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“I really find satisfaction with looking at my calendar and figuring out what time I have certain things. But I also don’t force myself to do anything. I’m a daydreamer.”

Just before quarantine started, Elle Fanning was set to fly to Budapest with her older sister, Dakota, to start shooting the World War II film The Nightingale, based on the 2015 novel by Kristin Hannah, which will mark the sisters’ first on-screen appearance together. “We talk about what it’s going to be like a lot,” says Elle, 22. “We’re playing sisters, so there’s not much research to be done. We’ve got that covered.”

Right now, the sisters are in Los Angeles, in isolation together, along with their mom and grandmother. Elle has experienced a few milestones during quarantine: her birthday, in April, and the release, in May, of The Great, a satirical Hulu series about Catherine the Great in which she stars. On July 2, the show’s second season was announced. Catherine is one of Fanning’s first comedic roles, and The Great also marks her first turn as an executive producer.

Fanning has been using the past few months to relax a bit: forgoing alarms, baking ooey gooey butter cakes, going on walks with her mom, doing experimental makeup inspired by the comedian Chelsea Peretti. Here, she talks to WSJ. about her favorite exercise class, the best advice she’s gotten and why this spring was an ideal time for The Great to come out.

What time do you get up on Mondays, and what’s the first thing you do after waking up?

I’ve been getting up around 9:30. I normally have so many alarms set. I’m such an alarm person, but during the pandemic I haven’t been setting them at all. I just naturally wake up when my body wants me to.

Then I have some quiet time in the morning, go downstairs and make iced coffee with oat milk. That’s my go-to, and then sometimes I’ll make an exciting breakfast. I love breakfast, so I’ve gotten into splurging on that: making amazing sandwiches or omelets. I dream of what I’m going to eat in the morning, and then my [cooking] kind of wakes everybody up from me banging pots and pans downstairs.

Do you take any vitamins?

I don’t take any vitamins. [But] I tried to do this thing; you’re supposed to drink a glass of room-temperature water before you have anything. I tried that for a bit; I don’t know if I felt different.

Do you set an intention for the week?

I have a Barbie calendar in my room. I always get a new one every Christmas. I really find satisfaction with looking at my calendar and figuring out what time I have certain things. But I also don’t force myself to do anything. I’m a real daydreamer; I can spend a lot of time just thinking crazy thoughts and get sidetracked during the day. My mind is so antsy that during this pandemic, it’s made me slow down a little bit and take time for myself.

What’s your exercise routine like right now?

I started out really good: “I’m going to exercise every day.” And my sister has really stuck to that. We go to Cardio Barre, this place that’s close to us, and we normally go to their studio but obviously they shut down. So we got their online [classes], and we’ve been doing that at home. It’s very ballet-based. I did ballet for a long time and we have a barre in our house, so it’s easy to do. I’ve kind of faded out, but my sister has been loving it. I take walks around the neighborhood now. My mom and I will go do that together, which I never did before.

Have you and Dakota done anything fun together lately?

My sister’s doing paint-by-numbers; it shows her personality. She’s so precise and can sit there and do each little square. We bake, we’re always figuring out what’s going to be the new thing we’re going to make. We made this ooey gooey butter cake—I think it’s a St. Louis thing. She’s been making really good cookies. Everything is involving food. We tried to do some socially distanced picnics with our friends in the backyard, with some cocktails and things.

What about your beauty routine?

My skin has been very happy with me because I haven’t been on set, having to wake up and put makeup on every single day. I’ve been keeping it pretty clean. I use grapeseed oil to moisturize my skin and take my makeup off, it’s very gentle and I’m very, very sensitive. Everything’s pretty simple for me in the mornings. I’ve been keeping it natural right now.

Although, on my Instagram, you’ll see what boredom looks for me. I’ll do lipstick eyeshadow on my eyes. I got that inspiration from [comedian] Chelsea Peretti because she’s been doing these funny makeup tutorials that are kind of making fun of tutorials with crazy makeup.

You’ve also been posting great fashion throwbacks on Instagram of your outfits from the Met Gala and the Cannes Film Festival. Do you have a favorite quarantine outfit?

My sister always makes fun of me for my horrible pajamas. I wear the rattiest [pajamas]; I will hold on to them for years and just wear them and wear them and wear them every night. It’s gross. That’s what I’ve been doing, a lot of pajama bottoms and sweatshirts and things. But also if I have a Zoom call, I’m looking at the good necklines.

What was it like to release a TV show during the pandemic?

Oh, man. I think it was the perfect time to release The Great because everyone’s at home and it’s a comedy. Eerily enough, we have an episode about a smallpox outbreak. It was quite similar to what we’re going through. I think people need entertainment, something to laugh at and discuss with family.

In a recent Elle article you said you’re allergic to the phrase “strong female character” and prefer complicated female roles. Is that the main criteria for you when you’re evaluating a role?

It’s one. Growing up, the roles you get, you’re playing the daughter—someone who’s very much the observer of the situation. I’m excited to step into the role where I’m the one who’s getting to do the crazy things that are being observed. Maybe that’s just part of growing up in this business, you get more juicy roles. But also, what does “strong female character” mean? I don’t want to play a character who’s always great and always strong and always the most fabulous. That’s not a human being.

How has this isolating experience shifted your perspective?

I think I take everything with a little more care. I hope that’s how we all come out of this, that we have this newfound appreciation for the mundane things we do every day. Just going out to eat at a restaurant. Enjoy it, savor every moment. Life can be so fast-moving, you just keep going and going, so I think to slow down and reflect has been good. I hope we’ll come out of it better.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

July 8th, 2020  No Comments Interviews, Press
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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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