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MUSINGS OF A MEANERING MIND #20 (article first published : 2006-08-15)

Earlier this month I caught a re-run of one of child star Dakota Fanning’s recent films on television, a fascinating psychological thriller delving into the realms of trauma one can undergo after the death of a loved one. But in this case there was a truly spine-chilling twist in the tale and, not for the first time, I was totally in awe at the depth of emotion this extremely young actress is able to portray. With veteran actor Robert de Niro playing her father, I was reminded that I’d read an article about a year ago where he was quoted as saying that he himself had been totally blown away by the talent of this very young starlet during the filming, but I could not remember the title of the movie he was referring to. Well, this was it – Hide and Seek, the title taken from a game that daughter and mother would play at bedtime each night: a game that continues after the death of the child’s mother, when Emily (played by Dakota) begins to talk to her father about an imaginary friend named Charlie… But to tell more of the storyline would be to give the game away, and I’d far rather encourage you to watch the film yourself – even if it means renting it from your local video outlet.

A little research informed me that Hannah Dakota Fanning was born on February 23 in the year of 1994 – but little did Dakota and her family know that less than eight years later she’d be a star of both television as well as movies, and have thousands of devoted fans. This is not an average child by any standards. Dakota learned to read when she was two, then skipped kindergarten to go straight into Grade 1 at the tender age of four. She loved playing with dolls, as would any little girl, yet she also learned while still very young to play the violin!

Her parents, Joy and Steve, were advised to take this remarkable child to an acting agency at a very early age, and there her amazing talent was immediately recognised. She was sent with her family to Los Angeles for six weeks, during which time she was selected out of thousands of eager auditionees to play a role in a Tide commercial, her first national television exposure, and from that point her career soon took off. She was chosen for a role in Tomcats, then appeared in TV shows such as Allie McBeal, E.R. and C.S.I. But her breakthrough in films was playing the role of Lucy Diamond Dawson in the major motion picture I am Sam. It was her extremely sensitive portrayal of a very loving little daughter of a retarded father (played by Sean Penn) that first alerted me to watch out for more of her talent in films to follow, especially after reading that she’d won four major awards for that particular performance.

The next time I was to be spellbound by this tiny talented tot was seeing her play Charlize Theron’s daughter in the thriller Trapped where she’s abducted by Kevin Bacon but finally saved by her father, played by dishy Stuart Townsend – who, as we know, is our Charlize’s love interest in real life. The last few scenes in THAT particular film were just SO exciting that I was delighted to watch it a second time round, on a different channel, within a year of my first viewing, and was just as mesmerised as the first time I saw it. It was one of Charlize Theron’s – as well as Kevin Bacon’s - most thrilling film roles ever.

Dakota’s latest TV work is the critically acclaimed Sci-Fi mini-series Taken, directed by Steven Spielberg. I was amused to read that knitting on the film set between takes is one of her hobbies, so that not only Spielberg but also Tom Cruise, Robert de Niro and Denzel Washington have been recipients of one of Dakota’s knitted scarves!

Playing opposite this latter in Man of Fire she’s cast in the role of Mark Anthony’s (or wealthy businessman Samuel Ramos’s) daughter, where at first she doesn’t get along with her bodyguard (the delectable Denzel) and he, in turn, is initially irritated by the child’s continual pestering. However, her sweet nature eventually gets under his skin and he gradually begins to open up to her – so much so that when the young Peta is kidnapped, bodyguard John vows to kill whoever is responsible. This once again proves to be a film that has you on the edge of your seat throughout. I read that for this particular role our youthful actress took it upon herself to learn Spanish!

Back in 2003 Dakota starred with the talented Mike Myers in the delightful romp, Cat in the Hat, which was an absolute joy. She’s also played opposite Brittany Murphy in the equally enjoyable Uptown Girls. And so the list of her triumphs continues. You’d think such a vast number of accomplishments might be way beyond one who’s not yet reached her teens but this talented young actress just keeps on astounding.

When guesting on Oprah recently, Tom Cruise praised his young co-star for her role in War of the Worlds, the Steven Spielberg movie I’ve yet to see. Dakota herself said of filming with the terrifically talented and good-looking actor: The funniest moment in filming with Tom was when we were doing a water sequence, and he made sure the music from Jaws kicked in. I thought that very amusing indeed. (And, speaking of Oprah Winfrey, I believe hers is the voice behind the goose in the live-action version of Charlotte’s Web, also starring my young heroine, Delightful Dakota, so that’s one I must certainly not miss.)

With an already long list of successful films under her belt, Dakota Fanning doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. She says, It’s fun to know what I want to do when I grow up. I knew from my first commercial that I wanted to be an actress.

And I shall be following this delightful youngster’s career with all my antennae on the alert, for I believe that hers is a talent that has her likely to reach a pinnacle on a par with the Marvellous Meryl (Streep), another actress in a class of her own whose very varied body of work I greatly admire. It’ll certainly be interesting to observe what other awards come the way of Dakota over the next few decades. – Bev Pulč




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