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BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

The great pretender

Dakota Fanning isn't anything like the bratty kid she plays in 'Uptown Girls.' OK, maybe a little.

August 10, 2003|Michael T. Jarvis

Like many 9-year-old girls, Dakota Fanning loves junk food and ballet. She dreams of the day when her feet will be big enough for toe shoes. She also wants to be an actress when she grows up, but that's a feat she's already accomplished. Fanning -- with television credits from "Ally McBeal," "The Practice," "Malcolm in the Middle," "CSI," "ER" and the sci-fi miniseries "Taken" -- has appeared in several films, including "Sweet Home Alabama" and "I Am Sam," which earned her a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award, the youngest performer ever honored.

She takes her first star turn Friday in the MGM comedy-drama "Uptown Girls," in which she plays Ray, a troubled 9-year-old from New York's Upper East Side raised by a down-on-her-luck socialite played by Brittany Murphy. Next up: "Man on Fire" in Mexico, with two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, and "The Cat in the Hat," with Mike Myers.

Your character Ray in "Uptown Girls" is a germophobe and hypochondriac who hates anything messy. Could you relate?

I like everything perfect. Everything has to be neat. My sister is 5, and she's more messy than I am. I make my bed every morning, everything's perfect. My shoes are all arranged. It's sad. I'm a little like Ray, a little bit.

You're quite a brat in the film -- you swear and flip the bird. Are you at all like that?

No, I would never, ever flip the bird! Oh gosh. Never, ever, in a million years. When I played Ray, I just had to really put myself in that situation. I love to pretend. It's like I'm playing at my house, but there's cameras filming me.

What was it like working with Moo the pig in "Uptown Girls"?

We had two pigs, Springer and Softie, playing Moo. The only way to tell them apart was Springer had a little gray freckle on his bottom. We were doing his scene -- it was Brittany's close-up and it was a tea party. There was a stick of butter laying there and one of the pigs just jumped up and grabbed the whole stick of butter and ate it all and it jumped back down. It had butter all over its face. The pig was just smiling and going "snort, snort." Any time someone walked by it would snort. We were filming something and someone said, "Quiet on the pig!" The funny thing is they like bacon! The trainer was cooking bacon and they like ran up and wanted bacon. They're cannibals.

Did you have a favorite line from the movie?

They were all so funny. All of my lines were kind of bratty. My first scene in the movie is in the bathroom and I have a case with my own personal soap. Brittany says, "You take your own personal soap?" and I go, "If you want to die of botulism or polio you go ahead and be my guest. But there are more germs on that gunky towel that you're holding, you tree-loving hippie." I never played a mean girl in any movies. I like it, but the lines were sooo mean.

What do you do when you get words in a script that you don't understand?

I look them up in the dictionary. Sometimes there are words that I know what they mean, but my mother and I still look them up. It helps you act better when you understand all the words. If the script says, "She put on a menacing smile," you have to know the exact meaning of "menacing."

What's the hardest thing about being an actress?

You get to know all these people and their families and you get to know them so well, for so many months and just to say goodbye to them at the end. You try to keep in touch. To say goodbye is so sad.

Your sister Elle Fanning is an actress also. Have you given her any acting advice?

She does it herself. She played me at a younger age in "Taken" and "I Am Sam" and she's done two movies, "Daddy Daycare" and "Door in the Floor" with Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges. She had a really good time doing it. I'd love to do a movie where we're both the leads in it.

Do you get tired of people asking you about your interesting name?

No. My first name's Hannah and my middle name's Dakota, but I was always called Dakota. I don't know where it came from, either. My dad just liked it and my mom though of Hannah. But people always ask me "are you North or South?" and I always say "South" because I'm from Georgia.

-- Michael T. Jarvis

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