The 'Bees' knees

Ladies and gentlemen, Dakota Fanning is back. It’s been a rough couple of years for the Georgia-born thesp, as the child actress — who gained respect for her part opposite Sean Penn in “I Am Sam” and sustained it through a series of wise-

beyond-her-years performances — struggled with the transition into more mature teenage roles.

“I think the last movie people have seen me in was ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and I was considerably younger then,” Fanning says, citing the Walden pic based on the classic book she shot nearly four years ago. “So a lot of people don’t know that I’m 14 and going to be 15 in February.”

According to Fanning, people still send her scripts that skew too young: “It’s great to read those as well, but you just move on to the material that attracts you at the age I am.”

Meanwhile, her first foray into more adult territory, 2007 Sundance selection “Hounddog,” backfired when the film was dubbed the “Dakota Fanning rape movie” on account of an incendiary plot point. The actress says she is still “blown away” by the controversy over what she considers “a great, great film.

“I was totally surprised it was talked about so horribly before it was done filming or edited, which was really sad and upsetting,” Fanning says. “But I’m glad people will see it and be able to realize all that was blown out of proportion.”

“Hounddog’s” 18-month delay gave the actress a chance to enter high school — a change of pace after years of being privately tutored — and be more selective about her next career move.

To Fanning’s delight, her follow-up in Fox Searchlight’s “The Secret Life of Bees” earned rave reviews at the Toronto Film Fest, generating the kind of positive buzz that can lead to Oscar nominations. The tearjerker presents Fanning in a more mature light as a runaway who settles with a family of black honey farmers amid America’s civil rights era. It even features a genuine romantic subplot — another step forward for the actress.

“Yeah, it was one of the first more serious ones I’ve had so far,” she beams.

Recent breakthrough: Weathering the rocky transition to young adulthood with her celebrated turn in “The Secret Life of Bees.”

Role model: Jodie Foster. “I don’t think anyone will ever be as amazing as she is. And if I can just be a fourth of how good she is, I would be totally happy.”

What’s next: Stars opposite Nicolas Cage in “Push” and voices the title role in Henry Selick’s stop-motion “Coraline.”

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