already she’s built a body of work that shames some starlets twice her age. She’s been in films since 2001, when she appeared in I Am Sam, holding her own opposite veterans Sean Penn and Michele Pfeiffer. Her latest, Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways, finds her taking her first steps toward an adult role. An adaptation of Cherie Currie’s memoir Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, the movie chronicles the rise and fall of the pioneering 1970s California-based all-girl band packaged and promoted by colorful producer Kim Fowley, and it focuses on Currie’s relationship with bandmate Joan Jett. Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Fanning discussed the challenge of portraying a real person, the perils of early fame, and her friendship with Twilight star Kristen Stewart, who plays Joan Jett.
This is the first time you’ve portrayed a real-life figure. Was that much different from what you’ve done before?
It was definitely a lot different from anything I’ve done before. Cherie was actually there, so going through this was very surreal, and it was something I’ve always wanted to do, so I was very excited about that, as well.
Was Cherie on the set very often?
She was, yes. Both she and Joan were there a lot, and I got to know her pretty well before we started filming together. It was so important to know her, because I was playing her, and again, this was the first time I was playing a real person, so I wanted to get it right.
Even though your lives share some similarities — you were both thrust into the spotlight at a young age — it seems you’ve had an easier go of it.
Um, yeah. I think we do have similarities in that we were both young when we started working, but at the same time, we grew up in a very different period. We had very different upbringings — very different experiences and expectations placed on us. And the ’70s were a very different time! She didn’t have a lot of supervision or rules, or parents. She didn’t have any of that, actually — which is very different from the business that I’ve grown up in. So I can’t really relate so much in that regard.
Cherie’s mother left her daughters when they were young. Your mother, on the other hand, has been quite active in your life and career, hasn’t she? It seems she’s been a good grounding presence for you.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. She’s always with me when I’m filming, and yes, that’s true. But she doesn't ever want to be in the spotlight. She takes a complete step back. She’s just a mom. [Laughs.]
To judge from what I saw in the film, you did a lot of your own singing.
Yeah, I did all of it.
Had you any previous singing experience?
No. I mean, I had sung a little bit, but this was the first time I ever had to go into the recording studio and do the whole thing and be on the soundtrack and all of that — which was a little bit scary! But that was something I really wanted to show that I could do.