In 1994 on the 23rd of February in Conyers, Georgia, Steve and Joy Fanning welcomed their first child, Hannah Dakota Fanning into the world. “My dad named me Dakota and my mom came up with my first name Hannah. So it’s Hannah Dakota Fanning.” Being professional sports players (Steve was once a minor league baseball player, Joy played tennis), they didn’t expect their daughter would become an in demand Hollywood actress and household name in a few short years.
Dakota attended a Montessori school in Georgia where she learned to read at the age of two. She “always wanted to be an actress” an endeavour which became apparent at a young age. Her younger sister, Elle Fanning, born in 1998 on the 9th of April, also an actress, helped out from time to time. Dakota would stuff a pillow up her shirt and ‘give birth’ to baby Elle. She also enjoyed performing in school plays, where her talent was recognised by others – it was recommended to her parents that they sign Dakota to an agency. At the age of five in 1999, Dakota’s first acting job was for a Tide dishwashing detergent commercial, which was to be aired nationwide. She was discovered by agent Cindy Osbrink of The Osbrink Agency, who represented both Dakota and Elle. “When I first saw Dakota Fanning, she was only 5, but she just lit everything up.! 1999 saw the beginning of Dakota’s career as a professional actor which has grown tremendously ever since.
The following year, 2000, Dakota lent her talent to six television shows. She played a leukaemia patient in the very popular E.R., one of Dakota’s favourite roles to date. She only worked for two days but loved wearing the neck brace and nose tubes. She also appeared in Ally McBeal, Strong Medicine, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Practice and Spin City.
Dakota’s first movie was the short film Father Xmas. Set in 1968, young Clairee wants her father, who is fighting in the Vietnam War, to come home for Christmas. Marie Rose who wrote and directed Father Xmas knew at the time Dakota had an amazing career ahead of her. As well as a pig-tailed little girl in Tomcats, Dakota spent more time on television sets, guest appearing in Malcolm in the Middle, The Fighting Fitzgeralds, The Ellen Show, and lending her voice-over skills to Family Guy.
In 2001, Dakota got her big break when she was cast as Lucy Diamond Dawson in I Am Sam, a moving story about a mentally retarded man, played by Sean Penn, who is seen unfit to care for his 7-year-old daughter Lucy. With the help of a lawyer, Michelle Pfeiffer, who reluctantly takes on the case pro-bono, the pair fight for custody. As audiences fell in love with precocious little Lucy, Dakota won thousands of fans, as well as a name for herself in Hollywood. Her performance gained her a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, the youngest person ever to be nominated, being seven years of age at the time. She won the Best Young Actor/Actress award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her performance.
Director Steven Spielberg cast Dakota as Allie Keys in the science fiction mini-series, Taken. Many of Dakota’s fans attribute this as the role after which they began to follow her career. Also in 2002, Dakota played a young Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama where she shared her first on-screen kiss with Thomas Curtis. In Hansel & Gretel she starred as Katie, and was seen alongside Charlize Theron and Kevin Bacon in the dramatic Trapped. She remembered her own lines as well as everyone else’s!
In 2003, Dakota, Brittany Murphy and a pig named Mu met in New York City to film Uptown Girls. Brittany couldn’t get over how professional and intelligent Dakota was. In addition, Dakota took on the role of Sally in the movie adaptation of Dr. Suess’ beloved children’s book, The Cat in the Hat. A favourite of Dakota’s, she often read the book to Elle when they were younger.
Up next was a role that took Dakota south of the border to Mexico City. She had to have bodyguards with her at all times, which ironically is what Man On Fire is all about. Dakota played Lupita “Pita” Ramos, a young girl who is kidnapped for ransom. Denzel Washington, her bodyguard, wounded himself during the kidnapping, vows to exact revenge upon each and every person involved. Film critic Roger Ebert said Dakota “is a pro at only 10 years old, and creates a heart-winning character.” In her latest TV guest appearace to date, she and Matt LeBlanc shared a scene during one of the final episodes of the series Friends.
Dakota’s fans were treated to a very different kind of character in 2005. In a dark-haired wig to match her dark personality, Dakota became Emily Callaway in the thriller Hide and Seek. Co-starring De Niro (or “Bob,” as Dakota calls him), the story follows the father-daughter duo as they attempt to make a fresh start following the suicide of their wife and mother. As Emily finds solace in an imaginary friend, Charlie, events lead her father to question just how imaginary Charlie really is… Dakota admitted she and Elisabeth Shue had to cover their eyes from time to time during the premiere! Dakota enjoyed working alongside De Niro and hopes to work with him again someday.
While Emily Callaway instilled fear in audiences, extraterrestrials instilled fear in Rachel Ferrier in War of the Worlds. Dakota’s second time working with Steven Speilberg and first time with Tom Cruise, who gifted Dakota her very first cell phone, War of the Worlds took her all over the planet. With premieres in Japan, Europe and America, June was a busy month for Dakota. Despite the full-on schedule, Dakota loves to promote her movies as it allows her to get together with the cast again.
As 2005 drew to a close, Dakota was seen in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, where a family is brought together through a magic horse. Kurt Russell, her on-screen father, had nothing but praise for his co-star. “I guarantee you, (Dakota) is the best actress I will work with in my entire career.” She also had a small role in the film Nine Lives, in which she shared an unbroken, nine-minute scene with Glenn Close. “She’s definitely an old soul. She’s one of those gifted people that come along every now and then.” Outside the world of entertainment, Dakota became a registered member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, and a special ceremony was held to welcome her.
Released in 2006, Charlotte’s Web took Dakota to Australia in May 2005, directly after filming War of the Worlds. Jordan Kerner, who procuded the film, could not have been happier. “…when she was so caught up in War of the Worlds, we had to end up going on a search for other young actresses. They would have been nothing compared to her.”
In 2007, Dakota attended the Sundance Film Festival in Utah for the first time, where Hounddog premiered. The story follows Lewellen, a lonely girl living in the American South during the 1950s, who finds solace through the music of Elvis Presley. Also a first for Dakota, the movie was met with harsh critisism, specifically a scene in which Dakota’s character is sexually assaulted. Her parents were unfairly judged for allowing their daughter’s involvement, however Dakota, her family and those who worked on Hounddog remained professional, defending the movie. An intelligent girl with a supportive family who loves each of the characters she portrays, she handlded the situation commendably. "It’s a movie, and it’s called acting."
Her second short movie was Cutlass, directed by Kate Hudson in 2007. She also filmed Winged Creatures, the name of which was later changed to Fragments, released in 2008, alongside Josh Hutcherson, Kate Beckinsale, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson. Dakota plays Anne Hagen, part of a group of strangers who form a bond following a shooting in a diner. At the end of 2007, Dakota along with Chris Evans and Camilla Belle spent time in Hong Kong, China filming the science fiction thriller Push. A swearing, drinking 13-year-old, Cassie Holmes is a Watcher, thus able to self-induce visions of the future. Push and Coraline both released in the United States on the same day, on the 6th of February in 2009.
Though Dakota didn’t mind being homeschooled, she wanted a real high school experience and began her freshman year at Campbell Hall School in 2007, where she made plenty of new friends and joined the cheerleading squad.
2008 began with the filming of the movie adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees, a novel of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd. A female-oriented cast, it also starred Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okeonedo. Set in South Carolina in 1964, Dakota stepped back in time and became Lily Owens. Together with her caregiver and only friend, Rosaleen (Hudson), the pair run away from their troubled lives and find a home with three beekeeping sisters.
Along with the release of Push and Coraline in 2009, Dakota joined the worldwide phenomenom that is The Twilight Saga, appearing in New Moon as Jane, a member of the antagonistic Volturi. Dakota enjoyed her time as Jane – “I think the highlight of playing Jane was getting to wear that costume and to have the red contact lenses. I was really excited about that, and getting to play an evil character.” Dakota reprised the role of Jane two more times, in 2010’s Eclipse and 2012’s Breaking Dawn: Part 2. Voted for by her peers, she was crowned Homecoming Princess on the 30th of October at her high school’s football team’s away game.
Following the true story of the band of the same name, The Runaways was a new experience where Dakota portrayed a real person, Cherie Currie, who worked with Dakota during filming and praised her performance. A talented chainsaw wood carver, Cherie made Dakota a custom-made "Runaways" guitar. "I carved a guitar for Dakota Fanning for her 16th birthday, and that took me a long amount of time because it had to be perfect." Of Dakota’s performance, film critic Mary Pols stated she "turns in a performance of startling maturity", "seduces us utterly" and is "like a mini-Meryl Streep". Starring alongside Kristen Stewart in both The Twilight Saga franchise and The Runaways, the two girls became close and their friendship remains strong today. At the end of 2010 in November, Dakota was crowned Homecoming Queen at her high school.
Though 2011 saw no releases, Dakota had not slowed down. She spent the summer in England filming Now Is Good as Tessa Scott, a teenager dying of leukemia who compiles a list of things she’d like to do before she dies. She filmed two more movies, The Motel Life, which premiered at the 2012 Rome Film Festival, and Effie, a biographical film which took her to Italy. Written by and starring Emma Thompson, Effie was cleared for release following the win of a copyright case in March 2013. Effie was released in October 2014.
Her second bout of controversy saw her ads for Oh! Lola by Marc Jacobs banned in England. The ads were deemed "sexually provocative" by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, though Dakota wasn’t phased – "I love Marc and trust him, and we just laughed about it." 2011 also saw the end of her high school days as she grauduted from Campbell Hall School and enrolled at New York University.
Near the beginning of 2012, it was reported both Dakota and Elle had left Osbrink Talent Agency and signed with William Morris Endeavor. A mutual agreement, as Osbrink focuses primarily on young talent, and at ages 17 and 13, the girls were growing up. WME is considered the largest talent agency in the world.
Celia was Dakota’s third and latest role in a short film alongside Allison Janney, which was released in 2012. In October, the filming of Night Moves began. The story follows three eco-terrorists of which Dakota is one, who plot to blow up a dam. Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard star opposite her and the movie was released in April 2013.
January 2013 took Dakota and Elle to South Korea, where they were photographed for the Brilliant Princess 2013 S/S ad campaign for J.ESTINA. At the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, Dakota and Elizabeth Olsen were Very Good Girls. Following two girls who form a pact to lose their virginity during their first summer out of high school, nudity featuring during the movie is not an unreasonable expectation. The movie was filmed in July the previous year, after Dakota had turned 18. "Yeah, well, I’ve never done that before and I’m very newly allowed to do that. I was newly 18, so yeah, it was – it’s kind of a sensitive thing, but it’s a part of life." Later that year, Dakota filmed The Last of Robin Hood with Susan Sarandon and Every Secret Thing with Elizabeth Banks.
In 2015, Dakota appeared in the film The Benefactor alongside Richard Gere and Theo James, and filmed Brimstone, written and directed by Martin Koolhoven, and American Pastoral, starred and directed by Ewan McGregor – both of which were released the following year. 2017 and 2018 are set to be busy years in Dakota’s career, with several films set to come out. The list includes Viena and the Fantomes, which has been delayed several times, Please Stand By, The Postcard Killings, The Bell Jar and Ocean’s Eight. She has also begun filming TNT’s television series The Alienist.
Dakota continutes to study psychology at New York University and is enjoying living on her own – but not without Hello Kitty! "I’ve got a wallet, I have a card-holder, a phone case – one of many!" A born performer with a true passion for what she does, we can expect to see more of Dakota in years to come.
“Acting is what I love to do. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”