Dakota Fanning: most powerful actress in Hollywood -- We analyze the precocious 11-year-old actress's rise to stardom

You think we’re kidding. But stay with us here. By the end of 2005, she will have starred in three major movies this year — Hide and Seek, War of the Worlds, and the upcoming Dreamer — and, for street cred, the indie Nine Lives. She’s got several movies in the works, including next year’s Charlotte’s Web. She outacted Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro (and was given equal billing as the Raging Bull legend in some Hide and Seek ads), and there’s already genuine Oscar buzz for her WOTW performance. Since 2001, her movies have grossed. . .wait for it. . .nearly $650 million domestically. Which is why, at 11 years old, she already makes $3 million a picture, a figure her agent says keeps rising. And, in perhaps the truest indication of industry clout, she’s the only actress in Hollywood who no executive can say is too old.

Armed with preternaturally sophisticated acting chops and those blue eyes the size of salad plates, Dakota Fanning is Jodie Foster reengineered for the blockbuster era. Is it any wonder grown men tremble when taking a meeting with her?

First-time director John Gatins, who helmed Dreamer (in theaters Oct. 21), needed to cast an 11-year-old boy to flesh out his script about three generations of racehorse-training men. But after seeing Fanning in Man on Fire, he decided to change the part to a girl and pitch the young star instead. ”But what do you wear to meet Dakota Fanning?!” he remembers ranting at his wife. ”She’s 10!” The next day, he was ushered into Fanning’s agent’s office, where the wee one waited behind the desk, chomping on cotton-candy-flavored bubble gum.

”They just left me in a room with her,” says the 37-year-old director. ”She could barely see over the desk. And I’m sitting on the other side feeling like I’m being interviewed. Which guess what? I was!”

After Fanning signed on to play Cale Crane, the precocious daughter this time of Kurt Russell, she’d go to meetings with the script in her big pink binder and a fluffy pink pencil to make scrupulous story notes. A week and a half into the shoot, Russell told the director, ”Listen, I’ve f—ing worked with them all. I’ve worked with Meryl Streep! I guarantee you, [Dakota] is the best actress I will work with in my entire career.”

Fanning’s agent Cindy Osbrink says Dreamer fits nicely into her strategy for her client’s career. The plan is to mix challenging R roles with the ”fun” ones to pull in the younger audience. After Charlotte’s Web, Fanning is attached to star in adaptations of The Secret Life of Bees and Alice in Wonderland. ”She’s turning into a tweenager,” says Osbrink. ”I’m reading anything up to 16 or 17 years old for her.” Anything that doesn’t involve tween tropes of high school locker drama. ”Dakota likes real,” stresses her agent. ”She’s the oldest soul I’ve ever worked with.”

EW recently caught up with Fanning before she left town for a six-day break in Hawaii. Speaking from her agent’s office on speakerphone, Fanning was chirpy, polite, and poised. In a summer of Tom Cruise trampolining on sofas, she could teach a seminar on the art of the benign Hollywood sound bite.