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Watch 5 minutes of 'Low Down,' with John Hawkes and Elle Fanning

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Low Down
Oscilloscope Laboratories

Elle Fanning is super-excited about her next project: Halloween.

She might be one of the hardest-working actresses in Hollywood—with four films in theaters in 2014, including the blockbuster Maleficent—but she’s still only 16 and her Halloween costume is an elaborate production. “It’s a secret,” she says, when asked about her trick-or-treat dress-up plans. “But I’ll give you some of my greatest hits: I was the Morton Salt Girl. I was Strawberry Shortcake. I’ve been a Barbie Statue of Liberty. I’ve been Mary Poppins. I was a Madame Alexander doll. I was a vampire, but that was like a very glamorous done-up vampire. I was Marilyn Monroe—when I was 7. So yeah, it’s a big deal.”

In Low Down, which opens today in theaters, she gets to dress up as a real person. Amy-Jo Albany was the daughter of Joe Albany, a talented jazz pianist who recorded with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. He also was a heroin addict, testing the love of many who cared for him. In the film, set in Hollywood 1974, Joe (John Hawkes) is trying to right his life and then hold it together for the sake of his teenage daughter, who adores him. It’s not an easy task.

EW has an extensive conversation with Fanning, and the film’s opening five minutes, which introduce the father/daughter dynamic and feature Joe jamming with a trumpet-playing Flea. (Beware of one expletive.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Have you been working 25/8 for the past year, or is it one of those things where the films were spread out but their release dates just happen to be in the same year?

ELLE FANNING: It’s kind of more like all the release dates are like, boom, they all came at the same time. Because Maleficent I filmed like two years ago, but there are so many special effects and stuff that it came out later. Last year, I was pretty much in school the whole year. But I just got home from finishing a film: Trumbo, which was in New Orleans. I’m very energetic so I like to be busy. It’s kind of hard for me to sit on the couch and not have much to do.

You play Amy-Jo, who co-wrote the script, based on her own memoir. Did you read it?

After I met with [director Jeff Preiss] and Amy together, they gave me the memoir to read and I read it kind of throughout filming. I had never played a real person. So I was kind of like, “Oh the pressure of getting someone’s life right…” And also, Amy was there every day on set—completely supportive but always there. I would secretly observe her body language. We became close friends. We text still, and she called me at random times before filming, too, just to ask me, like, “Do you have any questions?”—talking to Amy about Amy.

You’ve worked opposite some really tremendous actors, like Jeff Bridges and Michael Shannon, and now John Hawkes joins that talented club. What was his style?

When he’s not filming, he’s just John. And then, he can turn it on, and he’s Joe. He becomes that person. It’s amazing. He’s one of the best actors in the world.

This a film full of music. Did that extend to the set, even when the cameras weren’t rolling?

I feel like music was a whole other character. ‘Cause Jeff is like a huge jazz fan, and he’s super passionate about it. So jazz was always playing. And Flea was in our film, which is so cool, and he knows all the jazz stuff too. There’s one part in the film, we’re sitting together talking and he’s explaining this record to me—that was all ad-libbed. He knew everything, all of the artists, all of the greats.

Okay, but be honest. Do you like jazz?

[Laughs] I never listened to it before. That was something that I did not listen to, but I definitely appreciate it. Also, then I was just in New Orleans, which is booming with jazz. I definitely appreciate the soulfulness and passion to it.

You don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. In addition to Trumbo, I read about A Storm in the Stars, where you would play a young Mary Shelley. Is that happening?

That could possibly be happening. I don’t know when, though. That could be in a couple of years, you know? You never know. Trumbo just finished. I played Dalton Trumbo’s daughter. Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo and Diane Lane plays Cleo, my mom.

Most of your scenes are with them?

My scenes are all with them. And Helen Mirren’s in our film, but we don’t have any scenes together. But we had a table read and I got to meet her, so that was beautiful.

You’ve been acting your whole life, and naturally, you’re been mostly cast as The Daughter. Are the scripts you’re reading now starting to reflect your own maturity, or do see a lot of the same?

I can’t play the little daughter as much any more. Then it becomes the teenage daughter. But it is really exciting where it’s not just playing the daughter, I guess. And I have gotten a couple of those, which is exciting. But it’s a weird thing, because I don’t think about that. I think, “Oh, this is just a movie and I can definitely do it.”