Elle Fanning follows in the footsteps of her older sister Dakota in succeeding as a prominent child actor. She quickly made a name for herself in the likes of Babel, Super 8 and We Bought a Zoo. Her latest role imposes quite a challenge: revising the character of Aurora in Disney’s big-budget Sleeping Beauty update, Maleficent. She sat down with the press to talk about the role at the recent press conference for the film.
Question: What was the experience of working with Angelina Jolie like?
Elle Fanning: I was extremely nervous to meet her. You hear that name and it’s like the most famous ever. You know exactly who she is and what she’s done. I remember that we were in Pinewood Studios during rehearsals and I didn’t know I was going to meet her that day. We were just doing costume fittings and stuff. Then everyone started saying “she’s here, she’s here!” And I’m like, “My God” and the knot was growing in my stomach. Then I turned the corner and there she was. No horns or anything. She was in normal, normal clothes. We’re both big huggers, so she gave me a giant hug right away and said, “we’re gonna have so much fun working together.”
I still get butterflies when I see her. You can't help but feel that way I think. But then you meet her and he’s just another girl in a way, and we would just talk about normal girl things. We were talking about prom, and you get to see her sensitivity her playful. All her kids were on set and she’d pick them up in her whole outfit, pick up Vivie and Knox on both hips like in the cloak. It was the opposite of what I kind of thought she would be.
Q: There’s such tenderness between you and her. It’s actually just kind of rare that you see two women on screen that are not talking about men.
EF: I know. I’m glad that our film was like that. It’s more of a maternal love and a friendship love that wins out over a romantic love with a guy. So that was a nice take on it. Especially her being so powerful and being a leading lady in the movie. She’s totally in charge of the whole film and she’s a woman, which I thought was great. And, yeah, when I started filming… I was such a huge fan of the animated version, and it felt like we were breaking some weird Disney rule. Like, Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty aren’t supposed to talk to each other, they’re enemies! But the way it turned out, it’s a fresh take on, with much more modern sensibilities. It’s very different.
Q: Do you think it will go on? Is there a sequel to this?
EF: This movie is the most effects-heavy thing that I’ve ever done, especially with [director] Rob [Stromberg] coming from Avatar and his background on things. We deal with standing a lot. Whenever you have a hair change or a wardrobe change you have to stand on this turntable and they’d turn you inch by inch, you have to stand there: you can't move. They take pictures of your face in funny positions, and basically they make virtual you out of that. Then they can put you on screen in front of a backdrop that they’re creating so it’s helpful for them. Even so, you do have to use your imagination, but at the same time, you don’t want to get too wrapped up in the technical bits of it because you’re still playing a character. You have to be the best you can be as an actor instead of worrying about where things are, even though you still have to worry about where things are. The special effects people put in all these characters, but if the actor doesn’t believe that it’s around and that it’s happening, then you can lose the whole scene.
Q: What about acting sleeping?
EF: Some days I’d go in and I get dressed, put on everything, and then just sleep the entire day. It was so nice. But at that point, you can't really act. One time I did fall asleep laying there and it was so scary because you can mess up the scene if you like start moving in your sleep, and not knowing you were asleep. You had to fight yourself not to fall asleep.
Q: Is this your first film where you get a toy version of yourself?
EF: It is, yeah. At the Disney store, I’ve seen little me’s, it’s so strange. My grandma went to the Disney store and she saw all the Aurora dolls, and she was grabbing all of them! She went to the register and they were like, “you can only take five.” So she only got five.