Growing Wings

Elle Fanning has been unstoppable since the age of three, both onscreen and off it, gradually turning into the muse of our times.

Elle Fanning, at just about 19 years of age, has done more movies than the number of years she has been acting. She began at the age of three when she played a younger Lucy (the character played by her actor sister, Dakota) in I am Sam, a feature film with Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer as her co-stars. Since then she has been filming with some of the biggest names. The dizzying list includes David Fincher, Alejandro González Iñárritu, JJ Abrams, Woody Allen, and the Coppolas, daughter and father. Her career in cinema hasn’t been interrupted ever since her first appearance onscreen. Far from the clichés of Hollywood child actors, who, as they grow up lead chaotic lives, Elle is all about joie de vivre and spontaneity. She uses her laughter as punctuation, a comma at times, which allows her to not take this rather busy existence too seriously.

What really intrigues us though is her ability to juggle her cinematic commitments (both artistic and commercial) and also be a part of some of the biggest fashion houses. Even though 2017 has appeared to be a packed year for Elle, with the release of four movies, she also now the face of brands such as L’Oréal and Miu Miu. Looks like her presence will be felt the next year too. We caught up with Elle to know more about her idea of fashion and working with women filmmakers.

You are so young and yet your career has been quite extensive. Do you feel older sometimes?

Oh boy! It is true that I started acting rather young. My sister Dakota and I have studied the terrain well surrounded by adults. I spent a large portion of my childhood interacting with people a lot older than myself and I was always at ease with them. So, I suppose I will say yes, I do feel a little old at times (laughs). But I also feel like a young woman of my age, especially when I think of all the things that I haven’t done yet.

We have been told that you apparently lie to your cab drivers? 

Yes (laughs). I have my driver’s licence, but in Los Angeles I am a little afraid to drive. So, I take a lot of cabs. Most of the time they have no idea who I am and therefore, once the conversation starts, I can be whoever I want to be and say whatever I want to. I always have a different reply to the same question, which is what do I do. So, I have been a professional volleyball player, a mother of two… I have had many different lives.

And who are you right now?

(She looks at what she’s wearing) The Miu Miu collection that I am wearing today have a mechanical chic side to it, with a lot of detailing. So, I suppose I’d be someone who works with cars, someone a little strange and eccentric. That’s what I love about Miu Miu. The clothes could be in the movies. Each piece makes me think of a character from a film, with their individual lives.

Which outfit resembles you best?

A light, white dress. I think that’s the outfit my friends think of when they think of me. I don’t wear black very often. Pastels are a regular with me. I am already so pale and also like being really pale, have very blond hair and everything… I end up looking like a ghost (laughs). The Sofia Coppola film named The Beguiled was a period film in which you wore elaborate costumes.

Your next film is Galveston by Mélanie Laurent, which is set in the ’80s. Is this your new passion, period films?

Mélanie’s film isn’t a period drama so there are no costumes as such. Well actually, in a way, yes, because the film takes place in the 1980s, but there aren’t any corsets. In The Beguiled, it was the legitimate period and the costumes were magnificent. Sofia Coppola is very particular about aesthetics, we spent a lot of time in fittings to find the right style. The makeup was immaculate for each character. It was all very amusing, except for the corsets. Those weren’t amusing to say the least. They really had to be tightened. So, every morning a stylist would come to help us dress because it was simply impossible to do it ourselves with all those buttons and laces. The secret to tightening corsets to the utmost, back in the day was drinking some vinegar to contract the stomach, some pulling and complete tightening.

Really? That sounds terrible. We find you more of a bad girl in this film. Is that a side of you that you would like to reveal to the world?

I believe that I could have that side, yes. I have known Sofia since I was 11. She has seen me grow up in a manner of speaking. When she wrote to me about the film, she told me that she was very excited at the prospect of having me play a pest. It was really fun to play that role, but she and I often went red during certain scenes. We would be annoyed and then break into laughter.

The team working on the film was almost entirely women, and then after that you were directed by Mélanie Laurent. Do you consciously want to work with women?

It is true that the last three people that I have worked with on films have been women. It isn’t a conscious decision. I don’t choose a film for that reason, but I am glad that I am working with women. There should be more and more women on the teams, their point of view on life is very different and we need to show that to everyone. There should be films that inspire young girls, characters of strong and complex women, multi-dimensional women.

Which female character made an impression on you?

I love Sissy Spacek. She was extraordinary in Badlands, the Terrence Malick film.

You have worked with a lot of French artists, Mélanie Laurent, Lolita Lempicka, Woodkid. Any special affinity towards France?

But of course! Alright, I’m going to recount a little anecdote. When I was little, I spent my time, completely spellbound, saying, “Paris is my favourite city in the world,”where as in truth, I had never even set one foot there! (laughs). Nevertheless, I confirm it now it is my favourite place to be. I have spent a fair amount of time in France in the recent past. I also did a film with Charlotte Gainsbourg, which will soon be released. I was able to have a bit of an exchange with Marion Cotillard at Cannes as we had dinner together. I would love to work with her. 

You are aware that she either dies or has a horrific accident in most of her films? Prepare yourself! 

(Laughs.) It’s okay, I am ready! She is truly incredible.

You participate in a creative universe of others, whether it’s cinema or fashion. Does that give you the urge to create one of your own?

I have always wanted to direct a film. I write a fair number of things.

What would be your universe?

I’d have to think about that. It all depends on the story one wants to tell, right? That’s what is so wonderful about cinema, one can do what one wants, be who one wants to be. I tend to prefer sad films that depress the viewers (laughs).

You could absolutely do a film with Marion Cotillard then!

There you go! There is something substantial here. It would be a dream to have Marion in a film that I would direct.

You manage, successfully, to juggle between artistic and commercial projects. How do you strike a balance?

I find that social networking has changed everything. Today, actresses can express their interest in things other than acting, like fashion. I always adored clothing. As a child I was obsessed with them and how to put different articles together. My mother used to let me experiment and wear whatever I wanted, even if it was bizarre.

You were the little strange girl?

I was absolutely the little strange girl (laughs). All the way through to high school which is when I started to find myself. I started becoming comfortable with the idea of being odd. I loved it. I also had spectacles because I couldn’t see anything without them. I wore the craziest pairs. I had enormous, bright red frame, they were super cool. Everyone made fun of me, but I just loved them.

You are the muse for L’Oréal. Could you teach us how to do the perfect hair toss?

Oh yes, I think I can. I must have the right to a couple of tries though, that’s all. Okay, I’m ready!

BY Nidhi
Managing Editor

Nidhi Raj Singh is the Managing Editor of L'Officiel India. You can find her hidden behind a book when she is not writing or taking photos.