At age 6, Dakota Fanning was very likely one of the only kids on the block playing with a medical neck brace and plastic nasal tubes. Actually, she was one of two. The other was her younger sister, Elle.
Such were the perks of landing her first significant acting job: a guest role in a Season 6 episode of NBC’s long-running medical drama “ER.” In it, the then pipsqueak-actress played a car accident victim who has leukemia.
“My best memory from doing that was all of the medical stuff that they gave me,” Fanning said when she stopped by The Times’ video studio recently. “They gave me the neck brace. They gave me the tubes, the breathing tubes. They gave me fake syringes, gauze. All this stuff. My sister and I played with those fake medical props for so many years to come, I can’t even tell you.”
Fanning would, of course, go on to join the club of young actors who have quickly earned veteran status. Her film work, which includes “I Am Sam,” “Man on Fire” and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” has earned her the most notoriety. But recently the actress got reacquainted with the small screen with a starring role in the TNT limited series “The Alienist.”
The 10-episode drama, which will air its finale on Monday, is the end point in the winding road Caleb Carr’s bestselling novel traveled to get made. The story revolves around a serial killer on the loose in Gilded Age New York. Fanning plays Sarah Howard, who is part of the dubious team trying to solve the case. The character is the secretary to Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt and the first woman hired by the New York Police Department, determined to become the first female police detective at a time when that was inconceivable.
“I would describe Sarah Howard as someone who is really pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable for a woman in 1896,” Fanning said. “Even the title of ‘secretary to police commissioner’ kind of annoys her a bit. … She’s pushing the boundaries of society. She’s not married. She’s not looking to be married. Doesn’t have any children. Not looking to have any children at this time. And that was really unusual. She’s facing looks from her peers in her social circles and, of course, looks from her male peers in the workplace.”
The series took Fanning to Budapest, where production took place over seven months. She chose to stay at an apartment in that time, likening the search to being on “House Hunters: International.”
“I was a little nervous,” Fanning said. “Doing a film is not usually a seven-month commitment. I haven’t been away from home for that long in a long time. So that was the thing I was most nervous for … I kind of left my life behind and jumped right in and I didn’t want to leave, in the end. I cried hysterically.”
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