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Dakota Fanning opens up about attitudes toward women in Hollywood

We sat down with actress Dakota Fanning to find out what it was like to work with Richard Gere in the new movie, The Benefactor, and also the best and worst parts of growing up in the public eye. 

In The Benefactor, young Olivia (Dakota Fanning) loses both her parents in a tragic accident. Now that she’s expecting a child with her husband, Luke (Theo James), she realizes she’s still in need of paternal guidance and turns to family friend Franny (Richard Gere), a wealthy philanthropist with a secret.

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We asked Fanning what attracted her to this psychological drama. “It was just so beautifully written and when I met Andrew [Renzi], the writer/director, I just connected with him,” said Fanning.

But it was Olivia’s warmth and sensitivity that Fanning was most interested in exploring. “It’s such a stressful time in her life. She’s young and having a baby and trying to stay calm while all this craziness is happening around her. She’s trying to relax, put herself first, nurture her child, but there’s the dichotomy of the craziness of Richard’s character.”

Fanning was also excited to work with acting legend Gere. “He’s such a good actor. I was taken aback working with him the first time, I just liked watching him. He has a bigger than life personality and is a lot of fun.”

Fanning, who’s now 22, grew up in front of our eyes on film. We asked her to tell us about the best and worst parts of growing up onscreen.

“The best part is I have this timeline of my life. I started when I was 6 so I can go back and watch one of those films, which I don’t do all the time, but I’m old enough now that it seems like I’m watching a different person so I can watch the movies without feeling embarrassed. They’re not home movies obviously, but my life is captured on film and it’s there forever, which is scary but also cool. When I’m older or even when I’m gone, my great grandchildren can see them.”

And for the worst part, Fanning said, “It’s all fine, I’ve kind of made my peace with the worst parts. But for the rest of my life, I will constantly hear, ‘Oh, you’re so grown up!’ When you’re 14 and someone says, ‘I thought you were still 8 years old, you go, ‘Oh! Don’t say that to me.’ It’s the last thing you want to hear. So that was annoying for a while, but I think it’s taught me that the only people who really know you are yourself and the people you surround yourself with — your family and your friends. Those are the only opinions that truly matter and I’ve managed to turn off the negative things and it’s made me stronger. I know who I am, I know how old I am even if no one else does. That’s all that matters. I can’t control anything else and it’s taught me a good life lesson. Everything’s pretty much out of your control, unfortunately for a control freak like me,” said Fanning with a hearty laugh.

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We asked Fanning if she’s ever had a hard time finding roles that were challenging enough or struggled to find strong female characters to play.

“I feel like I’ve been lucky in the things I’ve done. I’ve been able to find good roles. But there are a lot of times when you read something and the role is the girlfriend and I think, ‘No, I don’t need to be just the girlfriend.’

One of the things she has struggled with in her career is getting filmmakers to believe she can play characters who are very different than herself. “So much of being an actor is getting people to believe in you and convince them that you can play the role. That can be frustrating at times.”

Because so much has been in the media lately about gender parity and the lack of good roles for women on film, we asked Fanning what she thinks it will take for Hollywood’s viewpoint on women to change.

“It’s difficult because you have to change a whole attitude, the way people think about women in life. I think women are expected to get married and have kids and be beautiful all the time, be sweet and nice all the time. But that’s not the way it is. Sometimes, women don’t want to have kids or get married and that’s totally fine. Sometimes, women have bad days and don’t feel like being polite. The way we see women on film will change when the everyday thought process changes. It’s a difficult thing to do; sometimes it happens gradually over time, but I hear a lot of good conversations happening so that’s a positive thing. But I just don’t buy into stereotypes.”

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Though beautiful and so well-poised, Fanning admits to having some insecurities. “Like any other person, you have those days where you’re like, ‘Oh, I wish I was taller or skinnier or my hair was longer. My mom’s taught me to respect other people, but more than anything, respect myself and to believe in myself. No one is ever going to believe in you more than you. You project out what you feel on the inside, so she’s always taught me to have confidence, be strong, have self-respect and be kind.”

That’s some great advice. The Benefactor is in theaters and on-demand Jan. 15, 2016.

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