When Dakota Fanning was a small child, she was an actress at the Towne Lake Arts Center in Woodstock, Georgia starring in small plays, then in 2000, Fanning began acting at the age of five after appearing on a Tide commercial. Her first significant acting job was a guest role in the NBC prime-time drama ER, which remains one of her favorite roles (“I played a car accident victim who has leukemia. I got to wear a neck brace and nose tubes for the two days I worked.”).
Fanning subsequently had several guest roles on television series, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Practice, and Spin City. She also portrayed the title characters of Ally McBeal and The Ellen Show as young girls. In 2001, Fanning was chosen to star opposite Sean Penn in the movie I Am Sam, the story of a mentally challenged man who fights for the custody of his daughter (played by Fanning). Her role in the film made Fanning the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, being seven years of age at the time. She also won the Best Young Actor/Actress award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her performance.
In 2002, director Steven Spielberg cast Fanning in the lead child role of Allison “Allie” Clarke/Keys in the science fiction miniseries Taken. By this time, she had received positive notices by several film critics, including Tom Shales of The Washington Post, who wrote that Fanning “has the perfect sort of otherworldly look about her, an enchanting young actress called upon … to carry a great weight.” In the same year, Fanning appeared in three films: as a kidnap victim who proves to be more than her abductors bargained for in Trapped, as the young version of Reese Witherspoon’s character in Sweet Home Alabama, and as Katie in the movie Hansel and Gretel.
A year later, she starred in two prominent films: playing the uptight child to an immature nanny played by Brittany Murphy in Uptown Girls and as Sally in The Cat in the Hat. In addition, Fanning did voice-over work for four animated projects during this period, including voicing Satsuki in Disney’s English language release of My Neighbor Totoro, a little girl in the Fox series Family Guy, and a young Wonder Woman in an episode of Cartoon Network’s Justice League.