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Elle Fanning: Sleeping Beauty to Feisty Adventuress

Sep 22, 2013

By: Lynn Barker

16-year-old, tall, blonde actress Elle Fanning swept into her interview in a princess-worthy dress by Vivienne Westwood. When told she looked “Princessy” she replied with “Wrong character”, referring to her recent portrayal of Princess Aurora in Maleficent. Elle admits that her latest character Winnie Portly-Rind of the new 3-D stop-motion animated film The Boxtrolls is “a little snotty, well, she’s a little brat” but she improves as the film progresses.

Pretty Winnie on a happy dayPretty Winnie on a happy dayCourtesy of Focus Features

The fantasy/comedy is based on the novel “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow and was adapted to film by Laika, the company that gave us Coraline and Paranorman. The movie tells the story of an orphaned boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) who was raised by underground cave-dwelling, trash-collecting trolls called the Boxtrolls. These misunderstood beings are targeted by an evil exterminator named Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley) and Eggs enlists the help of Winnie, his first human friend, to save them. This might be the first selfless thing Winnie, a pampered aristocrat, has done.

Q: Do you like Winnie even if she’s a brat? Was that fun to portray?

  • Elle: I definitely enjoyed it. I've never played anyone like her before because she's so on the edge. You'd think she'd be so cute and sweet but she loves blood and gross stuff. She's just so into it. I think the audience, at first, won’t want to like her, because she's so spoiled but, as the movie goes on, you get to see her sensitive side, and you realize she just wants the attention from her dad. She means well; she's not mean. You kind of respect her sass and, at the end, you like when the attitude comes out.

Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) meets Winnie's momEggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) meets Winnie's momCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: She's starving for attention though, and she's just not getting it. It's just really sad.

  • Elle: She feels like her dad cares more about cheese then her so she wants to get attention from anyone, especially him, though, and that circle.

Q: Do you ever need attention at all? When you were younger were you ever tempted to yell "Pay attention to me!"?

  • Elle: Kids, for sure, really like the attention, especially from your parents. Luckily for me, this is an extreme case and, in our film, definitely very exaggerated. Luckily for me, I feel like my parents always paid attention.

Q: Your sister Dakota worked on Coraline. Did she give you advice on working on stop motion?

  • Elle: She was very excited that I was going to be a part of the Laika family. She worked on Coraline for seven or eight years. When I was growing up and I was really small, she was working on Coraline, so I feel like I've known about Laika and known about stop-motion photography for a while. I went to Portland with my sister when she was visiting the Coraline set, so I saw all the puppets for that. She didn't really give me any advice on it, but at least going into it, I knew what to expect and how it was, so I wasn't just jumping in without knowing anything.

Winnie (Elle Fanning) is grabbed by one of Snatcher's thugsWinnie (Elle Fanning) is grabbed by one of Snatcher's thugsCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: You're carrying on the tradition.

  • Elle: Yes. I know she has her Coraline doll and then I have my Winnie doll, so we both have one.

Q: Was it tough to do the film with a British accent?

  • Elle: It was kind of scary, because there are a lot of British actors that are in this, and then it's all about my voice, and then you think, "Why don't they just get a British girl?" I did two movies before, where I had an English accent so I was comfortable with that, but also, I had to find what region she was from. What is she going to sound like? We made her a little posher sounding than I've ever done. Her dad's the mayor, so she's a big deal.

Q: Did you know the book?

  • Elle: I didn't know about the book beforehand. I haven't read it, because they said it would be okay if I didn't, just because the Boxtrolls portion is so small in it. There's not much about them in it. And Winnie isn't in the book, so it was okay. I would love to read it; I've heard it was really good.

Some of the Boxtrolls in a happy momentSome of the Boxtrolls in a happy momentCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: Did they show you either a model or a sketch of Winnie when you started?

  • Elle: When they sent me the script, they gave me a big notebook of sketches: of Cheesebridge, the town; of Eggs and Winnie. She wasn't in her completed form, like she is now. Her dress kind of evolved and changed. Her hairstyle changed. She had the red curls so I could go off of that. But each time I went into the booth with each (recording) session, they would show me more about Winnie.

Q: Were the stop-motion animators basing any of her movements or mannerisms on you?

  • Elle: Yeah. They would send my voice to the animators, and they would get inspired by our voices and, from there, they would animate. And so I would go in, and I would see Winnie walk for three seconds, and it would be the most amazing thing. Even for those three seconds, it probably took weeks and weeks to make her do that, or for her to put her hands on her hips.

Winnie (Elle Fanning) with her dad the mayor (Jared Harris)Winnie (Elle Fanning) with her dad the mayor (Jared Harris)Courtesy of Focus Features

Q: Did you know much about trolls, other than in the fairy tales?

  • Elle: At first, when I thought of Boxtrolls, I thought of trolls under a bridge, with crazy hair. But these guys are adorable. They’re so cute and they have so much personality. I guess the name is why people misunderstand them. They sound like they're going to be scary monsters. They're actually very scared of us; they're very scared of everything!

Q: So do you find Ben Kingsley (who plays villain Archibald Snatcher) scary? I’ve heard that he intimidates a lot of people.

  • Elle: I heard that he was going to be in the film, and I was really excited, but then I realized, "Oh, I'm probably never going to work with him” because we're all separately (recording). I did have sessions with Isaac (Hempstead-Wright who voices Eggs) and Jared Harris (voice of Lord Portley-Rind) but I never got to work with Sir Ben. I met him at Comic Con for the first time, and he sounds nothing like his character at all. He’s definitely intimidating, but very nice. I just can't believe he made himself sound like that. But that's why he is who he is. He's so great.

Evil Snatcher (voice of Sir Ben Kingsley)Evil Snatcher (voice of Sir Ben Kingsley)Courtesy of Focus Features

Q: Was he more intimidating than Angelina Jolie as Maleficent?

  • Elle: We were talking about how Maleficent and Snatcher would make a good team, even though after our Maleficent, you kind of feel bad for her. Snatcher's definitely meaner than she is. But that would be fun. To work with both of them was very intimidating. They're names, everyone knows who they are. I don't know what it is. Maybe the initial impact of the name, and then once you can get over the name, your nerves calm down.

Winnie caught by SnatcherWinnie caught by SnatcherCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: How are you juggling school with your acting career? Do you have subjects that you would really like to pursue more?

  • Elle: Yeah, school's about to start back up for me. I go to a normal school; same school since fourth grade. Two more years are left, and then I graduate. They always work with me. I have a teacher that goes with me to sets, and I have to do all the same stuff that everyone else does. This is a big year - my SAT and all that stuff.

Q: Do you plan to go to college?

  • Elle: I do plan to go to college. My sister goes to NYU. I want that experience. Both my parents did. I want to say that I did, you know?

Q: Isaac was telling us he is really into classical music. What music are you into?

  • Elle: I like Sam Smith. I bought his deluxe album, and I'm listening to it all the time; so I like him. Yeah, not the classical music but Isaac's really nice, even though we barely got to work together but we're getting close during the press and stuff.

Winnie (Elle Fanning) and Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) dance at a ballWinnie (Elle Fanning) and Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) dance at a ballCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: What do you like most when watching the movie?

  • Elle: I love so much. I like Laika’s sense of humor and all the little details because I find myself just not looking at what you're supposed to be looking at. I'm looking in the background for little funny things that they've added in; like different signs throughout the town. That's part of what makes this movie so special, and knowing that it's made by real hands. You can really see the heart that's put into that.
  • I also like the message that goes with it. I feel like these little Boxtrolls, they're very scared. (The movie says that) you have to get out of your comfort zone, and overcome your fear and if you do that, good things will happen. You don't just stay in your box. Get out of your box.

Q: Speaking of getting out of your box, is there a kind of role that you would like to play, that you haven't been able to play yet?

  • Elle: I definitely felt like Winnie was very different, because I had never played someone with her attitude. Sleeping Beauty’s got the blonde hair and she's a princess and she's so sweet, so I thought it would be fun to play something a little darker. But who knows? It just depends on what shows up, and the feeling you get when you read something. When you get that initial gut feeling of "I have to do it” because you want to be that person.

Winnie and Eggs undergroundWinnie and Eggs undergroundCourtesy of Focus Features

Q: Aren’t you going to work on a movie with Bryan Cranston from TV’s “Breaking Bad”?

  • Elle: Yeah. It’s called Trumbo and shoots in New Orleans. I play his daughter. That's a really good character, so now I'm excited. So that will be fun.

Q: Have you seen 'Breaking Bad'?

  • Elle: No, I haven't. My sister's obsessed with it. She loves 'Game Of Thrones', so those two, they were like her thing, you know? It's funny, because she was going all fangirl with me with Isaac, and she was texting me, "Is Isaac nice?" I'm like, "Yes!" She's like, "Tell him I love ‘Game Of Thrones’".

Elle for Boxtrolls at last summer's Comic ConElle for Boxtrolls at last summer's Comic Con

Q: What do you watch on TV?

  • Elle: Dakota watches way more TV than I do. That's probably because I'm in school, with homework and things. I like reality shows. There's this one, 'Last Comic Standing' and Rod Man won, and I wanted Rod Man to win, so I'm so excited. I think that he's doing a tour, and he might be going to Louisiana, so when we're there, we want to go see him.

Q: Everyone wants to know… Is there going to be a Maleficent 2?

  • Elle: I don't know. People keep asking me, but I don't have a clue. Maybe they're thinking about it, but I don't know. It would be fun to do! What does Aurora do next? It'd be hilarious!

The Boxtrolls PosterThe Boxtrolls PosterCourtesy of Focus Features

The Boxtrolls is in theaters September 26th!