Born in Conyers, Georgia, Elle Fanning comes from an athletic family. Her mother, Joy Arrington, was a professional tennis player and her father, Steve Fanning, was a minor league baseball player for the St.Louis Cardinals.
Following in the steps of her older sister, actress Dakota Fanning, Elle made her debut in I am Sam, opposite Sean Penn as the younger version of Dakota's character. In 2002, Elle appeared in Daddy Day Care, her first film independent of her sister and the first performance for which she received a Young Artist Award nomination. In 2003, Elle starred in The Door in the Floor, with Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges. The producers had apparently originally planned on using identical twins for the shooting of the film since it was set to be a long, intense project however, they were so impressed by Elle that they chose her instead for the film.
The young actress has been in several films since and has also done voice work for animated films like Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro. She's played guest roles in television series and in mid-2006, was cast in the mini-series The Lost Room.
Her first major role was in 2005 in the Academy Award winning film Babel, in which she appeared opposite Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, playing Blanchett's daughter. She received her second Young Artist Award nomination for her work in the film. In 2008, she had a small but pivotal part in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, again appearing alongside Pitt and Blanchett, but this time playing Blanchett's character as a child.
Although Elle was supposed to appear alongside Dakota again in My Sister's Keeper, the plan fell through when Dakota bowed out after learning she would have to shave her head for the role. However, in 2010, Elle starred as Mary, the lead character in The Nutcracker in 3D.
Once known as "Dakota Fanning's little sister," Elle Fanning has proved her acting talents, earning roles independent of her sister.