LOS ANGELES — Elle Fanning’s growing up.
Once only known for being the little sister of Dakota Fanning, the 16-year-old, blond, 5-feet-8 actress not only has grown to be four inches taller than Dakota, she’s finally landing film roles as big as anything her sister has done.
Her latest role is as the kind-hearted Princess Aurora in “Maleficent,” the dark story of the villain from “Sleeping Beauty.” Taking on the fairy tale means acting with global superstar Angelina Jolie, who plays the misunderstood Maleficent.
“I was incredibly nervous to get to meet her because you hear that name and it’s the most powerful name ever,” Fanning says. “I don’t know what I was expecting. You see pictures of her and she’s always so intense. But when I met her for the first time, she gave me a big hug. She shook my shoulders and said, ‘We’re going to have so much fun working together.’ The nerves kind of went away. She’s still powerful when she walks into a room, but I got to know a more sensitive side of her.”
Working with Jolie was a positive experience for Fanning, but she never got 100 percent comfortable.
“People on the set were calling her Angie. I could not bring myself to do that. I still call her Angelina,” Fanning says.
Fanning has worked with a lot of big Hollywood stars since she started acting at 2, playing the younger version of Dakota’s characters in the miniseries “Taken” and the movie “I Am Sam.” When she had free time, Fanning, like so many girls, was attracted to the Disney princesses. She knows it sounds like a story made up, but Princess Aurora was always her favorite.
“I felt like I looked like her the most when I was little,” Fanning says. “You kind of gravitate toward the one that you look most like. She had the long blond hair and wore the pink dress. I love pink so she was my one. So getting to play her is like the biggest dream in my life.”
Along with a similar look, Fanning shares Aurora’s happy, optimistic outlook on life. Aurora is a little more naive, having been shut away for all of her young life. Fanning’s early years were just the opposite. She stayed in the public eye through TV shows like “Criminal Minds” and “House, M.D.,” along with the films “Daddy Day Care,” “We Bought a Zoo” and “Somewhere.”
Director Robert Stromberg, who first became aware of Fanning from the film “Super 8,” says she is the perfect person to play his princess.
“I could go find somebody who looks just like a Barbie doll princess stereotype. But what I saw in Elle was that she exuded life and light. That’s what we wanted, this light to contrast with the dark,” Stromberg says. “You can feel her spirit and that’s what we wanted.”
Being cast as Aurora has given Fanning more recognition. For years, Fanning was mistaken for her older sister, but that has changed, especially since her Aurora has been turned into a doll.
“That’s the coolest thing,” Fanning says with a giant smile. “My grandmother went to the Disney Store and was trying to buy all the dolls. They told her she could only take five.”