“For me, it’s acting. It’s the movies. I was comfortable because I can handle all that. For a lot of other girls who haven’t been so lucky, it’s a different story — it’s real and too many can’t handle the way their life turns out.” — Dakota Fanning on her role Image Credit: Rex Features

As a sweet child star, Dakota Fanning cuddled farm animals in Charlotte's Web, battled killer Tripods alongside Tom Cruise in War Of The Worlds and, at the age of 12, endured a brutal rape in Hounddog.

Now, in her new movie The Runaways, out this Thursday, she has ditched her signature innocence as she struts around the stage in a corset and suspenders, pops pills fed to her by Elvis Presley's granddaughter in a nightclub toilet and shares a steamy girl-on-girl kiss with Twilight actress Kristen Stewart.

And she is still only 16 years old.

"I am getting older and I wanted to do something I hadn't done before," she says, disingenuously. "There are girls in the real world who are the same age as me and have already lived a very full life. Some come through it without a scratch, others get into a mess.

"I wanted to stand on the sidelines and see, from the perspective of my well-regulated life, what they go through, without getting hurt.

"For me, it's acting. It's the movies. I was comfortable because I can handle all that. For a lot of other girls who haven't been so lucky, it's a different story — it's real and too many can't handle the way their life turns out."

But Fanning's role is based on a real-life character, Cherie Currie, lead singer of The Runaways, one of the seminal rock groups of the '70s and the world's first major all-girl rock band.

With their overt sexuality and in-your-face attitude, Currie and fellow teenage band members Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Sandy West and Jackie Fox set about thrilling and scandalising audiences in Britain and in their native America.

Fanning's own life could not have been more different to Currie's.

A star since the age of six, when her career was launched by a brief appearance in a Tide soap powder commercial, her protective middle-class family — tennis player mother, former baseball star father — have kept her on a tight rein, insisting that school comes first, laying down strict rules for her working hours and vetting her team of managers, chaperones and advisers.

Chaotic childhood

They were determined that Fanning would never be tempted to join the Brat Pack of spoiled girl stars — from Drew Barrymore to Britney Spears — whose early fame brought personal meltdown.

Currie, though, had a chaotic childhood with an alcoholic father and a sick mother.

At 15, a precociously sexy and feisty blonde, albeit emotionally and physically scarred by her upbringing, she joined The Runaways and fell under the spell of a controlling record producer, Kim Fowley, portrayed in the film by Michael Shannon. By the age of 18, she was addicted to drugs and had been used by a range of men.

But the band's success had been immediate, with hits such as Cherry Bomb, Queens Of Noise and Born To Be Bad.

The Runaways' popularity paved the way for girl bands such as The Bangles and The Go-Go's (featuing Belinda Carlisle) and even solo artists, such as Pink and Courtney Love, cite their influence.

But, with the band imploding after just four years, Cherie's story is a good example of the peaks and perils of the rock 'n' roll life.

Fanning and Kristen Stewart — who both star in the Twilight films — reunited for The Runaways, with Stewart playing Joan Jett, the group's rhythm guitarist and co-founder.

Their lingering onscreen kiss shocked American audiences, but Fanning shrugs it off.

"It's no big deal," she says. "It was a kiss with my best friend, who happens to be a girl. We didn't agonise over it, we just did it.

"When you're close to someone, there's trust — we had no barriers. Afterwards, we just walked away. I know some say I'm too young to do anything so intimate on screen, but I've grown up a lot.

"The trouble is, people cling to the image of me as a little girl, but they've got to realise that I'm almost an adult now." Fanning wasn't even born when The Runaways formed, but the real Cherie Currie, now 50, says the likeness between the two of them is uncanny.


"She was 15 when the film started shooting — the same age I was when The Runaways went on the road," says Currie. "I heard on the radio that she'd been cast as me and when I met her I thought she looked too young to be convincing.

"But then she put on the white corset and the wig and it was uncanny. She'd got my personality and voice down totally."

Fanning, though, modestly insists that she's no singer. "Like every young girl, I used to go into the bathroom and sing into the hairbrush," she says.

"I wasn't any good at singing, but I did a fair job at pretending, so maybe that is what Cherie liked."

Recalls Currie: "Dakota came to my house before filming and we'd sing lyrics back and forth and I was very impressed because she nailed it completely."

The band came together in LA in 1975 when Jett, already an accomplished guitarist at 16, and drummer Sandy West proposed the idea of an all-girl band to producer Kim Fowley.

With Lita Ford on lead guitar and Jackie Fox on bass, Jett and Fowley wrote the song Cherry Bomb — a play on Currie's name — on the spot. Currie belted it out and became the band's lead singer. Fowley salivated over the idea of five teenage girls fronting their own band and marketed them as "jailbait rock" — playing up their sexuality and declaring lead singer Currie "the Brigitte Bardot of the trailer park".

Women's lib

He proudly told them that their ethos was "not so much women's lib, as women's libido".

Fowley would, she claims, subject the girls to horrible abuse, allegedly throwing jars of peanut butter at them to prepare them for the harsh reception of audiences.

Yet despite Fowley's managerial tactics, The Runaways experienced huge success.

Their self-titled debut album was released in 1976 and, while some critics called them bimbos, their US tour sold out countless shows.

The band also toured Japan and the UK, where they hung out with the Sex Pistols and even got arrested for stealing hair dryers from their hotel rooms.

With five teenage girls a long way from home, friendships and enmities were inevitably forged.

Currie and Jett were particularly close and the scene in the film where they kiss hints that more happened behind closed doors.

"Yes, that kiss did happen," says Currie. "That period was all about... experimentation. Joan was my best friend and we loved each other deeply."

Currie left The Runaways after two years — burnt out and increasingly dependent on drugs — with the group disbanding in 1979.

"We were doing huge concerts and sellout shows and Japan was crazy [The Runaways were the fourth most popular act in the country behind Abba, Kiss and Led Zeppelin], but at the end of that tour, each of us only got £700 (Dh4,000).

"We sometimes didn't even have enough money to buy food, I reckon we must have been fleeced."


Currie's drug addiction went on to last for a decade.

"People ask me if I have any regrets," she says, "but we showed that women can play rock 'n' roll.

"Every negative thing that happened in my life has turned into a positive. I am just glad to get the word out that you can survive anything."

Fanning, meanwhile, is determined to keep a grip on reality and has no intention of following in the young Currie's footsteps.

"I've been in the right place at the right time and I count my blessings every day," she says.

"What I am doing now is what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I realise that everything could end tomorrow.

"You have to live your life for the moment and not take anything for granted."