The Nighttime Ritual Dakota Fanning Can't Go a Day Without

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Anyone who grew up in the early 2000s has a soft spot for Dakota Fanning, the actress and producer who burst onto the scene in Hollywood at just 7 years old, working alongside Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer in I Am Sam and nabbing a SAG Award nomination in the process. Since then, our April cover star has never pressed pause—starring in more than 65 credits over the last two decades, from Uptown Girls in 2003 to The Secret Life of Bees in 2008 to three of the five Twilight movies, which controlled the zeitgeist from 2008 until 2012—nor is she going to. 

For her latest project, Showtime's buzzed-about new series The First Lady, Fanning transformed into Gerald and Betty Ford's youngest child and only daughter, Susan Ford Bales. The show, which premieres on April 17, follows the Ford family as well as the Obamas and the Roosevelts from each of the respective First Ladies' points of view, offering a perspective that's rarely prioritized in political productions. It's for that reason and more that Fanning found the experience of playing Susan so fulfilling. "It was kind of an idyllic filming situation for me," she says.

We caught up with the 28-year-old tour de force ahead of The First Lady's premiere to chat about her ever-changing career and how she keeps things fresh as well as her Hervé Léger prom dress, her theory about designer bags, and the simple pleasures that keep her sleeping like a baby at night.

Keep scrolling for the SparkNotes version of our conversation, and tune in to the Who What Wear podcast to hear it in full. 


(Image credit: Murray Close/SHOWTIME)

If you could play anyone, who would it be? 

Bette Davis. 

You need to do that. Who's a character you've played that's the most like you?

I have to say, I don't think any.

Have there been any characters that are so different from you that you really had to dive into the character to [become that character]?

Not that she was so not like me, but I think [in] The Runaways, playing Cherie Currie. That was such a specific time, and [it was] rock and roll and all of that. But there's always something you can identify with. She was a girl from the valley at heart. And I feel that way, too, you know? So there are things you can relate to. But I definitely had to dive into that one in a lot of different ways.


(Image credit: Murray Close/SHOWTIME)

Who is one person who would make you starstruck? 

Lewis Hamilton.

What is your go-to relaxation method?

A bath. I take a bath every night.

Every night?

They're not always luxurious. Sometimes, it's just like a little bird bath, but unless I'm washing my hair, I always take a bath.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I don't feel guilty about a lot of things, I have to say. If I enjoy something, I don't know why I should feel that guilty about it.


(Image credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

What's your favorite red carpet look?

Ah, man. I loved this dress I wore to the Venice Film Festival. It was like a mermaid dress, and it had all those little paillettes. It looked like a mermaid tail. It was Miu Miu, and it was beautiful. But I've had some good ones. When I went to Cannes, I wore an Armani white satin gown with a yellow sash. And that was really special. I felt very glamorous at such a glamorous place. It was really one of those moments.

Have you ever taken a wardrobe item off of a set?

I do have some. I have pretty much the entire wardrobe from The Runaways, which is super cool. From I Am Sam, I have it framed—it's a little shirt that I wore, and it's so small. It was actually a baby dress that, as the character got older … [became] a shirt. So I have that framed. It's so tiny. I have the yellow dress from Charlotte's Web that Fern wears at the fair. So I have a couple things like that. But yeah, I had the whole wardrobe in The Runaways, which is cool.


(Image credit: Mike Marsland/Getty Images)

Have you taken anything recently? Did you get to take anything from [your First Lady] wardrobe?

I didn't from The First Lady, wardrobe-wise. I always take the chair back that has the name of the project on it and my name on it. I collect those. So I always take those.

How many of those do you have?

Quite a few, yeah. Quite a few.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Check out our previous episode with Brett Alan Nelson, Doja Cat's creative director and stylist.

Senior Fashion Editor

Eliza Huber is a New York City–based fashion editor who specializes in trend reporting, brand discovery, and celebrity style. She joined Who What Wear in 2021 after almost four years on the fashion editorial team at Refinery29, the job she took after graduating with a marketing degree from the University of Iowa. She has since launched two monthly columns, Let's Get a Room and Ways to Wear; profiled the likes of Dakota Fanning, Diane Kruger, Katie Holmes, and Sabrina Carpenter for WWW's monthly cover features; and reported on everything from the relationship between Formula One and fashion to the top trends from fashion month, season after season. Eliza now lives on the Upper West Side and spends her free time researching F1 fashion imagery for her side Instagram accounts @thepinnacleoffashion and @f1paddockfits, running in Central Park, and scouring eBay for '90s Prada and '80s Yves Saint Laurent.