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Perhaps a result of growing up on the red carpet, Dakota Fanning is one of those starlets whose impossibly wise demeanour belies her 23 years of age, and whose prolific success makes it all twice as hard to believe. 

Thrust into the spotlight at seven for her performance as Sean Penn’s daughter in I Am Sam, she became the youngest Screen Actors Guild Award nominee of all time. She won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Young Actor later that year, thanking “God… and the best agents in the world,” as Orlando Bloom dangled her in the air so she could reach the microphone. 

A class act from the age of eight. She can since boast over 30 film credits under her belt, having worked with everyone from Denzel Washington to Steven Spielberg. Her War of the Worlds co-star, Tom Cruise still sends her a birthday present every year, and has done since she was 11. “It’s usually shoes,” she says, smiling. A girl after our own heart.

On the topic of footwear, Dakota tells GRAZIA, “My earliest fashion memory is clomping around in my aunt’s heels. I was two, and apparently insisted on wearing them absolutely everywhere,” she laughs. “But my first red-carpet memory was the I Am Sam premiere when I wore a gold satin dress and a black patent purse that was shaped like a present, which I thought was very chic,” she says. “I’m sure I still have it somewhere. I don’t really look back and cringe too much, it’s definitely more of a warm nostalgia.”

Speaking of looking back – albeit not too far, she is, as mentioned, only 23 – what has she learned from working alongside the industry’s finest? “I’ve been so lucky to have worked with so many talented and deeply good people. I have a supportive network for sure,” she reveals. Clearly, we can count Tom Cruise among it, but also Kristen Stewart, who she appeared with in both the Twilight saga and The Runaways. 

Perhaps Kristen Dunst can now be added to that list, having just cast Dakota in her directorial debut; the film remake of Sylvia Plath’s iconic feminist novel, The Bell Jar. The book has long been held up as a seminal sociological exploration of female struggles in the modern world; something that, having played tough-as-nails characters for years – from an environmental activist in Night Moves to a fear-mongering member of the Volturi guard in Twilight – we’d imagine is close to her heart. She did, after all, also major in Women’s Studies at New York University, with a focus on the portrayal of women in film and culture.

“If I’m going to do both, it might be helpful for one to inform the other,” she told The Guardian in 2014. Does this explain why she’s been drawn to edgier parts over the years, rather than glossier leading roles? “I don’t think that’s ever really made a difference when I’ve been in the process of choosing,” she tells us. “I definitely wouldn’t mind playing a glamorous role! But there’s a sort-of adrenaline high that comes with pushing yourself physically that I definitely enjoy.”

It’s this ability to surprise that means boxing Dakota off will never be an option. We have to ask, then – what’s next? “I’m about to do a TV series for the first time; it’s such an incredible opportunity to be able to develop a character over a long period of time. Other than that, I want to achieve the basics: being a good person, creating meaningful relationships, enjoying life and not rushing through time.” See? 

So young, yet so wise.

 This article first appeared in GRAZIA UAE