Dakota Fanning on Stepping Into Gwyneth Paltrow’s Shoes for Netflix’s Darker, Thornier ‘Ripley’

In 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Marge Sherwood is, in many ways, the eyes of the audience—sweet and somewhat naive, she welcomes Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) into the idyllic life she’s built with her boyfriend Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) in ’50s southern Italy, before the former secretly murders the latter, adopts his identity, and sets off on a grand tour on his dime. When she later catches up with him, she’s deeply suspicious, but there’s still a certain fragility to her—desperate though she is to bring him to justice, she knows there’s little she can actually do.

Now, in Ripley, Steven Zaillian’s icy, eight-part Netflix retelling of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 classic—the latest in a long line of adaptations for stage and screen—Dakota Fanning is inheriting that part from Paltrow. She still, at times, acts as the viewer’s eyes and ears, but that is where the resemblance ends. This new iteration of Marge is, in a sense, the antithesis of Paltrow’s sunny, floral-midi-skirt-clad hostess—dressed in trousers and oversized white shirts (and filmed in atmospheric black and white, as opposed to the original film’s ravishing pastels), she’s steely, watchful, and shrewd, someone who seems to recognize Tom (Andrew Scott) for the opportunist he is from the get go.

She’s also unapologetically ambitious, penning a book on Atrani, the sleepy Amalfi Coast town where she and Dickie (Johnny Flynn) have ended up. While her affluent boyfriend spends his days parading around his palatial villa, she takes photographs and edits drafts in a charming but ramshackle one-room apartment filled with knitting supplies, wild flowers, and candid snapshots. It’s clear that she doesn’t come from money or, at least, from as much money as Dickie does, and isn’t from his crowd of New York sophisticates—we hear she’s from Minnesota and, at one point, she resents being seen as “a small town hick.” The picture we get of Marge in these scenes—someone who is spiky, slippery, and frequently unreadable—is so much richer and more complex than anything we’ve been afforded before.

It’s a remarkable performance from Fanning—still, impassive, cold, and cryptic—which ranks among the 30-year-old actor’s best. And that’s really saying something: she’s been working for almost two and a half decades, having started out as a child actor, playing a younger version of Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal, a baby-faced Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama, the exuberant lead in Charlotte’s Web, and Tom Cruise’s daughter in War of the Worlds. With I Am Sam, she became the youngest SAG nominee in history (she was seven) and scooped a Critics’ Choice Award, giving a shockingly articulate acceptance speech as she was lifted up to the microphone by Orlando Bloom.

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