Elle Fanning gives a spirited performance in the true-life story based on the memoir of Benjamin Mee, “We Bought A Zoo” with Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a widower when he moves in with the two children. The plot essentially follows the path of a courageous family and tells the story of the incredible risk they take that transforms their lives. While Matt Damon’s Benjamin Mee forms a close friendship with the rest of the zoo keeping personnel, a strong bond also develops between Lily (Fanning), a home schooled country girl and Dylan Mee (Colin Ford), a city boy adjusting to country life.
Q: What kind of girl is Lily?
A: “She is actually a lot like me; she will be the first one to say ‘hi.’ Like me, Lily’s very sensitive. I’m not super tough. I’ll just sort of go for it. I love to laugh and be happy. I guess I’m not shy at all. Lily is definitely one of the most comedic characters that I’ve ever played. She is very quirky and funny.”
Q: Can you discuss the relationship between Lily and Dylan?
A: “Lily and Dylan are very different. If Lily was as down and moody as Dylan then I don’t think they would have connected. She’s the kind of person who would introduce herself first and he’s more of the shy type. He’s not so sure. When she first sees Dylan, she treats him sort of like an animal; she sees him as a mysterious interesting creature because her best friends are animals. She does not have friends who are kids so she’s not really sure how to relate to humans. She doesn’t really know how to act around kids her age.
Q: How did you approach your role on this film?
A: “It is about learning; I always learn something new every time I go on a film set. I enjoyed watching how Matt treats everybody on set, and I learned a lot from that. He’s such a down to earth and very nice guy.”
Q: It must have been fun working with the animals.
A: “We loved all the animals; we would be walking to set and there would be peacocks right beside us, walking with us. It was such a strange thing to be in a zoo with so many different animals. I fed a tiger a bottle of milk although there was a cage between us. That was one of the cutest moments.”
Q: Are you an animal lover?
A: “I am an animal lover. I have a dog called Lou Ellen, a horse called Goldie and a fish called Angel Wings. I have had my fish for four years and it’s a normal gold fish but it’s a little different because it’s not gold. It’s fluorescent and it’s been alive forever; it’s like the miracle fish.”
Q: Where do you think your talent comes from? Is it genetic? You and your sister Dakota are both such great actresses.
A: “It is funny because both of our parents were athletes; they weren’t in the arts at all. They never acted; they weren’t even in school plays. My sister and I always pretended to be different characters around the house and we’d imagine that we were in different worlds. I think that our parents saw that and they wanted to find out if we really liked acting. So we began acting, then once we got on a film set we both really enjoyed it. Acting is something that I want to do my whole life; hopefully I’ll be able to.”
Q: You are often working on movies. How normal is life at home?
A: “I still have to clean up my room and do the normal chores girls my age do. I don’t get an allowance. I don’t go out a lot. The most I would do would be to go to a sleepover with my friends.”
Q: What has kept you grounded?
A: “We’re definitely a really tight-knit family. My grandmother goes with me on all of my movie sets and my sister always comes and visits. My Mom and Dad always come and visit too. My Dad’s the youngest of eight kids; we have fourteen cousins back in Georgia. I think it’s really nice to have people who are always there for you.”
Q: In your opinion how would you describe the appeal of the film and what makes it special?
A: “It will definitely lift people up when they go to see it. It’s a little sad, but then it’s also warm and light and emotional with the different relationships between all the people and there is such fun with the animals. They’re so cute. You will be laughing while watching the film and it will make you feel good. It shows a family at their lowest point because the kids have lost their Mom; Benjamin lost his wife. That’s the lowest you can get and then the film shows them really coming together as a family.”
Elle Fanning made her film debut in 2001 at the age of two in “I Am Sam.” Her numerous TV appearances include “Criminal Minds” and “Dirty Sexy Money.” Her film credits include “Daddy Day Care,” “The Door In The Floor,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “Babel,” “Déjà Vu,” “Reservation Road,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Phoebe in Wonderland,” “Somewhere” and “Super 8.”
“We Bought A Zoo” opens January 18 in theaters from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.