Dakota Fanning, the former child star who screamed her way through War of the Worlds and terrorized Edward and Bella in The Twilight Saga, has her most grown-up role to date in the drama Night Moves, opening in New York and Los Angeles on May 30. She, Jesse Eisenberg, and Peter Sarsgaard play a trio of eco-terrorists bent on blowing up an Oregon dam in this tense contemporary character study from indie director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff). In the film, Fanning’s character Dena is a low-key, auburn-haired, sneaker-wearing activist, but when Yahoo Movies caught up with the blonde beauty in a suite at Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel, she had clearly shucked the drab hoody and jeans, curling up in an upholstered chair wearing a low-cut black silk tank top, leather shorts, and gladiator heels.
Reichardt sets Night Moves in the alternative culture of the Pacific Northwest. Your character, Dena, works in a new age health spa and Eisenberg’s sleeps in a yurt. Was it a relief to play a character who didn’t have to spend hours in hair and make-up?
With the character I was playing, my hair ended up getting matted in the back. I had this weird little dreadlock that I was like, “Ack! There’s nothing I can do about it.” Kelly [Reichardt] was like “I love it.” So I definitely feel like I learned about the crunchy side of life, but that isn’t who I usually am. [Laughs]
That unpolished look feels like it belongs in a Reichardt movie. She’s known for her naturalistic style in movies like Wendy and Lucy.
She really lets the actors be. I feel like making this film was as close to how people are in real life than any movie I’ve ever made. Kelly isn’t afraid of the silences, and if somebody stumbles over a word, that’s okay because that happens in real life. Sometimes filmmakers want everything to be perfect and glossed over and everybody looks like they wake up with lip balm on.
What was your most emotional moment while filming?
Doing the action in the boat [when we’re about to blow up the dam] was surprisingly emotional. It was towards the very beginning of the shoot and it was really cold. It was three in the morning and we were doing all this really intense stuff and for the three main characters, that’s what they’ve been building up to. Seeing that dam, and how big it is, and [how] they’re on this tiny boat going up to do this act of sabotage — it is a weird spiritual experience for them.
As an individual, what was your most radical activity?
I’m a strict rule follower. [Laughs] People tease me all the time because I’m afraid of getting in trouble for all sorts of things. At airports, I get terrified. I do everything that they say.
Has your rule-following tendencies helped you transition from child to adult star?
I’m sure it has helped me that my natural instinct is to try and do the right thing. I have a really great life that I love and I don’t want to do anything that changes it. [Laughs] I’m more of a risk taker in my work. I’m not afraid of a challenge when it comes to playing a character.
You attend New York University, just a few blocks from where this interview is taking place, and you’ve been studying women in film and Hollywood’s portrayal of women. Did that draw you to working with a female director?
For me, it’s more about wanting there to be more female directors. There’s no shortage of women who want to make films. There are so many male directors and so many male-driven films and there are significantly fewer female-driven films and female directors — and that’s not because they don’t exist.
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