June 2002 By Philip Berk
When director Sam Raimi and his Spider-Man Tobey Maguire flew to Berlin to screen test Kirsten Dunst, they hoped they would find their Mary Jane.
And find her they did.
The best thing about the film is the chemistry between Maguire and Dunst.
But why Berlin?
At the time Dunst was shooting The Cat’s Meow there, playing William Randolph Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies, who in her time was one of Hollywood’s most undervalued actresses.
Dunst, because of her age and her size, could also be considered undervalued.
Best remembered as Tom Cruise’s pre-teen costar in Interview with the Vampire, she has appeared in, believe it or not, twenty-five films, among them such prestige items as Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Woody Allen’s New York Stories, Robin Williams’s Jumanji, and Dustin Hoffman’s Wag the Dog.
Before testing for Interview with a Vampire, she had done over hundred commercials. Her mother wanted her so slow down, but Kirsten would have none of it. She was going to be a star.
Eventually she persuaded her family move to Hollywood, from New Jersey,leaving behind her German born father. The move impacted her parents’ marriage, but she remained close to her father even after he remarried.
Once in Hollywood she beat out thousands of hopefuls for the role in Interview with a Vampire.
Her steady employment since, culminating in starring roles in last year’s Bring it On and Crazy/Beautiful, enabled her to buy a home for her mother and her brother Christian, five years her junior.
At her press conference for Spider-Man she evokes her woman-child persona, appearing both giggly and serious at the same time.
The rumors are swirling around her that she and Tobey are a twosome.
In the movie, they share an unconventional kiss that will make every teenager drool.
Is it possible, I ask her, to love someone who’s hiding behind a mask?
“Definitely,” she answers. “I think she has this lust for Spider-Man because it’s the mystery guy. What’s behind that mask is what’s intriguing. Through that kiss she definitely senses something.”
How difficult was that kiss?
“It was uncomfortable. It was freezing cold. I was in this little outfit, and before takes I would be shivering, but then you take a deep breath and go for it and act all romantic. Poor Tobey (who was hanging by his feet) could hardly breathe at all when I peeled his mask just under his nose. He’d be breathing out the side of his mouth while we were kissing. It was like I was giving him CPR.”
Could she be attracted to someone like that?
Surprisingly she answers, “There’s something about that type that just doesn’t turn me on.”
Of course she was referring to Spider Man
Not Peter Parker, his alter ego.
What about Peter Parker?
“Oh yeah, Peter Parker could catch my heart because he’s a cute little nerdy boy. I think he’s so charming. Spider Man is cool too, but he’s the type that could be having an affair on you. Peter is a good hearted, charming , sweet, adorable guy.”
Is that how she sees Tobey?
“One of the reasons I was drawn to doing the movie was Tobey Maguire. I think Tobey is so talented and he was chosen for that role because he has that charming, sweet insecurity. But he also has a lot of depth which raises the level of the film a couple of notches.”
Obviously she’s heard the rumors about their relationship.
How does she deal with that?
“I see it as part of the buzz for a movie, and my reaction is, ‘Oh they’re writing about me.’ You know what, I’m fine with it. It doesn’t really affect me in my heart so I’m okay with it. I know that when you get older and more successful in this industry, it’s gonna happen more and more. My feeling is it’s out there for a week. If people are saying we’re in a relationship because our chemistry is that great, then that’s good. It’s not a big deal.”
So they were never in a relationship?
“None at all.”
Now that she’s turned twenty, is she ready for a relationship?
“That’s something I’m not going to share with you,” she answers.
And then, to soften the blow, she adds, “I’m a young girl. You don’t even want to tell your mom these things.”
Yet she and her mom are extremely close.
Was there ever a time when, like most teenagers, she wanted to rebel?
“The way my mom raised me, I’ve never had anything to rebel against. My mom has always been very open with me. A lot of parents lay down the law. ‘You have to be home at this time,’ or ‘You can’t do this.’ And my dad’s European so if I wanted a glass of wine at dinner time, it wasn’t be a huge deal. Kids whose parents tell them to stay away from this or that are the ones who rebel and do things in excess. I was brought up like, having candy out always on the table is a good thing because then you get sick of it, and you don’t want it as much. Kids who are told you can’t have this, are the ones that want it all the time.”
In Cat’s Meow she plays opposite an actor (Edward Herrmann) old enough to be her grandfather. (He plays the legendary William Randolph Heart.)
Could she see herself attracted to an older man?
“I can understand it, but no I wouldn’t want it. I wouldn’t go there. I understand how she could — maybe she didn’t have a strong father figure and needed to be taken care of.”
(Ironically in all the times I’ve interviewed her, she’s never spoken about the her parents’ divorce or the fact that her father remarried. He now lives in Los Angeles so they see each other all the time.)
Does she prefer boys her own age?
“Maybe a little older, like twenty two. Boys my age are a little immature. It’s like hanging out with my younger brother.”
Her Cat’s Meow director Peter Bogdanovich has had relationships with younger women, including actress Cybill Shepherd.
How did they get along ?
“It’s kind of funny because at first he mistrusted me. I think I was hired more as the producer’s choice. When we first started working together, he was almost dismissive of me. ‘When I worked with Tatum O’Neill on Paper Moon I gave her line readings.’ I was like, ‘Peter, you’re not giving me line readings. Okay buddy? And I’m a little older than Tatum was.’ But by the end of the film, he did a 180 degrees turnaround praising me all the time. It’s fun to prove yourself to people.”
Is that why she’s a workaholic?
“I love to work. When I’m not working I get antsy. Right now I’m very occupied doing a lot of promotion for Spider-Man. But if I have a lot of time off, like say a month of not working, it starts to get to me. I love to work.”
Is it true she has a no-nudity clause in her contract?
“I would never do nudity.”
Yet you see it all the time on MTV, young girls baring their breasts.
“If some teenagers want to bare their breasts or wear a really sexy top, if that’s helping them, then that’s their business, and I have no judgment on that. For myself I think it’s important to be yourself. I prefer being respectful to your body and not letting others pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do.”
Does she disapprove?
“It’s not my place to disapprove.”
What are her hobbies?
“I love to paint, and around the house I like to clean. My grandmother does the gardening, my mom’s the cook, and I like to clean.”
Even though Mary Jane’s a comic book character, how serious was she about creating the role?
“I took it very seriously. I see her as a hero for women. She wears a lot of masks herself. She doesn’t accept who she is. She pretends to not have a hard life. She dates the wrong kind of guys, and is very insecure about a lot of the choices she makes.”
Which doesn’t sound anything like Kirsten
Is that why she dyed her hair red for the film?
“It was only partly dyed, because I had just finished The Cat’s Meow where my hair was really short so I had a wig on.”
And wearing the wig, did it make her feel different?
“On the set I definitely felt very strong, very vivacious, a little more serious in a way. I got a lot more attention from people than I have as a blonde. As a blonde I feel younger, more girlish; as a redhead I felt more sexier, like Mary Jane.
“But I will dye it for the sequel.”
For the record, even though she considers Jodie Foster a role model, she has no interest in following her example by going to college.
“College is for people who don’t know what they want to do in life. I know exactly what I want to do, and I’m very happy with where I am.”
And five years later by Philip Berk
She’s just turned twenty-five, and Kirsten Dunst is feisty as all hell
The tabloids have been filled with unsavory stories about her spending the night with Adrien Grenier calling her one of the baddest girls in town
Asked about it at her press conference for Spider-Man 3 she brushes it away with total disdain.
“Honestly I don’t care what other people say about me.”
But if it’s not true, what do you do about it?
“I don’t do anything about it because I don’t care. I don’t read that stuff so I can’t comment on it. There was a point in my life where I definitely was into reading those magazines and I was actually kind of depressed, but now I consider them just a lot of trash; they all have such bad taste in clothing. I’d say they have no taste at all. So I don’t read it because you’re not learning anything from it.”
Before the press conference we were shown the first forty minutes of the new Spider-Man movie.
A love triangle still exists.
I ask her if it’s developed in the movie.
“MJ only has eyes for Peter.”
“All relationships have their ups and downs but at the heart of it she loves Peter more than anyone.”
Are you still painting?
“My mom was an artist so I’ve always liked painting. I’ve taken figure drawing classes and completed a two week course in painting and drawing with models in New York. That’s helped me a lot as an artist in understanding how to pop color. So the answer is, yes, I’m very passionate about it.”
Do you see 25 as a milestone?
“It’s not really an age to talk about. To me it’s just halfway through your twenties.”
How do you let your inner child out?
“The older I get the more I know myself, the more free you are, the more you feel like a kid. You don’t care if people hate you.”
How do you play?
“With my friends, with my cats, with my family. I have wonderful girlfriends. We’re like goofy and silly and sing silly songs. We go to movies. Nothing extravagant, just living your life.”
Would you do another franchise after Spider-Man runs its course?
“No way. That’s where the career ends. That would not be smart.”
How important is the chemistry between you and a costar, especially when you have to kiss them?
“Usually you’ve known them for a little time. You’ve been working with them so they’re not a total stranger. But it’s not the sexiest thing even if you’re attracted to the person and you think them handsome. There are so many people on the set, it’s not really intimate. But you can get lost in the moment. I mean, that’s your job to fall in love with your costar in a way. I’ve had both experiences where it’s felt completely mechanical and when it felt like we were really alone.”
After three Spider-Mans, have the special effects sequences become easier for you to handle?
“Oh yeah right. The more advanced it gets the more annoying it gets. Now they have a machine where you sit in a chair and the camera records just your facial expressions. You’re sitting in a chair, it rotates and it beeps to let you know where to look and what reaction they want. Then they take your face and put it on some computer generated MJ, like it’s so weird.”
Is there a message in these Spider-Man films?
“It’s all about good vs. evil. isn’t it? For me it’s very religious. Like in the second Spider-Man when they’re passing Tobey in the train; he’s lying there, and the people are holding him up. It’s very Jesus like. I think religion plays a huge part in these comic books.”
Named the female star of the year at the recent ShoWest, when asked about it, she throws in a dig.
“Thanks for my Golden Globe nomination!”
She really believes she deserved one for her performance in last year’s Marie Antoinette, explaining the world wide indifference to the film, “People are threatened by women who have power.”
Meaning Sofia Coppola who directed the movie.
The film survived oblivion by winning one Oscar for costume design. She believes it should have also won for art direction and photography.
In that regard she may be right!
How important is it for you to watch movies in a theatre. Is watching Movies on the iPod the wave of the future?
Suddenly she explodes.
“I would never in hell watch a movie on an iPod. That will never happen. I want to sit in a theatre with strangers, share an experience, cry together, laugh together. You have to see films on a big screen. Trust me. I won’t let it happen.”
Her next movie will deal with the war in Iraq.
“It takes place during the first Bush war.”
Will it make a statement about what’s going on now?
“Who am I to say, but I’m an American so I can say whatever I want. I am concerned because in the past we could turn to music to say something politically powerful but we don’t have that anymore. All we have is dumb crappy music in America. So we have to turn to film. I think as an actor it’s your job to be aware of the world and know what’s going on.”
In that regard if you had super powers like Spider-Man, what would you do?
“I would have George Bush die a horrible death, stung to death by hornets. And then I’d obliterate all weapons and all prescription drugs. Well maybe some people need that crap, so not all, but definitely I’d obliterate all weapons.”
How has MJ evolved in the course of the three movies?
“To me she’s really grown up and changed a lot from being sixteen to twenty four. The girl who I was in the first movie was insecure. In the second she became more aware of herself, and by the end she was brave enough to go on a journey with Peter and decide to be his woman. Now in the third she’s still searching, she’s still lost in certain ways. But Mary Jane has always been a girl trying to do the right thing. “
Has she matured emotionally?
“When the emotions are higher, the stakes are higher. This film is much more emotional.”
Forget the tabloid gossip, she’s been dating British rocker Johnny Borrell
(Being British I guess he doesn’t write dumb, crappy music!)
Is it an ongoing relationship?
“I don’t gossip about my personal life.”
How did you meet?
“I am not saying anything. I’ve learned my lesson in the past. It’s best not to talk about people.”
For the record, she never did. It was Jake (Gyllenhaal) who did all the talking.
Les Miz has always been her favorite show.
Would you like to be in the film if they made it?
“In a heartbeat. I’d want to play Fontine though I’d like them to do it dark and real, not like a musical movie. And they’d have to find a really awesome director like Roman Polanski or maybe Michel Gondry” (who directed her in the
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)
“I just like his films. Who am I to judge his personal behavior! I think he’s one of the greatest filmmakers. I just love Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby.”
Would she want her kids to go into acting like she did?
“I’d encourage them to explore and explore and if they really want to be an actor I‘d support them fully. Hopefully I will raise a child that wouldn’t be embarrassed that I’m her mother when we go to auditions.”
Our interview ends on an incredulous note when I ask if her candor was learned from Jake’s mother (writer and arch liberal Naomi Foner)
“That is hysterical,” she blurts out. “That’s hysterical! I love her but…”
Then proceeds to justify her Bush and other remarks
“The last press conference I did was for Marie Antoinette and I felt a little downtrodden; so it’s nice to come back with a totally different perspective and say whatever I want.”