At 23 years old, Dakota Fanning is a Hollywood veteran. She’s been acting for 18 years, since she was five. Her first job was a Tide commercial. She’s done blockbusters like “War of the Worlds” and played evil Jane Volturi in the “Twilight” movies. Nowadays she mostly does indies. (She will be in the star-studded “Ocean’s Eight,” and she’s producing and starring in Kirsten Dunst’s film of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”) But even now, so long into her career, she’s trying new things.
So it goes in “Brimstone,” a brutal, epic Western, in which she plays a mute frontierwoman who’s mysteriously pursued by a scarred, murderous preacher played by Guy Pearce.
“I knew there were challenges to it that I was excited about,” Fanning tells us. “You want to push yourself to do something different. It was a lot of fun to push myself.”
The challenges were many: Filming in Berlin, Austria and Hungary during the dead of winter. Riding horses up muddy hills. Learning sign language. And playing a character who spends most of the film unable to speak, communicating only with facial reactions.
“That was what I was most excited about,” she admits. Over the last handful of years, Fanning has been drawn to quiet, withdrawn characters; see her turns in “The Last of Robin Hood,” “Effie Gray” and “Every Secret Thing.” (That hasn’t always been the case: In “American Pastoral,” she had to deal with a severe speech impediment.) To her, dialogue isn’t the most interesting part of acting.
“In real life we convey more things with our body language and our facial expressions and the vibes we give out,” she explains. “That speaks so much louder than the words we’re saying. It’s not often you get to explore that in movies, but it’s such a huge part of communication in general.”