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In a new interview for Billboard, Elle talked about wanting to play a popstar and the feeling of letting loose on stage. The article drops some of the big names she got to work with while recording tracks for Teen Spirit, and explains the song selection by director Max Minghella. You can read it in full below. Additionally, our gallery has been updated with a photo session featured in the March 9 issue of the magazine.

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“I always had this dream of being a pop star,” says Elle Fanning. Sitting at a corner table at West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont in a gauzy ivory dress, the 20-year-old actress is so happy to be talking about how her dream finally came true in the new movie Teen Spirit that she lets her mint tea go cold. “That feeling, like I can just let loose and perform, was so attractive.”

In Teen Spirit, Fanning plays Violet Valenski, an introverted but tenacious English teenager who enters a singing competition in the hopes of escaping her dreary home life. Throughout the movie, Fanning sings various pop showpieces, in the end taking the stage in front of a live studio audience to deliver a primal performance of an unexpected song. To anyone familiar with Fanning’s career, her magnetism onscreen is no surprise. Still, watching her as Violet is like witnessing a best new artist Grammy winner at the moment of birth.

Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Max Minghella (perhaps best known as Nick on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale), Teen Spirit, which LD Entertainment and Bleecker Street will release on April 5, follows Violet from her humble beginnings, half-heartedly singing ballads in a local pub, to the titular televised competition. The role required Fanning not only to cover existing songs like Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” but to also record an original track with producer Jack Antonoff, which Fanning calls a “super surreal” experience. “Jack did [Taylor Swift’s] reputation. He recorded [Lorde’s] ‘Green Light,’” she says. “I felt like, ‘Wow — maybe I am good.’”

Teen Spirit joins a rapidly expanding number of recent movies set within the music industry and led by young female actors who portray not pop personas, but real, complicated women. In the 2018 film Vox Lux, Natalie Portman played a school shooting survivor turned pop diva and sang original tracks written by Sia. Alex Ross Perry’s forthcoming Her Smell stars Elisabeth Moss as a messy, troubled, Courtney Love-style rocker. And then, of course, there’s A Star Is Born’s Ally, a character largely inspired by Lady Gaga herself.

“On some level it’s coincidence,” says Teen Spirit producer Fred Berger of this spate of films (Berger also produced 2016’s La La Land). “But music is one of the most manipulative tools we have. The [film] industry has caught up to the fact that, in an environment where people need an excuse to go to the movies, they want to feel something big.”

Minghella, 33, had long wanted to put a musical spin on the Cinderella story, but he wondered if he “could use the grammar of a music video to create a narrative that feels unconventional.” In order to avoid characters spontaneously, unrealistically bursting into song, Minghella zeroed in on a reality competition that would provide a reason for the singing, and on tunes that would lyrically reflect Violet’s trajectory.

“The responsibility of the music is to inform character and plot,” he says. “I hope the songs achieve that without feeling too on the nose.” Early on, Violet performs Tegan & Sara’s poignant “I Was a Fool” for a pub full of old men who would probably prefer a beery rendition of “Danny Boy.” Frustrated, she later flails around her bedroom to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.” When she appears before the competition’s judges, she belts out Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” — “So I tell myself that I’ll be strong/And dreaming when they’re gone.” As she advances, she performs an affecting version of Annie Lennox’s 1992 “Little Bird” (originally intended to be “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” before the creative team decided Violet was probably too moody for the Cyndi Lauper hit).

Minghella’s song choices were deliberate: The soundtrack almost exclusively features tracks performed and/or written by female artists, including Grimes, Ariana Grande and Katy Perry. “If you look at my iPod, you wouldn’t find a ton of male songwriters,” he says. “I so overtly identify with female characters, I should probably see a psychoanalyst.” (Fanning jokes: “Max is a complete pop whore.”)

Most of those musical cues were in the script from the beginning — getting clearances for them is one reason why it took nearly 10 years to get Teen Spirit to the big screen. It wasn’t until 2015, after Minghella joined forces with the production team behind La La Land and Interscope Records (which released the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning movie, as well as Robyn’s 2010 album, Body Talk), that Teen Spirit was officially greenlit. It’s Interscope’s first foray into film production in over a decade.

“Interscope was a big help,” says music supervisor Steven Gizicki. “These are not small songs. ‘Dancing on My Own’ had a second life because of [HBO’s] Girls, so Robyn was a bit afraid of being overexposed.” In the end, Minghella’s tasteful and assured vision convinced Berger: “He wasn’t going to pervert the music into a jukebox movie.”

Finding a star who could believably perform those songs turned out to be the real obstacle. Initially, Minghella wanted the story to unfold in Poland with an unknown actor at the helm, but casting, he says, became “a fucking nightmare.” He relocated the story to his native Isle of Wight, where Violet runs a farm with her Polish immigrant mother and enlists a former opera singer as her manager.

Minghella — the son of the late British director Anthony and Hong Kong-born choreographer Carolyn Choa — felt strongly that Violet’s biography would make her a more relatable artist. “People are really responding to authenticity now, maybe as a consequence of reality TV and social media,” he says. “I wanted it to be very clear that Violet is not a polished, American Girl doll version of a pop star. There is a lack of vanity to her that is intrinsic to who she is.”

While he insists that his protagonist isn’t based on anyone, Violet’s background brings to mind Dua Lipa, the Albanian-British singer-songwriter who spent her adolescence in Kosovo and won the best new artist Grammy in February, declaring in her acceptance speech that “no matter where you’re from, or your background or what you believe in, never let that get in the way of you and your dreams.”

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Current Projects
The Nightingale (2021)
Elle Fanning as Isabelle

The lives of two sisters living in France are torn apart at the onset of World War II. Based on Kristin Hannah’s novel ‘The Nightingale’.

The Great (2020)
Elle Fanning as Catherine

A royal woman living in rural Austria during the seventeenth century is forced to choose between her own personal happiness and the future of Russia, when she marries an Emperor.

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