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Movies: Major League: The Million-Dollar Baby

2 minute read
Joel Stein/Los Angeles

She’s made for cute: the clear blue eyes, the chipmunk cheeks, the giant smile on the pixie face. And yet Dakota Fanning takes on roles that Max von Sydow would find too dark: the daughter losing her retarded father in I Am Sam with Sean Penn in 2001; a kidnapping victim in last year’s Man on Fire with Denzel Washington; a horror story about a girl with an imaginary friend in January’s Hide and Seek with Robert De Niro; a kid running from aliens in this summer’s Steven Spielberg movie War of the Worlds. It will be six years before the 11-year-old can legally see a large chunk of her films without her parents.

Never has a kid had such a well-planned path to becoming a serious actress. She reportedly took a pay cut from her million-plus fee on Hide and Seek to get her name above the title right next to De Niro’s. She took the movie, she told reporters, because she had “never done a psychological thriller before.” On Feb. 23 she got a camcorder for her 11th birthday from Spielberg. “I used to say she was 30,” says her agent, Cindy Osbrink. “Now, after Hide and Seek, I say she’s 105. She gets more mature and thoughtful and expressive.”

The dedication comes in part from her parents, who had their own childhood work ethic as athletes (her dad was a minor-league shortstop, her mom got a tennis scholarship to college, and her grandfather is former Eagles’ quarterback Rick Arrington). And, says Osbrink, Fanning is pursuing a strategy of “one fun one, then a serious one, just to keep it fun for her and keep her challenged.” It took Nicolas Cage 25 years to figure that out.

So the country’s hardest-working prepubescent is making Charlotte’s Web after she’s done with War of the Worlds. These days, she wears a flipper–a dental device–to cover up the holes from the baby teeth she’s finally losing. Once the big teeth come in, Fanning will probably refuse to take any more roles as children. It’s part of the plan. –By Joel Stein/Los Angeles

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