Chatting with Elle Fanning is like being served a teaspoon of molasses: there’s an inherent, pleasant sweetness that reverberates while a mature headiness slowly inches in. The actress has an ardent innocence about her—she wears clip-ons over her un-pierced earlobes; she loves Strawberry Shortcake so much that her mom got her a birthday cake and coloring book with the character on them this year; and as we chat via Zoom, she consistently giggles to fill any pockets of silence—but despite her young spirit and affinity for pink cartoons, she’s practically lived a full life at 22. Fanning has been in over 36 titles, her most recent as Russian empress Catherine II in Hulu’s The Great. She’s an old soul, to be sure, perhaps the product of her grandmother’s influence, a real-life southern Rodeo Queen. “We have an amazing magazine cover of her with a horse and the whole thing,” she tells me, eyes sparkling and smiling in earnest. “She's a true Southern Belle, really fierce and strong and takes no nonsense from anyone, so [my family is] all very opinionated women [having grown] up in that environment, which is something we all need to learn—how to be strong and fierce and stand up for ourselves.”
Fanning radiates positivity throughout our chat—she’s sunshine in human form. And in spite of the fact that we’re communicating via video rather than in person given the global state of affairs, the takeaway is that she’s constantly able to find the silver lining, whether that be in a pandemic, a difficult role, or a skin condition. Keep reading for our full conversation.
It's your third year as a spokeswoman for L'Oréal Paris' Women of Worth celebration. What does the event mean to you?
L’Oréal’s Women of Worth is so inspiring to me. I think it’s so beautiful what L’Oréal does in capturing all that they stand for. You know the tagline, “Because you’re worth it." We’ve heard it for years, but now L’Oréal—I think it’s their 15th anniversary this year—it’s been going on for 15 years that they’ve had this gala, and those nights are the most fun. Obviously we have to kind of do it in a Zoom way this year [Ed. note: the special will air on November 25th on NBC, and NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, on Thanksgiving Day]. I’ve gotten to talk to two honorees now and it’s so special and just brings attention to these incredible women who are helping their communities and starting these foundations and truly, you know, living how we all should, and they're just so inspiring. [There are] tissues on the tables at the gala because it's so, so moving. The first year I went, I presented to Valerie (who is an honoree) and she was around my age now, and we're super close friends—we chat, we text, she came to Cannes with me one year, so L'Oréal creates these bonds within the spokeswoman and the women you get to meet, and it's so beautiful. I love it."
How have you been handling these past few months with the pandemic and state of affairs... how has it been on your mental health and well-being?
You know, how long has it been, six months now? Maybe a little over six months? Crazy that it's been that long... I think for me, I’ve really leaned on my family because a lot of the time I'm off filming or somewhere else, and so now, during quarantine, we’ve all kind of been under one roof together and kind of leaning on that family time, and bonding has really helped me. Also just taking the time to kind of be introspective. I'm normally a very, very social... I like going places and being on the go. I love to work and go kind of go back-to-back-to-back, that's just my personality. It's been nice to have this time and be able to to breathe and take a step back, but of course it gets lonely. It's a funky time, I think, for everybody, so I’ve also been FaceTiming a lot with my friends. I would say, just keep in contact—reach out, get creative... I’ve been using different parts of my mind during this, and then trying to get creative in new ways and think about things from a new way. My sister [Dakota Fanning] and I are starting a production company, so we’ve kind of taking a step back in that and reading books and finding articles and material to possibly get to produce, so that’s been fun during this time.
Has your wellness routine shifted at all during the pandemic?
I take a lot of baths regularly. That's my ritual at night, but sometimes I've caught myself taking three baths a day [laughs]. When I have nothing to do, I'm like, “I'll just get back in the tub!” It’s soothing! I love it, I don’t know. It's my favorite place to be, so I've been doing that. I've been trying to keep to a schedule even though it's not really my personality. I've just kind of just been letting my body do what it wants to do. I haven't really been that strict with it. I haven't really worked out a ton, [but I've] been cooking a lot and I go into a zone there. It’s kind of therapeutic for me, looking up recipes, figuring that out, watching a lot of chef shows, and trying to emulate [them], so that’s helped my mental health and wellness.
Has your beauty routine changed?
Weirdly I think I’ve gotten better at doing my makeup during this. I’ve had a couple of Zoom calls and things, and in the beginning, hair and makeup weren’t hired for that, and I’d do it myself, so I've learned some good makeup tricks. I think I've gotten better; I’ve been trying to perfect my eyeliner and using foundation a little bit (I don't do foundation normally on myself) but weirdly I tried it out and I was like, “Oh, I can do this.” So I’ve gotten a little experimental with that. It’s been fun.
I've actually noticed that you've been really experimental with makeup on your Instagram. What inspires that or is it more spontaneous?
I watch Glow Up, and seeing what you can do with makeup and just that invention, I feel like I’m inspired by the show. I was putting lipstick on as eye shadow and taking photos—that was fun. I love makeup. It’s another form of self expression.
I saw another post where you had eczema on your eyelids and you were wearing it as "eyeshadow." Can you tell me more about that?
No makeup was involved in those photos. Especially in L.A., the weather changes and we have the fires.. and I have very sensitive skin, so I always have flareups and I do have really bad eczema sometimes. It either goes on the back of my knees or here [points to inner elbows] on my arms, and then it started to show up on my eyelids and I was like, this is new, so it was itchy, but kind of a beautiful color, so I decided to share that because I think a lot of people have eczema, and I’m trying to embrace it and wear it as makeup. It looked like makeup!
Which remedies have you found to help with your eczema flareups?
I do have a dermatologist helping me out with that... a lot of oatmeal baths, raw oats from the store... that helped. It’s calming, and you can put it on your eye[lids]. There are a lot of different things you can try. I'm looking for that thing for me, so any suggestions, I'm all ears.
What are you most looking forward to when we one day soon return to normalcy?
I hope that people come out of this better, to be more appreciative and not take things for granted. Just the little things—I sure will be grateful for all the small stuff, so I hope that. And I also miss going to restaurants—I love going out to dinner, so that's something. I fortunately have seen my family, but people haven't, and getting to travel again and just give someone a hug and appreciate the warmth of a hug I think will be important for all of us.
What's something that gives you instant happiness?
I think when I'm really feeling in my element, but I guess that can also come with challenges too. When I feel like I'm under pressure or challenging myself in some type of creative environment, that brings me happiness because I think, alright, I'm bettering myself or I'm trying to problem-solve or figure out a way… especially on set or when you're playing different characters, I try to pick the most challenging ones or the ones that I'm really terrified of. So I'm fearful sometimes—I know that that's a good thing that brings me happiness. And then, you know, you could say, macaroni and cheese also brings me happiness, but, you know, if we want to get heady...
Which products do you currently have in your makeup bag?
I have good staples. I have Lash Paradise, a staple mascara. The bottle is pink, so it goes with my aesthetic. Also, I have a crayon [Ed. note: the L'Oréal Paris True Match Crayon Concealer] and it matches my skin perfectly because I'm very pale and they have the perfect color for me—it’s the lightest one. I do that for any blemishes or under-eyes. Ive been using a really good Kiehl's hand cream—I think from all the hand sanitizer, my hands have been dry, so that's good. Those are basically my staples. Obviously a lip balm or what not, but that's pretty much it.
Have you done any DIY beauty activities in the past several months? I saw your amazing pink hair...
I did my pink hair and my crazy makeup… I do also try to make masks—I’ll look up face mask recipes and have crazy stuff on my face, you know, yogurt, honey, cocoa powder... whatever. I love a mask. I guess that's also the cooking in me too, I just want to mix something up.