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Before They Were Famous

Actress Dakota Fanning
by Jennifer M. Sirrico

You probably recognize Dakota Fanning as Sally from The Cat in the Hat movie or Fern in Charlotte's Web. But did you know Dakota could read before she was 3 years old? Or that this young star considers herself "just a normal kid" who loves to act?

When Dakota was born, February 23, 1994 in Conyers Georgia, her parents could not agree on what to name her. "My dad named me Dakota and my mom came up with my first name Hannah. So it's Hannah Dakota Fanning." Her nickname is "Kota".

At age two Dakota discovered two of her favorite hobbies, reading and ballet dancing. "I was in a Montessori school and they teach you to read really, really young." Ballet classes began at age 2 1/2, a hobby that came in handy when she played the role of Ray, her ‘neat nick' character in the movie Uptown Girls.

With her active imagination, (she is rumored to have had imaginary friends,) Dakota's parents knew she wanted to act by the time she was four. Playing with her little sister Elle, Dakota would pretend that she was the mother and that Elle was the daughter. "I wanted to be an actress on television and movies instead of just around the house."

Dakota's journey moved a step closer to Hollywood when her mother signed her up at a playhouse. Each week the children performed a play for their parents. Dakota, age five at the time, impressed the Director with her talents. The Director referred her to a talent agent. The agent, Joy Pervis, also believed in Dakota's talent calling her "a little prodigy and a child star…a one-in-a-million kid". Dakota's parents brought her to Los Angeles (LA) where she appeared in three commercials in two weeks. Her big break was a commercial for Tide laundry detergent. "I didn't have any lines, I was just eating pudding, and then I spilled some on my dress. I had to do that about 20 times! But the pudding was really good."

The commercial was seen nationally and launched Dakota into television. She appeared in several series including "Malcolm in the Middle," "ER," "The Practice" and "CSI". Dakota's charm, talent and professionalism led to movie roles including the role that transformed her career to stardom. In 2001 Dakota co-stared with Actor Sean Penn in the movie I Am Sam. Exceptional in her portrayal of Lucy, a seven-year-old daughter who tries to help her mentally disabled father, Dakota became an award-winning Actress. In 2002 Dakota defeated a wizard and a robot (actors Daniel Radcliff a.k.a. Harry Potter and Haley Joel Osment of AI: Artificial Intelligence) to win the Best Young Actor honor from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her role in I Am Sam.

Despite her talent, Dakota and her family have faced criticism about some of the characters she has chosen to play. Critics have wondered if some roles are too grown up for someone Dakota's age. At age nine, when asked if she felt like she was growing up too fast Dakota responded "I don't because when I go home, I play with my baby dolls and strollers and diaper bags, and play with my sister."

Dakota has been called one of the hardest working Actors in Hollywood. The number of movies she has appeared in outnumbers the number of years she has been alive. She keeps her job interesting by alternating the types of movie roles she accepts between silly and serious scripts. A tutor travels with her between home and movie sets but Dakota hopes to have a "normal, well, not ‘normal' but regular" school to go to someday.

When she's not acting Dakota enjoys collecting dolls, knitting, playing the violin and piano, horseback riding, swimming, and reading. She also, of course, loves movies. If Gone with the Wind, My Best Friend's Wedding, Steel Magnolias and Titanic are among your favorites, you definitely have something in common with Dakota.

Dakota's Own Words

On Acting: "From the day I did the Tide commercial, I knew that I wanted to do this forever." "I can't even picture myself doing anything but acting."

On Movie Making: "The hard part is when you're done. You've met all these wonderful people. And then it's over."

On Hollywood Rumors: "I learned that it can be very hurtful to talk about others. You know, I read a quote by Oprah Winfrey where she said, ‘Turn your wounds into wisdom'. It's not nice to spread rumors."

On Her Favorite Actresses Julia Roberts, Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep and Cameron Diaz: [They are favorites] "not just because they're great actresses, but because they are amazing people too.

Fun Dakota Facts

  • Her cat's name, "Momo," was the first word Dakota ever spoke.
  • Dakota has naturally curly hair.
  • By age six Dakota could read at a fifth grade level.
  • Dakota considers herself neat, clean and tidy.
  • Dakota's parents were both athletes: Her mother, Joy, played tennis in college and her father, Steve, was a minor league baseball player.
  • Dakota's best friend is her younger sister Elle.
  • Knocking door-to-door, Dakota and Elle once sold 750 boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
  • For her role as Lucy in I Am Sam, Dakota was the youngest person ever nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for film.
  • Originally, the movie Dreamer called for a character of an 11-year-old-boy. When Director John Gatins saw Dakota act, the part was rewritten for a girl just so he could recruit Dakota to play the role.
  • Her co-star Kurt Russell said Dakota "is the best actress I will work with in my entire career."
  • At ten Dakota was a member of the Red Cross.
  • At 11, Steven Spielberg gave her a camcorder for her birthday.
  • In 2005 Dakota earned $3,000,000 per movie.
  • Barbara Walters named her one of the year's most fascinating people. And her movies earned more in the United States at the box office than other actresses including Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock.
  • Dakota's favorite idea for a wedding gift for Katie Holmes and War of the Worlds co-star Tom Cruise, a toaster. (Someone else beat her to it!)


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