Elle Fanning likes animated feistiness
By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
The Fanning sisters, Dakota, 20, and Elle, 16, have been taking turns over the past decade, starring and costarring in all sorts of different films. Dakota best displayed her chops in “War of the Worlds” and “The Runaways” (playing the wild Cherie Currie). Elle really shone in “Ginger & Rosa” and, more recently, in “Maleficent.” In a great case of coincidence, both Fannings have now voice acted in the wonderfully old-fashioned stop-motion animated films of Laika, the Oregon-based studio responsible for “Coraline” (2009) and “ParaNorman” (2012). Dakota had the lead role in “Coraline,” and now Elle has a major part as the precocious Winnie in Laika’s “The Boxtrolls,” based on the novel “Here Be Monsters.” Elle spoke a lot about the film – and a little bit about Dakota – at a recent interview in Los Angeles.
Q. The character of Winnie, who keeps trying to get the attention of her oblivious, cheese-loving father, isn’t even in the book. She was created for the film. How would you describe her?
A. She’s a 9-year-old girl, and her dad is the mayor of Cheesebridge, where they live. Obviously, because her dad’s the mayor, she’s kind of the elite. She can be spoiled at times. The audience will probably not want to like her in the beginning, because she’s definitely bratty. But you get to see her sensitive side come out as the movie progresses, and you realize that she just wants attention from her dad, because he is too distracted with cheese. I do think that Winnie can be overdramatic, and that she sometimes takes things a little too far. But I love her sassiness, and it was fun for me to do.
Q. Was it very difficult to handle the posh British accent?
A. I had done the British accent twice before so I’m comfortable with the rhythm of it. But still, you’re always intimidated, because you don’t want to let down or insult anyone who really has that accent. I worked with a dialect coach to perfect it and get it right, and it was really helpful in finding Winnie’s voice. At our first voice session, we kind of played around to find the right tone. There were a couple of earlier scripts, and in the beginning, Winnie was even more snooty and you really didn’t like her. Then when we went in and found her voice, we thought, maybe we can make her a little more likeable, or just feisty but not so mean-spirited. That’s how we found our way in.
Q. How did you prepare for an animation role?
A. It’s still a character, so I still prepare the same way – just imagining that I was this girl. When I go in, I always take my shoes off in the booth. And I felt that because Winnie was so energized, I never sat down. At first I was more conscious of my face, but then I realized it doesn’t matter what you look like, and I could really exaggerate. You could overdo it, and when you’re acting for animators, more is great. When you’re doing live action, more is overacting and that’s not what you want. You want more subtlety.
Q. Did you talk to Dakota about working on “Coraline” before you took on this role?
A. I knew about Laika and stop-motion from when she was doing that. I went with her [to the studio] and looked at all the “Coraline” sets. About three years ago they asked me to be part of “The Boxtrolls,” and I wanted to do it right away, because I know how unbelievable their world is and what they do. But Dakota and I don’t really talk about films; it’s like an off-limit area. So she didn’t give me any advice on it, but she was happy that I was doing it. She has her Coraline statue, and I have my Winnie statue.
Q. The film is really all about cheese. Do you have a favorite cheese?
A. I do. I love Verata goat cheese. You can’t go wrong with cheddar cheese, either. I love cheese.
“The Boxtrolls” opens Sept. 26.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.