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Celebrating National Siblings Day: Elle and Dakota Fanning

In celebration of National Siblings Day on April 10, we may recall the recent triumph of Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell whose song No Time to Die received multiple accolades, including the Golden Globe for Best Original Song – Motion Picture.

Or one of the frontrunners of the recent awards season – the 2015 Golden Globe winner (Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television for The Honorable Woman) Maggie Gyllenhaal who was nominated this year for the Golden Globe as Best Director for her directorial debut The Lost Daughter, and her younger brother Jake Gyllenhaal who stars in Michael Bay’s Ambulance, and many other talented Hollywood siblings.


For now, let’s focus on the sibling duo of Elle and Dakota Fanning and their April premieres.

Both were born in a small town in Georgia, USA, quite far from Tinseltown, Dakota and Elle, who share their love for horses and fear of thunderstorms and lightning, had their first notable acting gig in the 2001 drama, I Am Sam.

Dakota was seven when she co-starred with Golden Globe winners Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Penn while future Golden Globe nominee Elle was only three at the time and played the younger version of her older sister’s character. The role of Lucy Dawson, the daughter of Sean Penn’s character, garnered Dakota her first SAG Award nomination and made her the youngest nominee in SAG history.


Elle, who just celebrated her 24th birthday on April 9, landed her first solo onscreen appearance in the 2003 comedy, Daddy Day Care, starring Golden Globe winner Eddie Murphy. That might have pre-echoed her smashing success in the role of Empress Catherine II in Hulu’s comedy series The Great. The part garnered her two subsequent Golden Globe nominations.

Since I Am Sam was released, Elle and Dakota have not been in the same films or TV shows and followed their own career paths in Hollywood.

But there was never even a hint of competition between the two sisters. In her conversation with HFPA members back in 2014, Elle said: “We never talk about films with each other and that’s just something that we know that is separate and we have our own separate identities in that way. She decides on the films that she wants to do, and I do the same and we would never read each other’s scripts. That’s just something that is off-limits to us because it’s our own personal concern. It’s what we do and yeah, there isn’t anything like that. I hope that there never will be.”

In Dakota’s podcast interview with HFPA in 2018, she said: “We kind of just keep it separate. We don’t have any sort of rule that we keep it separate. If something comes up, then we talk about it like any other thing we would talk about, but we don’t…it’s not a requirement of our relationship. You know when it comes up, it comes up.

“When it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s more, sisterly. But there’s an understanding there that we have. I don’t have to explain any part of that to her, so there’s an understanding that we have with each other which makes our relationship even closer and just even more supportive.”

Both Elle and Dakota frequently top the best-dressed lists in the fashion media all over the world. Nevertheless, their outfits might have been their only minor issue when they were teenagers.

Back in 2014, Elle told a funny story to HFPA members: “When I was little, I used to always go to her closet and steal things, trying to be super sneaky, but she would always find out, always, and one time it was terrible. I literally got her shoes, her hat, and her dress and went out, and the paparazzi took a picture of me in her outfit.

“And Dakota was in New York, and she called me up and was like, ‘You are in all my clothes, I saw you on the internet, dressed in my entire outfit!’” Then Elle added: “But it still goes on. But now, she will come sometimes and take my clothes, but she will always ask. So, we are a little nicer about it now.”

Currently, Elle may be seen in her second titular role in Hulu’s premiere, The Girl from Plainville, a dramatization of the true-crime “texting suicide drama” – events leading to the death of Conrad Roy and his teenage girlfriend Michelle Carter’s (Elle) conviction for involuntary manslaughter.


Since her breakthrough performance with Sean Penn 21 years ago, Dakota has been involved in numerous films and TV shows, including the role of a younger version of Golden Globe-winning Reese Witherspoon’s character in Sweet Home Alabama, the family drama Dreamer where Dakota costarred with Golden Globe nominee Kurt Russell, the roles in The Twilight Saga and The Alienist, and her recent appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.


This April, Dakota will be seen in the anthology series, The First Lady, debuting on Showtime on April 17, where she portrays Susan Ford, the only daughter and youngest child of President Gerald Ford (Golden Globe nominee Aaron Eckhart) and Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer). A fun fact is that The First Lady will be Dakota’s reunion with Golden Globe-winning actress Pfeiffer since they shared the set in 2001.


Both Fanning sisters had a chance to work with Michelle Pfeiffer. In 2019, Elle appeared in the recurring role of Aurora in the Angelina Jolie-led Maleficent, while Pfeiffer portrayed evil Queen Ingrith.

In her 20-year career, Elle appeared in J.J. Abrams’s Super 8, Jay Roach’s Trumbo, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and she twice co-starred with Golden Globe winners Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the Golden Globe-winning Babel by Alejandro González Iñárritu and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by the Golden Globe winner David Fincher. Another fun fact: Dakota also co-starred with Brad Pitt in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

After many years of pursuing their solo careers in film and television, the Fanning sisters will finally reunite in the upcoming drama, The Nightingale, a film adaptation of the 2015 novel of the same name by Kristin Hannah. It’s the studio directing debut of Melanie Laurent who directed Elle in the 2018 action-drama, Galveston.

As opposed to their acting debut when Elle played the younger version of Dakota’s character, in The Nightingale, the real-life sisters will join forces to portray a pair of estranged siblings caught up in World War II.

In her podcast with HFPA in 2020, Elle shared that she and Dakota have always been looking to do a movie together: “And I think this particular project just completely spoke to us and was everything that we wanted in a first project to do together. It’s so special. And, the story, it’s based on a book but the sisters in the story are quite misunderstood, they don’t quite connect with each other, which is unlike my sister and me.

“But we’ve never worked together so there is a bit of…it’s going to be interesting. I’m curious because I don’t necessarily know how she works on a film set. And I’ve actually been told by people that we’re very different on set. But now we have to get in each other’s business, and we have to actually work together to do this and be on set, which I think…those emotions of that I think are going to hopefully bring something very real to the screen because we truly…the sister thing, we have that love.

“Having a sister is just an unexplainable thing. Nobody can make you more mad, nobody knows how to push your buttons more, nobody understands you more, nobody loves you more. It’s so complicated and we understand that obviously so well.”

When talking to HFPA members in 2020, Dakota expressed similar anticipation of The Nightingale: “We’re sisters so, we do share a little piece of our brain in a way of how we think about things and how we approach things.

“But we’re also wanting to be very respectful of one another as individuals and even though we are sisters in this film, in the filming experience, we’re going to be two separate actors. It’s important to acknowledge that, but just in life, business or no business, having a sibling who grew up in the same house, with the same circumstances is everything. I couldn’t imagine living life without her to back me up or set me straight or just provide that unconscious understanding as siblings can provide.”

A year ago, Elle and Dakota started their own production company, Lewellen Pictures, presumably named after Elle’s Schnoodle (Miniature Schnauzer and Toy Poodle mix). The new team will develop feature film and television projects and other media, including podcasts.

In addition, the Fanning sisters have signed a first-look TV deal with Civic Center Media in affiliation with MRC Television that furthers Elle’s relationship with the companies producing The Great where she has been starring and co-executive producing. The first title under the first-look deal will be a crime thriller series adaptation of the Megan Miranda novel, The Last House.