Fanning connects with role in ‘Watchers’

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LOS ANGELES, June 8, (Agencies): It can sometimes be difficult for child actors to shed public conceptions of them as a kid, hindering them from being taken seriously in Hollywood as adults. But at 30, Dakota Fanning is feeling better than ever about her creative voice and agency. “At this point in my life, I feel very settled in like who I am and what I want and what I don’t want and what I like and what I don’t like,” she said while promoting her latest film, “The Watchers,” which hit theaters Friday.

That’s not to say Fanning didn’t receive critical acclaim almost as soon as her career began. She is, after all, the youngest person to receive a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination – she was 7 at the time – in the show’s nearly 30-year history for her performance in “I Am Sam.” But in the more than two decades since that 2001 breakout role, Fanning has learned a lot about the nature of the business and how to achieve both success and satisfaction in it, something that inspired her to start a production company with her sister and fellow actor, Elle Fanning.

“Being an actor for so long, you are reliant on other people to want you to be in their movie, to pick you, to believe in you,” she said of their decision to launch Lewellen Pictures. “Eventually you’re like, ‘Well, I just kind of want to make that happen for myself.’” Fanning has made a lot happen for herself, including earning a degree from New York University despite working consistently since the age of 5. While in school, she studied the portrayal of women in film – something she says she has always been interested in, especially when it comes to female characters who aren’t necessarily “likable.” “People are people and make mistakes and don’t always do the right thing. And I think sometimes people can be afraid to portray female characters in their totality with the messy parts too,” she said.

“I’m always interested in exploring that and not being afraid to play a character that’s not – I mean, I don’t even know what likable means. Who’s likable?” The realness of Fanning’s character in “The Watchers” is part of what drew her to the role, something she and director Ishana Night Shyamalan bonded over. Based on A. M. Shine’s novel of the same name, the film is a kind of psychological horror fantasy which tells the story of Mina (Fanning), a free-thinking young artist who gets trapped with a group of strangers in an Irish forest full of mysterious creatures. “There was a relatability to the character that I was playing that we both could really understand,” Fanning said.

“Being a woman in your 20s and figuring things out.” As the daughter of M. Night Shyamalan – who produced the film – it’s no surprise that both directing and horror are in Ishana Night Shyamalan’s blood. But although she grew up immersed in the world of filmmaking, visiting her dad’s sets, it took years before it occurred to her that directing could be in her own future. “My experience is that the kind of filmmaker role is very much suited to a male kind of psyche. It’s sort of about being confident and loud and controlling a space. And so that was very difficult for me to understand how I could fit into that,” Shyamalan recalled. But in recent years, she’s observed a changing ethos permeating filmmaking – one she is encouraged by – that helped her realize she could do it.

“It’s my feeling that there’s like a wave of just a different, kind of like phase two of filmmaking, where I think it can be accessible to a lot more types of people. And that’s very necessary,” she said. “The types of stories that we tell and the ethics of the process I think in some ways need to be redefined or reinvented for this era.”

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