Why you never hear about Dakota Fanning anymore

The little girl from I Am Sam (2001) is all grown up. Dakota Fanning, who at age 8 became the youngest nominee in history at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, turns 23 in 2018. She's still acting, taking college classes, and even dating, but she's also been expertly dodging the tabloid hot seat. We checked in on Fanning to see what her life is like today and where you'll see her next, and we're happy to report, this child starlet is rocking her twenties.

She's adulting

Fanning knows what you're thinking: "Starting so young, I'm going to get, 'You've grown up so much' until I'm heavily pregnant with a child," she told USA Today in 2015.

Though the War of the Worlds (2005) kid is now a full-fledged adult, Fanning is still pretty proud of her past and the work she did early on in her career. In an interview with SheKnows, Fanning talked about what it was like growing up with the whole world watching. "The best part is I have this timeline of my life," she said. "I started when I was 6 so I can go back and watch one of those films, which I don't do all the time, but I'm old enough now that it seems like I'm watching a different person so I can watch the movies without feeling embarrassed."

When she's not making movies, Fanning has been studying at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. "I did a study about female directors and whether the movies they make breakdown the stereotypes of women, or do they even care about that at all," she told the Independent. "The one thing I've looked at about women in film is that it's very rare to find a female character that is not in some way validated by a relationship with a man and so I'm kind of interested in that."

She's been upstaged by her sister

When your little sister's breakout role is literally as a Disney princess, it's hard not to get upstaged. Elle Fanning became Tinsel Town's new darling after starring as Sleeping Beauty, opposite Angelina Jolie, in Maleficent (2014). Elle's highly lauded fashion acumen also catapulted her onto red carpets. Dakota admitted to the Daily Mail that her little sister's wardrobe is superior to her own, calling her closet "so boring" compared to Elle's.

Dakota also confessed to Marie Claire that it took until adulthood — just barely for Elle, who is 19 at the time of this writing — for them to really connect. But even then, they've managed keep work and private life separate. "We have our own separate relationship with what we do. We've never felt the need to get into it," Dakota said, despite the fact that there have been "scenarios where we've gone to meet the same person." Clearly, Dakota plays it cool, even saying, "It's totally fine … to us, we're so different," but there has to be just a smidgen of sibling rivalry in there somewhere, right?

The sun has set on Twilight

A lot of fans forget that Dakota was in a bunch of the The Twilight Saga (2008 — 2012) movies, thanks to the hoopla surrounding co-stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, which drowned out her own vampire role. And now time, sweet time, has diminished the relevance of the entire cast.

In fact, none of Dakota's subsequent films have come close to the level of blockbuster success that The Twilight Saga enjoyed, despite the fact that she routinely works with venerable actors in what are clearly prestige projects. In 2013, Dakota starred opposite Susan Sarandon and Kevin Kline for the Errol Flynn biopic, The Last of Robin Hood. In 2015, she shared the screen with a comeback-bound Richard Gere in The Benefactor, then in 2016, she turned in an ambitious performance alongside heavy-hitters Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly in the Philip Roth novel adaptation, American Pastoral.

Unfortunately, the highest any of those well-cast films earned on Rotten Tomatoes was a dismal 30 percent, not to mention their less-than-stellar box office returns. All of which means that audiences have yet to connect with Dakota's more meaningful work as they did with the shallow vampire melodrama of which she was only a small part.

A tabloid romance? No thanks

The Coraline (2009) darling tends to avoid high-profile romances even though the press took notice in 2013 when she started seeing British model, Jamie Strachan, who is 13-years-older than her. A source for E! News described him as "very shy and incredibly nice and sweet," and for the two years they dated, they barely made much more of a blip on the tabloid radar.

"I've always sort of dated somebody a little bit removed," Dakota, who says she prefers to "either be all in or all out," later told Vogue Australia in 2018. "I see the whirlwind of [famous] people dating [famous] people and it just looks so intense."

As of this writing, Dakota's "all in" with another non-famous beau, Henry Frye, who seems to be at least a bit more outgoing since he had no problem getting caught canoodling her at a New York Knicks game. Maybe this time around Dakota won't be as much a of ghost as she was during her last serious relationship.

The Alienist won't be her relaunch

As of this writing, Dakota's big new project is the television series The Alienist, TNT's adaptation of the Caleb Carr novel of the same name. Playing a 19th century police secretary who forces her way into the investigation of the serial murders of young male prostitutes, Fanning is taking on what is arguably the darkest role of her career. She even spent six months in Budapest for the gig, which is her first recurring TV role since Steven Spielberg's sci-fi mini series, Taken (2002). But just like the case with her post-Twilight pivot away from popcorn flicks, the critics still aren't dazzled with this latest showing.

Though The Hollywood Reporter gave Dakota a nod for her performance, saying she "makes for a feisty and grown-up female lead," NPR's Eric Deggans called the show "an obvious attempt by TNT to change its brand" that "isn't quite creative enough or conventional enough to be the home run that TNT needs." Yahoo TV offered perhaps the harshest take, summarizing the show by saying, "All the good acting here, and all the lush Gilded Age costuming, can't distract us from the tedium of the storytelling."

The point is even when Dakota's is doing some of her best work, she's still not producing hits.

But that probably won't bother her

There has to be a specific reason Dakota hasn't landed more high-profile projects, and it can't be because the studios aren't calling. When she has swung for the fences with movies like War of the Worlds (2005), The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012), and Coraline (2009), she proved herself a hugely bankable star, which has resulted in her already breaking the $1 billion lifetime box office mark. So why isn't she filling the theater seats like she used to?

According to her January 2018 interview with Vogue Australia, it's because she's never actually chased that kind of result. Dakota claims that she approaches acting as she would with any other profession, which is to say that if she's not interested in it, she wouldn't do it. "You can make yourself insane thinking about all the possible outcomes of the what-ifs, the should-ofs … It's just like an endless, endless hole, and I just … can't," she told the fashion mag, adding, "So all those parts, I never really thought about them as that. There was just something about the project or about the character that I was like: 'Oh, that's cool' or: 'Oh, I want to do that. I want to be the one who gets to say that!'"

So basically, Dakota just needs her specific interests to align with those of a broad theater audience. Hopefully the studio shot-callers are willing to wait around for that.

Is personal privacy even viable for celebs anymore?

We already mentioned that Dakota's probably never going to have one of those laughable celebrity couple mashup names, like Brangelina or TomKat, but her desire to keep her personal life out of the tabloids goes further than just her romantic relationships. Speaking with Town & Country in 2016, Dakota described herself as "a very private person," who was "raised by very traditional Southern parents with Southern manners," which means, "you don't air your dirty laundry to people that aren't your family or your friends."

Granted, those are all relatively normal values for anyone to hold, and ones that shouldn't particularly affect an entertainer's career. Having said that, you also have to take into consideration the immense fandom of one of Dakota's contemporaries, Jennifer Lawrence, who seems to operate on the other end of that spectrum. Offering a seemingly endless slew of frank and humorous personal anecdotes, the Hunger Games star has permanently endeared her fanbase to the point where it's almost impossible to cruise around the internet without stumbling across a new "Why We Love JLaw This Week" article.  

Would it kill Dakota to take a page out of Jennifer's playbook and give the fans just a bit more of a glimpse into her life — or at the very least, learn how to take a tumble (or two) on the way to the Oscar stage? We're just saying there's a way to stay relevant.

Diversifying her professional portfolio

In addition to taking on relatively obscure work, Dakota has also moved from in front of the lens completely, trying her hand at producing and directing. In January 2018, she spoke with W Magazine about her upcoming directorial debut — a short for Miu Miu's series, Women's Tales — as well as becoming a producer for the long-in-development adaptation of Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar.  

"It's been so exciting to branch out and do different things and push myself in a different way, to have new challenges, which directing certainly was," Dakota said, adding, "I definitely hope to do more." We're not sure if that means she's going to drift more permanently behind the scenes, but a peek at her upcoming projects gives us a hint.

Which direction is she headed?

According to Dakota's IMDb page, she only has two projects on the horizon for 2018, but they're biggies: Ocean's 8 and The Bell Jar. Granted, she's not one of "the eight" in Ocean's 8, the all-female spin off of the Clooney-led Ocean's franchise, but there's almost no way that movie won't be an instant hit. So that's a guaranteed win for Dakota no matter how small the role.

As for The Bell Jar, that's a different story. Though it will be the second film adaptation of a hugely popular novel, the current iteration has languished in so-called "development hell" for years, with Julia Stiles originally attached to it for years only to relinquish the rights after failing to get it off the ground.

Now it's Dakota's turn to tackle the adaptation as both a first-time producer, and in the starring role. It's also a ground-breaker for Kirsten Dunst, who co-wrote the script (her first feature screenplay), and who will helm the whole project in her feature directorial debut. All that said, there seems to be a lot riding on The Bell Jar for both former child stars, and with Dakota's schedule pretty much clear aside from it, we're thinking that despite her claim that she'll follow her passions — critics be damned — she's still plotting her next career move based on how well it's received.