In the music biopic “The Runaways,” actresses Dakota Fanning (“War of the Worlds”) and Kristen Stewart (“New Moon”) portray Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, the two lead band members of the 1970s all-girl punk rock band the film is named after.
The Runways were best known for their songs “Cherry Bomb” and “Queens of Noise.” The film, which was directed by Floria Sigismondi and adapted from Currie’s book “Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story,” follows the Runaways from their formation in 1975 to 1977 when Currie abruptly quit the band. The group officially broke up two years later.
During press interviews at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas last month, I sat down with Fanning and Stewart to talk about the film.
Dakota, all the characters in this film are going through a sort of rebellious phase. You’re 16 years old. Did you go through that or did you sort of skip over it?
Dakota Fanning: I don’t think I’ve every really had anything to rebel against. My parents aren’t really crazy strict parents. They’re really good parents. I wouldn’t ever want to rebel against them. I guess I just do that in films. I guess I skipped over that, whatever that really means. I think we all rebel against something at some point but I didn’t have a stage that I went through where I was a bad kid.
There is a fine line separating an actor actually portraying a real-life person or simply doing an impersonation. How did you keep from crossing that line?
DF: For me Cheri is really different from how she was so it was kind of impossible to do an impersonation of her. I watched a lot of videos because I thought the performances were the most important. That could almost be an impersonation. Like with the “Cherry Bomb” dance, she did the same thing every time she performed.
Kristen Stewart: It would be an impersonation if you were thinking about nothing when you were doing it.
DF: Right, I wanted [the dance] to be so engrained in my body that I didn’t even have to think about it because that’s how it became for her. I did get to that point where I started and finished and didn’t remember how I got there, which was actually pretty exciting.
What kind of advice did Cherie or Joan give you on the set?
DF: Cheri and I talked a lot about why it ended for her and why she decided to leave [the Runaways]. That’s pretty important for my character. I don’t know if she really gave me any specific advice.
KS: Yeah, there are a million things that come out that they tell you – deep emotional things. Joan is comfortable with who she is even though she’s shy. She’s not always what she might seem, which is really badass.
Tell me about the first time you read the script and felt like it was something you had to be a part of.
DF: I read the script and I didn’t know a lot about the Runaways so I looked up their Live in Japan videos. “Cherry Bomb” is the first one I saw. That’s when I realized I wanted to play her. I wanted to do that. They weren’t sure if I was old enough or if I was right.
KS: Which was ridiculous, actually.
DF: I was lucky they believed I could do it.
KS: I got really freaked out because you realize all the stuff that goes along with playing Joan Jett.
What is the difference between playing a real person and playing someone on paper that you can make your own?
DF: It was totally different. As much as Joan wanted to give me freedom and have me be natural I couldn’t improvise stuff as easily as I could in other movies. I didn’t like to fill in the blanks. I didn’t like to answer questions. I was always asking them. But you should always feel like your character is real. You should always feel like there is a whole person to do justice. But it is totally different when they are there and you’re friends with them.
How was it being able to play characters who explored some darker more destructive territory?
KS: In [interviews] I’m the one who is asked why I play a disaffected teen all the time. I’m a teenage and I like roles that are thought out and not one-dimensional and framed. You might as well take the character name off [in those instances] and write “girl” or “cute girl,” “ugly girl,” “hot girl.” I like stuff that gets you thinking.
DF: I’ve always been drawn to intense and emotional storylines and characters that are actually going through something that could help someone else. I feel like all the characters you play there’s someone like that out there. I just like give that person a voice.
Do you feel like this movie made you grow up?
DF: I definitely relate a lot of the experiences that I have now to Joan and Cherie and to the movie. I feel like me, Kristen, Joan and Cherie share something that is really unique. I think that has changed me – these relationships and the experience. I wont be the same after knowing these people and portraying their story.
KS: I feel like every experience in a movie changes you a little bit. This one is really hard to describe. I don’t know how to be specific about it, but it definitely has. It definitely made me more confident.