Elle Fanning Talks Mary Shelley, Angelina Jolie, and Maleficent 2


Like many of us, Elle Fanning read the horror classic Frankenstein when she was in high school. She remembers her teacher referring to author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley as “the mother of science fiction.” So when she read the script for her new film Mary Shelley (in theaters today), which tells the story of the 17-year-old woman who wrote the novel, she was all in. “I discovered there is so much more to her story, and I was surprised it hadn’t been told before,” she tells over the phone.

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On top of portraying the titular literary heroine in Mary Shelley, the 20-year-old would be directed by another outstanding woman: Haifaa al-Mansour, Oscar nominee (her 2012 debut Wadjda scored a Best Foreign Language Film nod) and Saudi Arabia’s first female director. We spoke to Fanning about why being on set with al-Mansour was so special, what she learned from working with Angelina Jolie, and why she’s not on Twitter.

What part of Mary Shelley’s story inspired you?

Percy and Mary Shelley were kind of like hippies in the ’60s, in a way. They were very “free love” and believed in these concepts people really look down on. They were very ahead of their time. Haifaa and I really wanted to make this story a modern one, because there are so many modern things [in it] and people can relate to it. When I got the script, Haifaa was already attached, which was very exciting because she really related to the story of Mary as well—overcoming hardships. Haifaa’s story is so incredible; she is the first Saudi Arabian filmmaker, and she’s never been on her own set before. She had to be in hiding and she wasn’t allowed to say that she was the director of her film [Wadjda] in Saudi Arabia because she was a woman. So it was really special, her being on our film set; the first day she was crying because it was the first time she was able to say, “I am the director here,” so it was really exciting.

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What did you take away from working with al-Mansour and as one of the two women writers on the project?

She’s such a powerful woman and I’m so happy that she was the one who did this film, because she really understood Mary so much. She’s very precise with what she wants and her vision of the film. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of female directors and I definitely will not stop. I was 11 when I was directed by Sofia Coppola—that was my first introduction to a film set, and that set was led by a woman and she was so respected. She is who she is. For me, it was always such a luxury to work with a female director, because they get me, they understand.

How would you say that has shaped you, that you’ve been exposed to such powerful women?

I’m so lucky. My family, basically, is just all very outspoken, very passionate women. I grew up being not afraid to speak your mind and not let people run you over. Also, I’ve worked with female directors and producers, but also actresses that I felt like have taken me under their wing in a way and been there to show me an example of strong women in this industry and how to be supportive of each other.

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You’re about to reunite with Angelina Jolie for Maleficent 2. Has she given you any great advice?

I’m in London—we’re about to! I’ve never done a sequel before, so it should be fun to re-visit a character many years later. That is something I’m very excited for. Also, being reunited with Angie is pretty cool. She’s just a powerhouse on set; the way that she works, she just has this power and respect around her.

It’s so funny because people always ask, “Oh, does she give you advice all the time?” and it’s not so much like that. I think just watching her…and seeing what a great mother she is. All of her kids are there and she’s walking around—like, last time I remember, she was walking around in the whole Maleficent outfit with two kids on each arm. She’s a working woman and a mother, and that example is such a great one for me to see. You can do it all.

“For me, it was always such a luxury to work with a female director, because they get me, they understand”

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We do often ask young actresses what advice they get from other actresses and older women they work with. But you’re no newbie. What advice would you give women in the industry?

I have gotten questions from fans or people that I see on the street who want to move to L.A. and become an actress and they’re like, “What advice can you give me?” I think for me, you have to make sure it’s really something that you want to give yourself over to. You have to love it so much, I think that’s so important.

Also, being yourself—don’t let your personality or anyone change you. That’s been important for me also in my life. In this world of social media, there are tons of comments out there and people who want to weigh in on your life or tell you how to live your life. Yeah, you’re a public person, but you’re a human being and you have to make sure you keep that groundedness—know who you are, and keep that.

Is that why you don’t have Twitter?

Twitter seems like a lot of pressure to me—there’s so much drama on Twitter and I wouldn’t know what to write. I probably will never get one.


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