Mary Elle Fanning was born April 9, 1998 and is an American actress and model.
As the younger sister of actress Dakota Fanning, she made her film debut as the younger version of her sister’s character in the drama film I Am Sam (2001). As a child actress, she appeared in a string of films including Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), Babel (2006), Phoebe in Wonderland (2008), and Somewhere (2010).
Fanning’s breakthrough came in 2011 with her starring role in J. J. Abrams’ science-fiction film Super 8. In the wake of this success, she had leading roles in the films We Bought a Zoo (2011) and Ginger & Rosa (2012). She portrayed Princess Aurora in Maleficent (2014) and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019).
In recent years, she has made a transition into independent cinema with lead and supporting roles in films such as 3 Generations (2015), The Neon Demon (2016), 20th Century Women (2016), Mary Shelley (2017), The Beguiled (2017), I Think We’re Alone Now (2018), Galveston (2018), and Teen Spirit (2018).
She was born in Conyers, Georgia, to Heather Joy (née Arrington), who played tennis professionally, and Steven J. Fanning, who played minor league baseball for teams affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals and now works as an electronics salesman in Los Angeles.
Her maternal grandfather is American football player Rick Arrington, and her aunt is ESPN reporter Jill Arrington. Amongst the Arrington family’s distant ancestors is the medieval monarch Edward III of England. Fanning is the younger sister of Dakota Fanning, who is also an actress and model.
Fanning started acting before turning three years old. In 2002, at the age of four, Fanning won her first role independent of her sister in the comedy Daddy Day Care. Anecdotal evidence of her emerging skill was seen in the decision to cast her in the role of Ruth in The Door in the Floor (2004) opposite Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. The film’s producers originally planned to hire identical twins for the intense shooting schedule, but were so impressed with Fanning that they used only her. Late in 2003, Fanning appeared in Because of Winn-Dixie in the small role of Sweetie Pie Thomas. In 2004, she did voice work in the English-dubbed version of Miyazaki’s animated film My Neighbor Totoro, in the role of Mei, opposite Dakota, who voiced Satsuki, the older sister to Elle’s character. Later that same year, she filmed I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. In early 2005, Fanning filmed scenes in Charlotte’s Web as the “future granddaughter” of Fern Arable played by Dakota. However, the scenes did not make the final cut. In mid-2005, she played Debbie, the daughter of Richard and Susan Jones (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) in the film Babel. In early 2006, Fanning filmed scenes in both The Nines and Déjà Vu. In mid-2006, she filmed The Lost Room, a science-fiction TV miniseries. Also in 2006, she appeared on the episode “Need to Know” of House: MD, playing the patient’s daughter. She appeared in an episode of Criminal Minds in 2006, playing the supporting role of Tracey in “The Boogeyman”.
By the end of 2006, Fanning began to book lead roles. The first of these was the one of Emma Learner in Reservation Road—the grieving daughter of Grace and Ethan Learner. The film deals with the aftermath of a tragic car accident in which Emma’s brother is killed. In early 2007, Fanning reunited with her Babel co-stars, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, in a small part in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as the younger version of Blanchett’s character. Mid-year 2007, Fanning filmed the title role Phoebe of Phoebe in Wonderland, which also starred Felicity Huffman and was released in March 2009. From July through October 2007, Fanning appeared in The Nutcracker in 3D, playing Mary. The movie was filmed in Budapest, Hungary and was released in late 2010. In March 2008, Fanning and her sister Dakota were scheduled to star in My Sister’s Keeper, but the opportunity fell through when Dakota learned she would have to shave her head. The sisters were immediately replaced by Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vassilieva.
Variety reported in April 2009 that Fanning would be starring in Academy Award-winning screenwriter Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film, Somewhere. The film was released during the 2010 awards season. In late 2010, Fanning began working on Francis Ford Coppola’s 2011 film Twixt, which Coppola based on a dream. She played the role of a young ghost named “V”.
In December 2011, Fanning appeared in Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo. She played Lily, a 13-year-old who is working at the zoo’s restaurant and lives on the property with her only parental figure, Kelly (Scarlett Johansson). In September 2012, Fanning starred as Ginger along with Alice Englert, who played Rosa in the drama film Ginger & Rosa that took place during 1962 in London. The film was directed by Sally Potter and was released on October 19, 2012.
Fanning also has two more films in postproduction; All the Bright Places, opposite Justice Smith, directed by Brett Haley, based upon the novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven, and Molly, directed by Sally Potter, opposite Javier Bardem and Salma Hayek.
In May 2019, Fanning was appointed as a jury member of the international competition in the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival, becoming the youngest Cannes juror in history. That same year, Fanning starred in Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York.
In 2020, Fanning starred in All the Bright Places, and The Roads Not Taken. That same year, Fanning starred in and executive produced the historical comedy series The Great, starring as Catherine the Great alongside Nicholas Hoult.
Fanning will next star in The Nightingale, based upon the novel of the same name alongside her sister Dakota. She will then star in a Hulu miniseries named The Girl From Plainville, based on the death of Conrad Roy.