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The Story of Sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, Who’ve Always Been Competitors but Have Only Recently Become Truly Close

Dakota and Elle Fanning are one of the most famous sets of sisters in Hollywood. Both of them started their acting career in their childhood, but for a long time, Elle was overshadowed by her older sister. After years of hard work, she managed to become successful. Even though they are not even 30 years old, they have already appeared in dozens of movies, but not once together. At the start of their careers, they thought of each other as competitors, and only recently, they managed to overcome their differences and become close.

At first, their parents didn’t want the girls to become actresses.

The Fanning sisters grew up in Conyers, Georgia. Their parents were athletes. Heather Joy Arrington, the mother of Elle and Dakota, was a professional tennis player. Steven Fanning, the girls’ father, was a minor league baseball player. He played for several teams, including the Hamilton Redbirds and the Savannah Cardinals. The girls had a very ordinary childhood until Dakota got interested in acting. She was an actress at the Towne Lake Arts Center in Woodstock, Georgia, starring in small plays. The parents weren’t thrilled about her hobby but still supported her.

Dakota was the first actress in the family.

In 1999, when Dakota was 5, she started her professional acting career. First, she appeared in a Tide TV commercial and then in an episode of ER. She later had a small role in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Practice, and Spin City. But her breakthrough was the film I Am Sam.

In 2001, Dakota was cast together with Sean Penn. The film was about a person with a mental disorder fighting for the custody of his daughter. Dakota played the little girl. This role made her the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. She was only 7 years old. She won the Best Young Actor/Actress award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her performance.

Elle played Dakota’s character at a younger age.

Elle also started a career as an actress. Before she was even 3 years old, she played the younger version of Dakota’s character in I Am Sam. She did the same in Taken. And the following year, when she was 4, Elle got her first role in the comedy Daddy Day Care. Later, together with Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, she was in The Door in the Floor.

After a short break, in 2005, Elle appeared in a film where the older Fanning was. She was in several scenes of Charlotte’s Web. But they were not included in the film. Since then, Elle started to come out of the shadow of her famous sister and focus on her own roles and characters.

The Fanning family finally moved to Hollywood.

At the start of Dakota’s career, the Fanning family lived between 2 states. While the older sister was doing roles in Hollywood, she lived together with her mom and aunt in Los Angeles. And Elle stayed at home with her dad in Georgia. The girls’ parents thought it was a temporary thing for Dakota. They thought her career would eventually come to an end or the girl would just get tired. And several years later, they realized it was serious. They agreed to sell the house in Georgia and moved to Studio City in Hollywood.

“My sister says that it’s like we’re still on this trip to LA and that one day soon we’ll all go back to Georgia. But it’s been, like, 16 years now. And I say to her: ’Look, this is us, this is our life.’ I say: ’Look, we are never going back.’”

Elle found success much later than her sister.

After moving, Dakota’s career was developing at breakneck speed. At 12, she was invited to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where she became the youngest member in the history of the organization. And Elle started getting main roles. They often competed with each other on auditions. So, both sisters auditioned for an episode in Friends, but Dakota got it. And Elle decided not to watch the episode with her sister.

Only by the end of the 2000s, the success of both Fanning sisters becomes comparable. Dakota played Jane Volturi in The Twilight Saga: New Moon. And Elle played young Daisy Fuller in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She worked alongside Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.

But Elle Fanning started gaining recognition only in the 2010s. First, she played Aurora in Maleficent and then Catherine The Great in Hulu’s hit historical comedy The Great, which earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress.

Dakota has earned twice as much money as Elle.

Probably because Dakota became popular earlier, she has earned around $12 million in her more than 20 years of work. Aside from series and movies, she’s done modeling and commercials. And Elle has earned around $6 million. But she became famous much later.

Elle became a style icon.

Invision / Invision / East News, Avalon.red / Reporter / East News

Lately, every time Elle appears on the red carpet, she causes a huge sensation in the fashion world. Her fans were especially impressed by the Dior outfit she wore during the Cannes Film Festival in 2021. It was a tribute to the famous New Look collection by Christian Dior. Aside from her detailed planning of outfits, Fanning is in Miu Miu commercials and has contracts with Chopard and Armani.

The girls use their second names at work.

Many creative people use stage names to separate their private life from their professional one. The Fanning sisters are no exception. They use their second names for work. So, Dakota’s first name is Hanna, and Elle’s is Mary. Besides, the sisters try not to discuss their work in their free time and not to ask each other for advice to have a healthier work and life balance.

“We’ve really kept that part of our lives separate. She’s never asked me whether she should do a movie or not. I always know what she’s filming and where she is and who she’s working with, but I don’t give her advice on it. We both have our own paths that we’re confident in, so she’s never asked me.”

The sisters have only recently become truly close.

For children, even a small age difference seems significant and affects communication; but in adulthood, it’s not a problem for building a good friendship. This is what happened to the Fanning sisters. The 4-year age difference seemed gigantic. Dakota couldn’t find common ground with her sister, and this only got worse when they became competitors. It was only when both sisters got older and became successful in Hollywood that they started to grow closer.

“There are a few years where you’re both experiencing such different things; age 9 and 13 — nothing in common; 12 and 16 — we didn’t know what to do with each other. Now as [Elle’s] getting older and I’m getting older we’re getting closer ... and that’s really lovely.”

Today, the Fanning sisters are more united than ever, so they finally decided to do something they didn’t want to do before — appear in the same film. They will be in the adaptation of the novel The Nightingale. Moreover, in March 2021, the girls announced they would create a production company, Lewellen Pictures. This is a new step in Elle and Dakota’s relationship. Now, they are good colleagues and partners.

Which movies starring the Fanning sisters do you like?

Cheery/People/The Story of Sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, Who’ve Always Been Competitors but Have Only Recently Become Truly Close
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