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Originally published Friday, June 10, 2011 at 3:36 PM

Elle Fanning has a blast with 'Super' new friends

Young actress Elle Fanning, 13, discusses her experience filming J.J. Abrams' "Super 8."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

quotes the word "groovy" was no longer popular in the 70s. was really played out by... Read more
quotes Abrams sounds pretty clueless. "Groovy" was used in the 1960s, not 70s... Read more
quotes Saw the movie over the weekend. What a great, entertaining, sci-fi, feel-good movie... Read more

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Dude, you have to stop saying "Dude."

Director J.J. Abrams may not have phrased it like that, but he reminded his young stars that "Super 8"is set in 1979, a time when that slang term was not part of casual conversation.

"I think it was hard for the guys to not say 'Dude,' " Elle Fanning said with a laugh.

In fact, Abrams provided a list of words, such as "groovy," that were common in the '70s. "He was like, 'This is what we used to talk like.' It was fun looking at those."

On the telephone from London, where she was promoting "Super 8," Fanning sounds exactly like her older sister, actress Dakota Fanning, 17. Same giggle, same pitch of the voice and same level of enthusiasm that most adults cannot replicate, let alone recall.

And, it turns out, same level of remarkable talent.

Just 13 and set to enter eighth grade in the fall, Fanning recently finished Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" and Francis Ford Coppola's horror film, "Twixt Now and Sunrise."

The Abrams picture came on the heels of roles in such movies as Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," "The Nutcracker in 3-D"and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

This school year was the first that conflicted with Fanning's filming schedule. "All the other years, I did a movie in the summer and I'd been to school the whole year, but I still have to keep up with everything and do the same thing that all my classmates are doing.

"I have an on-set tutor who comes with me and she communicates with all the teachers, and I just did all my finals. I finished them and we have to turn them in, send them from London back to L.A."

(L.A. is where Fanning and her classmates once formed a "Lost"club where they puzzled out the secrets of the TV series co-created by Abrams.)

In "Super 8,"she plays Alice, a girl living with her troubled father in an Ohio steel town. She accepts an offer from her smitten male classmates to appear in their Super 8 movie as a detective's wife.

In addition to Fanning, the young cast includes Joel Courtney as Joe; Gabriel Basso as Martin; Riley Griffiths (of Issaquah, WA) as Charles; Ryan Lee as Cary; and Zach Mills as Preston.

As for why Alice agrees to join the aspiring filmmakers in their zombie adventure, Fanning ventures, "I think because she has that not-so-great dad and it's starting to be summer, and when the boys approach her and ask her to be in their zombie movie, it's more of an escape from her dad than anything.

"It's not because she wants to be an actress or thinks it will be fun. It's more she doesn't want to be in her house all summer with him."

Onetime "ER"and "Men Behaving Badly" regular Ron Eldard portrays her father, a steelworker with an absent wife and a drinking problem. "Friday Night Lights"mainstay Kyle Chandler is Joe's dad, a newly widowed deputy sheriff.

While shooting their Super 8 film, the youngsters witness a catastrophic train crash and discover it was not an accident, as the military claims, and everyone and everything is in grave jeopardy.

The movie was largely shot in Weirton, W.Va. ("We had the best time," she says), which cheated for Ohio.

The young cast bonded over extensive rehearsals, impromptu football games where Fanning surprised the boys with her skills, bowling, meals at a Japanese steak house in Weirton and generally hanging out and laughing.

When Fanning initially met with Abrams, she had no idea what the project might be. "He just said, 'I'm doing a movie with a girl in it,' and then a couple of months passed and then me and all the boys auditioned together. We read scenes that weren't from 'Super 8,' they were from other projects. ...

"A few weeks went by and we still didn't know what the movie was, and he called each one of us personally and told us that we got the part. Then after that, we all sat down in a room and he read us the script out loud."

Although curled around a mystery, the story embraces loss, first love and the journey of a group of friends. "Even if you took out all of the explosions and all that, you'd still have a really good movie,"Fanning says.

The spectacular crash took about three weeks to film, and while a train, tracks and an isolated station were imported or constructed, most of the action came courtesy of computer-generated effects. "There were little explosions, but there wasn't anything crashing through the air."

Even the cast didn't see the finished movie until late May. "When you read the script, not everything is there, so you don't know every little thing, and J.J. didn't show us anything, so when we saw the movie, we found out the big secret,"Fanning said.

One secret Abrams refused to share: His boyhood Super 8 movies.

He did, however, allow his charges to make the movie-within-the-movie that plays alongside the final credits. "All of the kids in 'Super 8,' we can say that we've made a Super 8 film because we wrote it and basically set up all the shots with the Super 8 camera."

Although Fanning is a fan of vintage fashion and considers the 1970s her favorite era, Alice is a tomboy who wears jeans and T-shirts. So she wasn't looking to keep any of her period clothing, "but J.J. at the end of the movie gave us all our bikes — we got to pick them out as well."

The project marked a reunion for "Super 8"producer and boyhood filmmaker-turned-Oscar winner Spielberg and the Fanning family.

"It was fun to see him mentoring J.J. and J.J. looking up to him. My sister did 'War of the Worlds' when she was 12 and I did 'Super 8' when I was 12, and I remember going on the set of 'War of the Worlds' when I was about 8 ...

"I didn't remember him that much, but he remembered me. I definitely had gotten taller."

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