Born Hannah Dakota Fanning, February 23, 1994, in Conyers, GA; daughter of Steve and Joy Fanning.
Addresses: Home—Los Angeles, CA.
Actress in films, including: Tomcats, 2001; IAm Sam, 2001; Father Xmas, 2001; Trapped, 2002; Sweet Home Alabama, 2002; Hansel & Gretel, 2002; Uptown Girls, 2003; The Cat in the Hat, 2003; Man on Fire, 2004; Hide and Seek, 2005; Dreamer, 2005; War of the Worlds, 2005. Television appearances include: ER, 2000; Ally McBeal, 2000; Strong Medicine, 2000; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 2000; The Practice, 2000; Spin City, 2000; Malcolm in the Middle, 2001; The Fighting Fitzgeralds, 2001; Family Guy (voice), 2001; The Ellen Show, 2001; Taken (miniseries), 2002; Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time (voice), 2003; Friends, 2004; Justice League (voice), 2004.
Awards: Best young actor/actress, Broadcast Film Critics Association, for I Am Sam, 2002.
Dakota Fanning delivered an acclaimed performance in the 2001 Sean Penn film I Am Sam before her seventh birthday. By 2005, the blond moppet had accrued more major film credits than she had years in age.
Born in February of 1994, Fanning hails from Conyers, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. Her father, Steve, had once played minor-league baseball for a St. Louis Cardinals farm team. Her mother, Joy, recognized her first daughter's precocity—Fanning could read before she turned three—and enrolled the kindergartner in an acting workshop. Fanning summed up her career path in an interview with the Daily Record of Glasgow, Scotland, telling the newspaper that the acting coaches "all thought I should go with an agency. So my mom got me with an agency in Georgia and they thought I should come out to [Los Angeles] so we did."
Fanning's professional debut was in a television commercial for Tide laundry detergent. The family moved out to Los Angeles in January of 2000, and a slew of roles television roles followed: she made her network debut on an episode of ER that aired in April of 2000, played a five-year-old Ally McBeal a month later, and won little-kid parts in such top-rated prime-time dramas as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Practice as well as on comedy staples like Spin City and Malcolm in the Middle. She also played a part-alien child in the Steven Spielberg miniseries Taken in 2002.
By then, however, Fanning had already attracted tremendous notice for her role in I Am Sam as the young daughter of a developmentally disabled man who must fight to retain custody of her. Sean Penn played her father, Sam, a Starbucks employee, whose liaison with a homeless woman several years earlier resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. The birth mother abandons her at the hospital and flees, and Sam—an ardent Beatles fan—names her Lucy Diamond and learns to take care of her with the help of a kindly neighbor (Dianne Wiest). But as Fanning's Lucy enters second grade, her teachers begin to suspect she may be deliberately holding herself back as a way to stay at her father's mental level, and the California family-and-children social services agency tries to terminate his parental rights. Penn was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal, but Fanning won high marks as well. Terming the youngster "an absolute angel with smarts," in his Hollywood Reporter review, Kirk Honeycutt declared she "delivers her lines like a seasoned pro."
Fanning was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for the film, becoming the youngest nominee in the award's history. She lost out, however, to Helen Mirren for Gosford Park, but Fanning did beat out Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe and Haley Joel Osment (AI: Artificial Intelligence) for the Best Young Actor honor from the Broadcast Film Critics Association. When she took the stage, there was no step for her nearby so that she might reach the podium's microphone, so award presenter Orlando Bloom picked her up and held her up. She gave a surprisingly long speech.
Suddenly a hot Hollywood name, Fanning went on to appear in a number of other major motion pictures. She had a bit part as the young Melanie, Reese Witherspoon's character, in Sweet Home Alabama, and took a starring role opposite Brittany Murphy in the 2003 comedy Uptown Girls. Murphy was cast as Molly, the Manhattan party-girl daughter of dead rock royalty who is forced to become a nanny when her accountant absconds with her fortune. The carefree, stalled-adolescent Molly begins taking care of Fanning's Ray, the ultra-serious but largely neglected daughter of a vixenish record-company executive. Ray is bossy, germophobic, devoted to ballet, and a health-food nut—the antithesis of Molly—but the two eventually find a common bond and learn from one another. Uptown Girls earned largely negative reviews, however. "Fanning is wonderfully somber and owlish as a tragicomic specimen of precocity, but in the end she's just an accessory to Molly's wardrobe of attitudinal poses," wrote Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum.
The same fate befell Fanning's next project, The Cat in the Hat, a lavish adaptation of the beloved Dr. Seuss children's book. She starred as Sally, the little girl whose household is invaded by the mischief-making feline, played by Mike Myers. Nevertheless, her ability to work with top-caliber stars impressed noted action-film director Tony Scott, who cast her in the 2004 vengeance flick Man on Fire. This time, Fanning shared crucial screen-time with Denzel Washington, who played a former assassin named Creasy who hires himself out as a bodyguard. She played Pita, whose father hires Washington's character to protect her in Mexico while her parents are gone on a business trip. The unlikely pair bond, but when a shadowy cartel kidnaps her, Washington's character pulls no punches in tracking down the criminals. "Strong work from Washington and his extremely sympathetic co-star Dakota Fanning compensate somewhat for Tony Scott's overbearing direction," noted Film Journal International writer Daniel Eagan. The San Francisco Examiner's Edith Alderette noted that the young co-star, "who seems hopelessly typecast as 'the precocious kid,' doesn't do the role disservice. She's adorable, as always, and she provides a good springboard for some witty repartee between Pita and Creasy, but once Pita's kidnapped, her job is done."
Upcoming projects for Fanning included Hide and Seek with Robert De Niro, Dreamer with Kurt Russell, and as Tom Cruise's daughter in a remake of the infamous alien-invasion drama The War of the Worlds, directed by Spielberg. Her younger sister, Elle, is also a budding film star who has appeared in Daddy Day Care. Fanning says she has little trouble crying on cue when the script calls for it, and sometimes revisits the day her pet goldfish flopped out of his bowl to get the job done. "I just think about Flounder dying and it makes me sad," she told People. Such scenes were not the most challenging part of her career, she said in an interview with the New York Post. "You get to know everybody for so long, for two months, and then you have to say goodbye and then you're like 'NO!'" she explained. "That's the hardest part."
Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), October 8, 2004, p. 55.
Daily Variety, September 1, 2004, p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, August 22, 2003, p. 110.
Film Journal International, June 2004, p. 51.
Hollywood Reporter, December 21, 2001, p. 10.
Independent (London, England), May 10, 2002, p. 10.
New York Post, August 23, 2003, p. 26.
New York Times, August 22, 2003, p. E6.
People, August 25, 2003, p. 75.
San Francisco Examiner, April 23, 2004.