Animal House

Elle Fanning talks about filming with animals in her new movie We Bought a Zoo

Dec 23, 2011 | By Vickie An
Neal Preston—TM and © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Los Angeles newspaper columnist and adventure writer Benjamin Mee wanted a fresh start for his family. Little did he know that there were big adventures awaiting them! Opening December 23, We Bought a Zoo tells the true story of the Mee family, whose new home comes with a special bonus: a zoo in the backyard. With the support of his family and the local community, Benjamin sets out to bring the zoo back to life.

Elle Fanning plays their neighbor, Lily, who lives and helps out at the zoo. When Benjamin’s son, Dylan, has a hard time adjusting to his new life, Lily comes to the rescue. TFK spoke to Elle about her wild new role, and what it was like to monkey around with a capuchin monkey on set.

TFK:

How do you think you would react if your family bought a zoo?

ELLE FANNING:

Oh, my gosh, I would be excited. I love animals. I have lots of pets—a horse, a dog and a fish, so I would be pretty excited. I might be a little scared with the big cats and the bears, but with everything else I’d be good.

TFK:

Can you relate to the story in any way?

ELLE:

My character, Lily, is a lot like me in real life, so I can really relate to her. She’s sort of a country girl, and she’s home-schooled at the zoo. She doesn’t have any friends her age who are actually human. All of her friends are animals. And then Dylan comes in, and he’s this city boy, this creature. She’s very interested in him, but she kind of treats him like he’s an animal. She approaches him carefully at first. She doesn’t know how to act around kids her age, so she can come on a little strong.

TFK:

How did you like working with the animals?

Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) gets up close and personal with his new four-legged charge in "We Bought a Zoo."
Neal Preston—TM and © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon) gets up close and personal with his new four-legged charge in "We Bought a Zoo."

ELLE:

All of the animals were very well behaved. They were very sweet, but we definitely couldn’t get near some of them, like the bear and the big cats. But we had a good time, especially with the capuchin monkey, Crystal. She’s a movie-star monkey. She was amazing.

TFK:

What kinds of tricks does Crystal do?

ELLE:

Her trainer would wave his hand, and she would hit your head. She would also smile for the camera, stick out her tongue, and give you a kiss. She was so cute. She also danced.

TFK:

Were there any mishaps with the animals during filming?

ELLE:

There were always animals on set, but they would film the animals and the human separately. For example, when they were doing the lion scenes, they had to do hours and hours of filming, just waiting for him to roar or do something else. They would wait for hours for just a second of footage!

TFK:

What was the most memorable day of filming for you?

ELLE:

The first day. I didn’t know that Cameron [Crowe, the director,] does this, but he plays music while you’re filming. He turns on a song that sets the mood of the scene. It actually really, really helps. Each character has a theme song. Mine was “Don’t Be Shy,” by Cat Stevens. Whenever I had a big scene, Cameron put that one on. Bob Dylan was also in Lily’s soundtrack.

TFK:

You’ve played younger versions of your sister Dakota’s characters in her movies. Would you like to act together one day?

ELLE:

That’s our dream. We always hope for that. We’ve never been on screen together, so maybe someday if we could play friends or sisters on screen, that would be great.

 

Holiday Movie Guide: Click here to read an interview with director Steven Spielberg on his new film The Adventures of Tintin.