There are few things as memorable in a young girl’s life as her first kiss. And it’s no different for an actress experiencing her first movie lip-lock in front of a watchful cast and crew.
For her new film “Ginger & Rosa,” English director Sally Potter went the extra mile to make 14-year-old star Elle Fanning feel comfortable before her first big-screen smooch.
“I did some very special things,” Potter, 63, told me during a recent interview. “I allowed Elle to choose her co-star for that scene. And we had huge fun looking through all the photographs and all the potential [actors] so that she could laugh and laugh and laugh and get all the embarrassment out of the way.”
She continued: “I think if you’re going to have such an important experience with a camera right there, you need to feel powerful in it and not feel in any way manipulated or pushed. I put her in charge.”
Set amidst the threat of Cold War nuclear holocaust, “Ginger & Rosa” is the story of two teenage girls living in 1962 London. Rosa (Alice Englert) is a rebellious lost soul who, abandoned by her father years earlier, now lives with her single mother. Ginger (Fanning) is an intelligent and artistic activist, torn between the love of her exhausted mother (Christina Hendricks) and the fascination with her idealistic father (Alessandro Nivola). Despite their differences, Ginger and Rosa share an intimate bond of lifelong friendship, until the pressures of the changing world tear them apart and lead to an ultimate act of betrayal.
Potter’s careful plotting of Fanning’s first kiss is a clear example of her adoration for the talented teen, who began acting at the age of 2 in the shadow of her equally famous sister Dakota, but if you want to know how Sally really feels about Elle, all you have to do is ask.
“She’s astonishing,” Potter said. “I think it’s a mixture of skill… although she’s still young, she’s had a great deal of experience, and that is a very unusual combination. She knows how to work. She has great self-discipline. Combine that skill with emotional openness. Courage. And a hugely developed imagination. And add to that the fact that she’s an adorable person to work with. She’s a director’s dream when you work together. We bonded so closely.”
Like a doting mother, the director reiterates her feelings for Fanning with three simple words: “I love her. I love her. I’ve worked with some of the best actors in the world and she’s right up there with them. She’s very special.”
Elle Fanning’s unique talent is no secret to film critics, who have lauded the actress for her performances in “Reservation Road,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Somewhere” and “Super 8.” Her performance in “Ginger & Rosa,” which displays an emotional range, poise and maturity beyond the capabilities of many actors twice her age, is her most acclaimed to date. To boot, Fanning delivers her expressively nuanced dialogue with a near-perfect English accent which, when combined with her dyed red hair, makes her nearly unrecognizable.
“Some big British critics came up to me and said, ‘Who is this amazing young British girl you’ve discovered with the red head?” Potter told me. “I said, ‘You didn’t recognize her?’ They could not believe that a young blonde girl from Los Angeles could so convincingly play an English teenager from the ’60s.”
Equally convincing as a ’60s Brit is “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks, whose famous red mane and fair skin made her a visual fit as Ginger’s mother. But it is her stripped-down performance as a poor and downtrodden wife and mother than will surprise many of her cable TV fans.
“When a popular image of an actor is one of a certain kind of glamour – and she’s wonderful as Joan in ‘Mad Men,’ I adore her in that role – but she needed to go in a different direction in this and work with a whole other range to herself as a performer,” Potter explained. “She manages to portray a certain kind of suffering and struggle of that period, of women who were trying to be independent but didn’t have the economic means to be independent, and wants to be a good mother but is feeling alienated from her teenage daughter, and her marriage is breaking down. But at the center of it, there’s this great spirit. You feel the spirit, you don’t feel a victim. You feel the spirit of this woman who’s wanting to be more.”
If it seems like the “Ginger & Rosa” is mostly about Ginger, and not so much about Rosa, you’d be right. In fact, Potter, who also wrote the screenplay, previously titled the movie “Bomb,” but felt that it would mislead people into thinking it was an action film. In reality, both titles are accurate, with “Ginger & Rosa” referring to the central relationship that drives the story forward, and “Bomb” referring to both the figurative and potentially literal disruption of Ginger’s life.
Once a self-proclaimed “young activist” who, like Ginger, attended London’s “ban the bomb” marches, Potter experienced the tensions surrounding the literal bomb, but says her redhead is not necessarily based on her teenage self.
“I did draw on a lot of memory and some direct experience and mussed it all up with imagination and observation and what ifs,” she said. “I think if it was really a self-portrait it would be a very, very, very different animal altogether. There’s some strong points of identification, not the least of which is being a young activist and young poet and those kind of things. That’s a world that I know.”
“Ginger & Rosa” is open theatrically in select cities now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.