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Dakota Fanning Talks Corsets, Courage and Collaborating with Emma Thompson on ‘Effie Gray’

Emma Thompson’s intricate new film “Effie Gray” opened with an intimate event on Monday night in New York, where the modest-sized audience was nonetheless enthusiastic and laudatory for star Dakota Fanning and the members of the cast and production team who were present.

“Effie Gray” is an adaption of the real-life story of Euphemia “Effie” Gray (played by Fanning), who was first the wife of 19th-century art critic John Ruskin, before she annulled her marriage and was re-married to pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais. This is Thompson’s fourth major motion picture that she has penned.

“It’s a true story based on a real woman,” Fanning told Variety. “I didn’t know the story at all before I read the script, so that’s always exciting to learn about something new.”

Fanning admitted she was not familiar with the source material beforehand, and chose not to do a lot of outside research. “I think what you’re making is the script, and so I kind of let that inform me.”

The theme of a woman’s place in society, both now and then (during the Victorian era, when divorce and gay marriage weren’t condoned) was a major thread throughout the whole film.

“(Effie) really has no voice and no authority over her own life for a good portion of the story,” Fanning said. “And I am fortunate I’ve never completely felt that way. I’ve been very lucky to have grown up in a family that always said I could do whatever I wanted and be whatever I wanted, and so I’ve learned to use my voice, which I think is such a wonderful thing, and so I hope that this movie can highlight that, and maybe some people in these modern times will take some courage from her.”

Thompson herself was not present, but both Fanning and co-star Claudia Cardinale relished collaborating with the renowned actress and screenwriter.

“She’s fantastic to work with. I love her,” Cardinale said. “I loved this script, and I love to change yourself with the costumes, it’s fantastic,” she added, oozing her Italian charm.

“It was so amazing to get to know her and to be in something that she’d written, as well as getting to act with her,” Fanning said. “That was really exciting and a major reason I wanted to be a part of the film.”

Both Cardinale and Fanning commented on the imposition of wearing corsets and period costumes.

“With the costumes, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t go to the toilet,” Cardinale laughed. “So I just ate very little (while filming).”

“The corsets were pretty tight, so that was difficult sometimes,” Fanning confirmed. “But it really helps take you back to that place, so you sort of feel like a different person, and you feel like you’re in a different time — you don’t even feel like yourself!” she exclaimed, before elaborating on the film’s authenticity. “We were filming in these locations that Effie actually went to, so there were a lot of things during the course of making it that helped.”

Cardinale, who appeared in numerous European films and is now 76 years old, told reporters this was her 151st movie, and she has three more films coming out in 2015. “I’m always working!” she said. “It’s incredible, because usually, women when they are more than 60, they don’t work anymore. The men, yes! And I don’t have to fight for any roles, they call me.”

Actress Kathleen Turner, who is not in the film, said she has consistently loved Thompson’s work and came out to see this new film because of Thompson’s involvement.

“The fact that she wrote this as well as acted in it, is irresistible,” said Turner, who was proud to show support. “I want to see the writing, but I also love the historical context, a woman’s place and all that, which we are changing!”

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