By Serena Kappes with Amy Longsdorf
Updated June 28, 2005 06:00 AM

Age: 11
Hometown: Conyers, Ga.
Current gig: Playing Tom Cruise’s daughter in the Steven Spielberg-directed sci-fi thriller War of the Worlds

She got carried away with Tom Cruise
As a girl fleeing invading aliens with her dad, Fanning is toted by Cruise in several scenes in War of the Worlds. “It was fun,” she says. “Tom would always joke with me and be like, ‘You feel a little heavier than yesterday.'” In fact, Fanning had an instant rapport with her famous costar. “Tom and I had a blast together,” she says. “We would laugh all the time and play around in between (takes).”

Cruise (who says of his young costar, “She’s a great actress. It doesn’t matter what age she is”) even turned Fanning on to his taste in tunes: “Tom got me an iPod while we were filming,” she says. “I didn’t listen to that much music before he got me that, so I’m going through Tom’s school of music now.”

She’s an old hand at acting
At the tender age of 5, Fanning was enrolled by her mom, Joy, a homemaker, in an acting workshop at a playhouse in her Conyers, Ga., hometown. “She loved it,” says Joy. Within months, Fanning had scored her first job, in a Tide commercial. The head of the playhouse soon suggested Fanning take her talent to L.A., and in early 2000, the family – including dad Steve, a former minor-league baseball player, and sister Elle, now 7 – headed west.

Fanning made her big-screen debut a year later, costarring with Oscar winner Sean Penn in I Am Sam. She’s since starred opposite Mike Myers in 2003’s The Cat in the Hat, Denzel Washington in 2004’s Man on Fire and Robert DeNiro in the 2004 horror movie Hide and Seek. And talent runs in the family: Elle recently appeared in the family film Because of Winn-Dixie.

No tomatoes, please
What grosses Fanning out? “Tomatoes are weird, even though everybody loves (them),” she says. “The only way I can eat ketchup is to separate it, in my mind, from the fact that it comes from tomatoes. I like potatoes and corn and that’s pretty much it.” Besides the starchy vegetables, Fanning loves playing piano and traveling: She’ll head to Hawaii on vacation this summer with her family.

She has Baby love
Fanning’s “new favorite movie” is Million Dollar Baby, which she says made her sob when she saw it on a flight. “I was on the plane putting the blanket over my head,” she admits. Tears aside, she says she’d love to work with the movie’s director, Clint Eastwood, and star, Hilary Swank – whom she met at the MTV Movie Awards in June (where Fanning won best frightened performance for her Hide and Seek role).

For now, she has no shortage of upcoming projects: She’ll costar with Kurt Russell in October’s horse-racing drama Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story and she’ll play Fern in the live-action version of Charlotte’s Web, due out in summer 2006 and featuring Julia Roberts as the voice of the CG-animated spider, Charlotte. Working with such luminaries is all in a day’s work for the pint-sized movie star. “This is normal to me,” she says. “This is what I love to do.”