Inside TIFF 2018: How Elle Fanning Transformed Into a Pop Star for Teen Spirit

Elle Fanning's new film, Teen Spirit, tells the story of a teenager who auditions on an American Idol-esque television show. She and director Max Minghella told Reader’s Digest Canada about the musical drama at a TIFF 2018 roundtable hosted by RBC and Nespresso Canada, and presented by Deadline.

Elle FanningPhoto: Eric Charbonneau

Elle Fanning on Teen Spirit

Elle Fanning is no stranger to versatility. Since becoming an actress at the age of three, she’s starred in comedies, sci-fi horror mashups, arthouse films, period pieces and fairytale adaptations. With the new musical drama Teen Spirit, she can add a new skill to her acting arsenal: singing.

Premiering at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations line-up, Teen Spirit finds the 20-year-old Fanning in her most challenging role yet.

“Normally, I don’t watch myself [during shooting], but with singing a song, I had to analyze my performance because there was so much technicality to it,” said Fanning at Coffee with Creators, a TIFF 2018 roundtable hosted by RBC and Nespresso Canada at RBC House, and presented by Deadline. “I heard all of my mistakes, which was actually really cool because I became very conscious that I was a growing performer.”

In the film, Fanning plays 17-year-old Violet, a gifted singer who lives with her Polish mother on a small farm on the Isle of Wight. When she’s not waiting tables, doing chores or attending high school, she dreams of pop stardom. Violet eventually strikes a friendship with a fading opera singer (Zlatko Burić), who convinces her to try out for an American Idol-esque competition after hearing her perform.

To prepare for the role, Fanning worked with Marius de Vries, an English composer who served as music producer on La La Land. Fanning performs five songs in the film where the vocals are live—each performance took 12 hours to shoot.

“I’ve always had a desire of being on stage one day singing a song,” Fanning said. “Honestly, I think everybody has that fantasy—even if you can’t sing.”

Teen Spirit is the directorial debut of actor Max Minghella, who currently stars as Nick Blaine on the Toronto-shot television series The Handmaid’s Tale. The film features music by Ariana Grande, Robyn, Ellie Goulding and Grimes. Grammy Award-winning producer Jack Antonoff, who has collaborated with Lorde and Taylor Swift, wrote an original song for the film’s soundtrack.

“In a musical, every song has to drive the narrative forward,” said Minghella. “In this film, people don’t suddenly burst into song, but they do sing every 10 minutes, so I was very careful to make sure each track had an emotional component.”

When asked if she wanted to record music in the future, Fanning said the door was open.

“I wouldn’t write it off,” she said. “Music is such a completely different world, and now that I’ve worked with Jack [Antonoff], I’ve gotten to put my toes in the water a little bit.”

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