Dakota Fanning still acts her age in The Runaways, but 1970s jailbait rocker is a role to shock anyone believing she's still that kewpie doll from I Am Sam, Dreamer and War of the Worlds.
As Runaways singer Cherie Currie, the 16-year-old actor vaults beyond ingenue to snorting a palm full of cocaine, groping male groupies and sharing a steamy same-sex kiss with co-star Kristen Stewart. Fanning also squeezes into Currie's signature lingerie to perform several Runaways hits, including that unsubtle anthem of teenage sexuality, Cherry Bomb.
The little girl is growing up fast, at least on screen.
In real life, Fanning is a cheerleader at her North Hollywood high school, an avid knitter, and dabbles in piano and violin while learning to speak French.
None of that jibes with Currie's amoral excesses, which is why her profession is called "acting." That's a contradiction moviegoers should get used to seeing, as Fanning explained during a telephone chat while on spring break:
You're smartly maturing on screen with your role choices, like The Runaways. Are these entirely your decisions, or your parents and advisors?
A lot of people are ultimately involved in the decisions, but at the end of the day it's me who has to decide. When you make a movie, you give a part of yourself to the character. I have to move me, and inspire me, at the end of the day. I know there's that certain feeling when you read a script and it speaks to you. You feel like it was made for you, in a way.
There's a scene in The Runaways when Cherie first hears the lyrics to Cherry Bomb and says, no, I'm not doing that, and nearly quits. Could you do that, if a role is too edgy?
That's a very hard thing to do. It says a lot about her innocence and her toughness, which is something I think everyone loved about her. But, yeah, sometimes you have to say no. For a role, maybe there's some things I wouldn't do. I don't know if you can think about that until you actually get to that point, you know?
Some folks don't want to let go of the little, darling Dakota they loved in I Am Sam and War of the Worlds.
That's only natural. People have seen me in films since I was 6, and feel like they've watched me grow up. I completely understand. A lot of people aren't used to seeing me do different kinds of subject matter in films but as you get older that's what happens. I want to do this forever, so I'll probably be doing a lot of different things down the road. I look forward to that, and hope my fans can grow along with that.
Many of those fans are growing up with you, perhaps considering you as a role model, either in movies or real life. Does that make any difference?
When you do something where you're in the public (eye), that comes along with it. It's something you have to accept. But I don't know if you can choose roles according to which one is the best role model. That's not really fair. As a person, you live your life in a certain way. But in films, that's your time to kind of explore a different kind of personality, or a different kind of life.
So, who do you want to be: Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts?
I don't know. I don't ever want to be somebody else. But I admire Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts so much. I want to continue doing roles that move me, or can move other people. That's what you aspire to do as an actor. I don't know where the roles can take you. I want to do different things all the time, and whatever comes along that feels right.
Are you aware of your image as a freakishly intelligent Hollywood kid?
I've never thought of myself as anything other than who I am. Maybe it has something to do with my parents always treating me, from the time I was a baby, like a real person. They always treated me like my opinion mattered. I've always felt very normal, and I have such a normal life when I'm not acting. Also, my mom raised me with good Southern manners, so that helps.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.