Kirsten Dunst dot Org » Interviews

John / March 6th, 2022

Here’s Kirsten & the main cast & crew at a Q&A event for ‘The Power of the Dog’ on February 26th.

John / February 28th, 2022

Here are two videos of Kirsten & Jesse at last nights Screen Actors Guild Awards.

John / February 27th, 2022

Here’s Kirsten being interviewed by Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond.

John / February 22nd, 2022

Like her director, Jane Campion, Kirsten Dunst liked to take naps during filming breaks on The Power of the Dog. “I’ve become resentful of the morning, which is really bad for an actress, because we wake up so early for work,” Dunst says. “The older I get, the grumpier I am – so that nap at lunch is way more important. I’d rather shove food in my mouth while I’m getting my makeup or hair retouched than waste that time not napping.”

Words of wisdom, I came to realize near the end of our conversation over Zoom, from an actor who’s learned how she prefers to operate in this business. Dunst, 39, was already a consistently working actor before she turned 10 years old. As a child, she stole scenes from the likes of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (Interview With the Vampire); into adulthood, she served as the muse for one of the aughts’ most exciting breakout directors, Sofia Coppola, and won major awards for everything from art house cinema (Melancholia) to prestige TV (Fargo). Yet 2021 felt like the year her place in the industry crystallized, with her stunning supporting turn in Campion’s Western masterpiece. After decades of great work, The Power of the Dog has earned Dunst her first Oscar nomination.

Is napping what got her here? Surely not – but also, maybe, just a little bit. She brought to Power’s shoot about 50 feature-film credits’ worth of experience – of honing her craft, of navigating sets, of acting before a wide range of directors. “Because I grew up in this industry and had to learn about movies while I was making movies – and what I liked about performances and movies – I had to grow into myself as an actress,” she says. Campion, Dunst continues, creates a unique space for actors to do their best work. Dunst knew what she needed to do, and she had the freedom to do it. Naps included.

“She just says whatever she’s feeling and thinking,” Campion tells me of Dunst. “It’s really a blessing.”

Her performance in The Power of the Dog has snuck up on me each time I’ve watched the movie. The ’20s-set film concerns her character Rose’s arrival on the Burbank ranch in hilly Montana, run by her mild-mannered new husband, George (Jesse Plemons, Dunst’s real-life partner), and his mysteriously cruel brother, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch). Rose walks into more of a nightmare than a fairy tale – a kind of psychological thriller in which she can’t escape Phil’s web of rage. She’s recovering from tragedy too: She’s a widow, and her tight bond with son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) indicates they’ve been through hell and back. Dunst plays it all quietly on her face: hope, pain, grief, depression, and a subtle resilience through even Rose’s darkest moments.

These aren’t always the easiest modes to play. We meet Rose as capable and self-sufficient, running a busy restaurant and raising her oddball son, before she descends into alcoholism and withdraws from everyday life. Dunst carefully “mapped out” Rose’s decline in her portrayal, maintaining the character’s wit and agency throughout. “It was a really intense part to play emotionally,” she says. “It’s not a fun place to live inside of myself, but I’m also proud to be able to release that into Rose. The response to that has been really rewarding. It’s moved people.”

Campion recalls shooting the first scene where Rose takes a drink, at a dinner party gone mortifyingly awry. She directed Dunst to have a few sips earlier in the evening, but was challenged. “[Kirsten] said, ‘No, no, I really want Rose only to drink at the end, or everyone will think that she’s just a big drinker,’” the director tells me. “And she was absolutely right about it. We set it up that the drink was there, and then at the end, she guzzles it.” Watching the sequence, you get why Dunst insisted on that. It’s overbearing. You see a woman trapped, unable to cope; she chugs the cocktail fast and long enough to break your heart.

“It doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh, we’re movie acting,’” Dunst says of working with Campion. “It feels like it’s happening in real life rather than performative…she wants things to live and breathe and that’s some of my favorite acting.” Dunst also appreciated Campion’s bluntness. (“I don’t want to stand around and talk about things for hours.”) A crucial final-act scene finds Rose, drunkenly but also determinedly, undermining Phil, and she’s at her most emotional by the end of it. Dunst remembers finishing one take, still teary, and Campion suggesting, simply, “Okay, well now let’s try one, but more drunk.” Happily, Dunst took the note.

The Power of the Dog was Dunst’s first film credit in four years. She’s had two children with Plemons since 2017’s The Beguiled, but the slowdown also reflects a certain change in philosophy. When I relay to Dunst that, in the early 2000s, it was typical for her to appear in four films in a single year, she’s taken aback. “That’s a lot! Slow your roll, Kirsten,” she cracks to her younger self. “Now, one movie a year is plenty for me.”

But what was going on back then? “There’s definitely a mentality of, ‘You’re making money, you’re doing good, keep working,’” she says. “I was making sure everyone else was happy, and I didn’t really make it so much for myself. I didn’t know how to navigate that relationship between the director and me, where I didn’t feel like I was just trying to get it right for them rather than fully experiencing it for myself.” She takes a pause. “It was becoming not fun anymore.” For the 2010 romantic drama All Good Things, costarring Ryan Gosling, Dunst hunted for an acting teacher until she found the one best suited to her methods. She discovered a new way of doing what she loved, and started having fun again (and also, making movies less frequently).

The next year, Dunst starred in Melancholia, for which she won Cannes’s prestigious best-actress prize and seemingly graduated to a new phase of her career. (Campion says it’s the performance that made her want to cast Dunst in Power.) The Lars von Trier drama, which brilliantly explores depression on a world-ending scale, found Dunst at her most expressive and commanding. “It just felt so vulnerable and open and everyone was very collaborative,” she says. “It was a cozy set. I know that sounds weird, but it was!”

She speaks about The Power of the Dog in a similar way, crediting a level of behind-the-scenes trust and camaraderie that allows her to let go and reveal her best work. She considers the welcoming environments Coppola fostered too, having appeared in her movies across three different decades, from adolescence to adulthood. (“Always having Sofia to go back to was good for my confidence as a woman in this industry,” she says.) Put simply, Dunst has worked with many of Hollywood’s best, in terms of exploring dark, painful material on sets that were comfortable, forgiving, and encouraging.

Still, the roles aren’t always easy to shake off. “It’s not like I wanted to bring Rose home or live in Rose, but it does seep into your life until the movie is over, it does. It just – it has to,” Dunst says. Maybe more so here, given the weight of the material: “I questioned myself more and I was way more insecure. Like, ‘Did I get that right?’” Going to and from set with her “best friend” in Plemons, though, helped matters: “I had him to come home to, and he totally understood everything I was talking about.”

But now Power is over, and Dunst is an Oscar nominee – a thrilling moment for a veteran actor entering another new chapter. “It’s so rare to be in a good movie that everyone likes – that’s lightning in a bottle,” she says. “I know how special this time is.” As she looks ahead, she sounds as excited as an actor just getting their first big break. “It opens new doors for me,” she says with a smile. It’s a testament to Dunst’s singular talent that, despite so many iconic performances already to her name, there’s only room to grow.

David Canfield, Vanity Fair

John / February 20th, 2022

Here’s a video of Kirsten talking to director & screenwriter Alexander Payne about ‘The Power of the Dog’.

John / February 16th, 2022

The article below is taken from the March 2022 issue of Interview magazine.

Alexander Skarsgård has excelled at playing a manipulative vampire, an abusive husband, and the literal harbinger of disease and destruction in a pandemic-ravaged world. And yet, he’s still good for a laugh. You don’t grow up the model-handsome scion of a legendary Swedish acting family without having a sense of humor about yourself. Think about his crack-up cameos as a vacant male model in Zoolander, an overgrown college grad in Eastbound & Down, and a mulletted schlub in On Becoming a God in Central Florida. But despite his reputation for just going for it, at 45 years old, he continues to surprise. Last year, he stole scenes on Succession as Lukas Mattson, a tech bro so unlikable you couldn’t help but love him. And now, six years after he tamed the jungle in The Legend of Tarzan, Skarsgård is returning to the shirtless-action-hero genre in the Robert Eggers-directed viking saga The Northman, a grueling production that, as he tells his Melancholia costar Kirsten Dunst, was no laughing matter.

KIRSTEN DUNST: Where are you in life right now?


DUNST: With your family?

SKARSGÅRD: Yeah. Well, I’m heading back to Stockholm next week. I was actually working with our dear friend Lars [von Trier] again

DUNST: Really? On what?

SKARSGÅRD: He’s doing another season of The Kingdom. Do you remember that? The old TV show he did for Danish television like 15 or 20 years ago?

DUNST: I never watched it, but I’ve heard it’s incredible.

SKARSGÅRD: It’s a lot of fun. It takes place at the main hospital here in Copenhagen. Dad [Stellan Skarsgård] played an attorney on The Kingdom whenever they shot it, but he couldn’t do this. They kind of rewrote the part, so it’s now the Swedish attorney’s son. I actually replaced my father. Step aside, old man.

DUNST: I was talking about him recently, and I said that making Melancholia felt like I was on a European vacation. I had so much fun.

SKARSGÅRD: It’s pretty much the same team from Melancholia. It was a lovely reunion.

DUNST: I’m jealous.

SKARSGÅRD: You were missed. We talked about you a lot.

DUNST: You know what? Lars and I have the same birthday. So funny. And so does Jane Campion, which is really weird. It’s like I only want to work with Tauruses or something. I love that actor-family lifestyle you guys have. How many of the Skarsgårds are actors?

SKARSGÅRD: Twenty-five, basically.

DUNST: Twenty-five?

SKARSGÅRD: Not quite. There’s four. If you need a Skarsgård for a movie and one of us isn’t available, it’s like, “How about this one?”

DUNST: My one son is so dramatic. I can see him becoming an actor. There’s something romantic about having it be a family business.

SKARSGÅRD: Well, you started out super early, right?

DUNST: Yeah. How old were you when you started?

SKARSGÅRD: I was seven, but it wasn’t intentional. My dad’s friend was a director and needed a 7-year-old kid, and he was over at our house, drinking wine with dad and talking. And then he saw this 7-year-old kid run through the room, and was like, “What about that kid?”

DUNST: I feel like I’d do that with my kid, too, if it was a director I knew and it felt like a family event. “Sure, put him in a movie.” I like that stuff.

SKARSGÅRD: It might sound odd, but it wasn’t even something I wanted to do. I did it, but my memories have more to do with free Cinnabons at the craft service table than the actual craft.

DUNST: Not the craft, the craft service! I think the first thing I ever saw you in was Zoolander. I thought to myself, “How is this very good-looking person so hilarious?” I want you to be in more comedies. I want a weird Skarsgård family comedy.

SKARSGÅRD: We should plan something together because my dad would love to do the family thing.

DUNST: Let’s talk about The Northman. You play a prince? A Swedish god? What are you?

SKARSGÅRD: It’s based on an old saga called “Prince Amleth of Jutland,” which inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet. It’s about a man avenging the death of his father. It starts on an island in the north Atlantic. My character is the young prince of that kingdom. When his father gets murdered by his uncle, he manages to escape the island. And the uncle believes that the young prince is dead.

DUNST: It’s like The Lion King. That’s where my brain goes right now.

SKARSGÅRD: The Lion King is basically Hamlet. But the saga is as old as Viking culture.


SKARSGÅRD: It was the most fun. I’ve been wanting to tell a Viking story in a way that felt entertaining and big. Working with Robert Eggers, every single detail has to be 100 percent perfect. Every single stitch on a tunic. That’s obviously difficult when you tell a story that takes place a thousand years ago. You have to take some creative liberties.

DUNST: This will make my mom very happy because she loves everything about Vikings.

SKARSGÅRD: She’s Swedish, right?

DUNST: Our family’s from Minnesota. So it’s Minnesota Swedes. I’m going to ask you fun questions now. What are you reading?

SKARSGÅRD: A book called In the Distance by Hernan Diaz. It’s set in the 19th century and a man crosses the United States from the West Coast to the East Coast in search of his brother. I highly recommend it.

DUNST: I know you love music. Anything you’re listening to?

SKARSGÅRD: I have a tendency to go down a rabbit hole for a period of time, and then I move on. I recently came out of a Roxy Music phase.

DUNST: I love Roxy Music. Sometimes I listen to a lot of a certain thing because it gets me in the zone for a part or on set. I’ll make myself a playlist for the character.

SKARSGÅRD: I often use music to get out of character. To get away from it.

DUNST: On set, you’re really present. You’re fun to work with because you’re alive in the scenes. You’re willing to play around. How do you go about creating a role?

SKARSGÅRD: It’s quite square and structured. I read the script once a day for however many weeks or months I have before the shoot.

DUNST: Really? Once a day? Interesting. I totally don’t do that.

SKARSGÅRD: It helps me get into the headspace of a character. I discover new things with each read. I come up with a thousand different ideas and then I eliminate them. Once we get into production, it’s about finding that sweet spot between being prepared but also open to whatever happens when you meet the other actors. It’s being alive and playful and open to discovering things in front of the camera. If I’m not prepared at all, it makes me nervous. The most rewarding days were when I came prepared with a vague idea of how I wanted to play the scene, but I was still open enough to be surprised. And together with the director and the other actors, we discovered something that wasn’t planned and was surprising and exciting for all of us. Rob works in the diametrically opposite way of Lars. Everything is meticulously planned. It’s mostly one single camera, one shot.

DUNST: He likes long shots? There’s an energy within that. If you want everything in one shot, you’re living that life. You feel more taken into something when things are in one shot.

SKARSGÅRD: In The Northman, there are long, intense fight scenes with 40 stuntmen and horses and 200 extras. To shoot it all in one shot means you do this four-minute take, and then a horse deep in the background looks the wrong way and you have to do it all again.

DUNST: That sounds like my worst nightmare.

SKARSGÅRD: You’re so exhausted that you want to cry. You feel like you finally got all the choreography of the fight worked out, but then you have to go again and again and again. There’s always something in the background that wasn’t quite right. The flip side of that is when you finally get it, it feels like winning gold at the Olympics.

DUNST: He sounds like a perfectionist.

SKARSGÅRD: He absolutely is. But he’s also a genius. The Northman was the first time I worked on something that was so meticulously stylized, and you almost had to see it as a dance between the camera and the actors, because the camera was constantly moving, and so were we. If the timing was slightly off, then we’d have to go again. I’ve never been more tired than after those six months.

DUNST: Where’d you shoot it?

SKARSGÅRD: Most of it takes place in Iceland. We locked down and stayed in Belfast and shot almost all of it up in the mountains and on the seaside. Then we went with a skeleton crew to Iceland to get some of the epic Icelandic landscapes.

DUNST: I’ve always wanted to go to Reykjavík.

SKARSGÅRD: I’m there every summer. It’s the most extraordinary place. The people are beautiful and open. You’re hanging out with a carpenter who’s also a poet, and then you meet a cab driver who is Iceland’s biggest rap singer.

DUNST: I haven’t watched you in Succession yet because I have two small children. These days, all I watch are cartoons.

SKARSGÅRD: How old are they now?

DUNST: One is nine months. The other one’s three-and-a-half. Two boys. They’re a handful. When they can really play together, I will have my life back, but right now I can’t wait to go back to work.

SKARSGÅRD: When did you shoot The Power of the Dog?

DUNST: Like two years ago. It was during Covid, and then I got pregnant.

SKARSGÅRD: Are you back home?

DUNST: We’re in Austin, Texas, right now because Jesse [Plemons, Dunst’s partner] is making a miniseries here for HBO, with David Kelley and Nicole [Kidman] producing. I haven’t even been to the set. I’ll tell Jesse to say hi to the gang from you.

SKARSGÅRD: Do you guys try to travel together as much as possible? If you work, Jesse tries to take some time off, and then when he works, you take some time off ? How do you guys navigate that?

DUNST: Honestly, he got the opportunity to work with Scorsese, and I just had a baby and he tore his ACL. No one can not work with Scorsese. Right now, our schedule just overlaps. So far, we’ve really lucked out. We might do another project with some friends where we work together again. It’s nice that as a couple, we’ve been embraced as people who can act together.

SKARSGÅRD: You were so wonderful together in The Power of the Dog.

DUNST: It’s nice to have that together.

SKARSGÅRD: It’s very obvious how much you guys enjoyed that.

DUNST: You guys would like working together.

SKARSGÅRD: We almost did, didn’t we? Many, many years ago.

DUNST: Really?


DUNST: Wait, wait. Time out. Weren’t you in Battleship?


DUNST: So was he.

SKARSGÅRD: Yeah, I know, but we didn’t really have any scenes together. I think we had some crowd scenes. He should join us on our Skarsgård family adventure.

DUNST: That would make me so happy. The people deserve you all in one film. Okay, I’m going to ask you some quick-fire questions. What’s your guilty pleasure?

SKARSGÅRD: Czech beers.

DUNST: What do Swedes shoot all the time? Fernet something, right?

SKARSGÅRD: Fernet-Branca.

DUNST: Why do Swedes like to shoot that?

SKARSGÅRD: I don’t know!

DUNST: It’s very medicinal.

SKARSGÅRD: It feels medicinal and it feels like lubrication for your cardiovascular system.

DUNST: While you’re getting wasted! What makes you angry?

SKARSGÅRD: I’m so even-tempered, it’s pathetic. I get angry with myself because I’m too OCD. Sometimes I need to stop being so square and let loose a bit.

DUNST: What makes you happy? Czech beer?

SKARSGÅRD: Czech beer, again.

DUNST: [To her son] Want to ask Alex what’s his favorite candy? I’ll ask him. What’s your favorite candy?

SKARSGÅRD: That’s a great question. I like salt licorice.

DUNST: Most people reading this probably think that is so disgusting, but I love it, too.

SKARSGÅRD: It’s an acquired, sophisticated taste for people like us, Kirst.

DUNST: Who scares you, Alex?

SKARSGÅRD: I have a tendency to scare myself sometimes.

DUNST: What scares me sometimes is the vastness of the universe. We’re just floating in space and just dying and being born. If I get too caught up in that, it starts to freak me out a bit.

SKARSGÅRD: I’m scared of the vastness of my own ego.

DUNST: [Laughs] What relaxes you?

SKARSGÅRD: Going out to the archipelago outside of Stockholm. My mom lives on an island in the Baltic. We’ve been winter bathing out there.

DUNST: You jump into freezing cold water? I understand the concept of that, but I’m also like, no thank you. Let me be in the warm hot tub watching you all, drinking my Fernet.

SKARSGÅRD: You jump in the water and it’s freezing cold, but then you go inside and sit by the fireplace. I’m in for basically 1.58 seconds.

DUNST: I’ve jumped in a freezing cold lake and jumped immediately out. It awakens you in a way that nothing else does. No one can predict the future, but what would you like for your future?

SKARSGÅRD: I just hung up on you, that’s my future.

DUNST: You’re like, “Fuck that question.” Do you want to have kids one day? Would you want to direct? Where do you live, by the way?

SKARSGÅRD: I divide my time between New York and Stockholm because my family is in Stockholm. I just hope that I continue to be curious as I get older. I have some colleagues and friends where, as they get older, it feels like the curiosity fades away.

DUNST: As we get older, hopefully we’ll just get more eccentric and awesome. I think surrounding yourself with young people is important as you get older.

SKARSGÅRD: My grandma was like that, my favorite human being. She didn’t give a fuck about what people thought about her. She would say anything. Until her dying day, she had this incredible curiosity. She wanted to learn, try new things, meet new people, and not just wither away.

DUNST: I haven’t left the house much at all, and I do everything over Zoom. I feel a little bit stifled in that way, a little Groundhog Day. It’s great that The Power of the Dog has come out and everyone loves it, but you don’t get any feedback on it.

SKARSGÅRD: Does it feel surreal in a way? Almost as if it didn’t happen?

DUNST: A little. I’m doing hair and makeup for Zooms, and doing interviews and things like that, and then I’m with my children in sweatpants all day. I’m either making a snack or getting hair and makeup done. It doesn’t go together. Let me get back to these questions. Who do you feel closest to? Who’s your crazy Swedish friend again? What’s his name?


DUNST: Dada, yeah. Are you still in touch with Dada?

SKARSGÅRD: He lives in my apartment in Stockholm.

DUNST: Of course he does. I love that dude. When I think back on making Melancholia, that was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had on a movie, and it’s literally about the most depressing thing.

SKARSGÅRD: When I watch that movie, all I think about is how much fun we had. Maybe the only way to get through such a depressing movie was by having fun.

DUNST: It felt like acting camp. We were in Sweden during the summer and there were music festivals. I haven’t gone dancing in forever. I think you’ve done a lot more than me, because I’ve had to obviously be safe for my children, too. I didn’t want to work right after having another kid, because I’m not going to have another child. I wanted to enjoy the beginning stages of that again and not go straight back to work. There wasn’t anything I was dying to do anyway. Now I’m very ready. Okay, Alex, what is the best thing about being a Swede?

SKARSGÅRD: When people are screaming at each other and it’s polarized, you can always be like, “Hey, I’m Swedish, I don’t know. I’m in the middle, I’m right here.” You don’t have to take a stand. It’s perfect.

DUNST: Who was your first movie crush?

SKARSGÅRD: My first love was Jessica Lange when I was a kid and I watched Tootsie. I felt butterflies.

DUNST: Listen, that’s some good taste.

SKARSGÅRD: I had no idea what it was. I just knew that I wanted that girl to come back on screen.

DUNST: My son really likes Daisy Duck. It’s the eyelashes.

SKARSGÅRD: She’s got amazing eyelashes. Also, the fact that she doesn’t wear any pants.

DUNST: Oh my gosh. She has bloomers on in whatever we’re watching. She’s more modest now. Do you want to say anything else? It’s awesome you’re on the cover. I love Interview magazine.

SKARSGÅRD: I’m going to get to work on our next project with the whole Skarsgård clan, and you and Jesse.

DUNST: That would be my dream.

SKARSGÅRD: Likewise.

John / January 26th, 2022

Here’s the full length version of Kirstens recent interview for CBS ‘Sunday Morning’. (Kirsten’s segment finishes at the 17 minute mark).

John / January 16th, 2022

When Kirsten Dunst was in her early 20s, the director Jane Campion sent her a letter proposing that they collaborate. It took roughly two decades, but the pair linked up—and in a turn of events they’d never have foreseen back then, they did so with Dunst’s fiancé, fellow actor Jesse Plemons. The end result is The Power of the Dog, and Dunst’s performance in it just might lead to what would somehow be a first for the 39-year-old actor: an Oscar. For W’s Best Performances issue, she reveals the secret to acting drunk and revisits that legendary Spider-Man kiss.

Had you met Jane Campion before The Power of the Dog?
She wrote me a letter when I was in my early 20s about working with each other on [an adaptation of] this Alice Munro short story called “Runaway.” It never came to fruition, but I kept the letter in my phone. Jane and I actually have the same birthday, so it was destiny, I guess. She’s always been one of my favorite filmmakers. When the script came in, it came to Jesse [Plemons], my partner, first. Before he read it, I was like, “You need to do this movie. You need to be in a Jane Campion movie.” So, that’s how it came about. First, Jesse got the role.

Did you have to audition?
No, I didn’t audition. [Campion] really loved [the 2011 Lars von Trier film] Melancholia a lot. She’d joke, like, “Just be as good as you were in Melancholia.” And I was like, “Okay, Jane. It’s a totally different character, but I’ll just try my best.”

Your character, Rose, quickly unravels. She begins to drink to cope with an increasingly difficult situation. Was it hard to pretend to be drunk?
There are a lot of different phases in her drinking. At first, it’s courage, and then it gets very bad. It takes her to this place of being this little girl who just wants to be loved. People who are drunk try not to talk drunk. It’s a little mix of music, a little mix of my own personal experiences with drunk people and how they are. For scenes where I had to be really stumbly, I’d spin a bunch in circles before action and close my eyes so I would feel off-balance. That’s a trick that Allison Janney taught me [on the set of] Drop Dead Gorgeous. It makes you feel out of control in your body, which is perfect for playing drunk.

It’s such an interesting transition, because Rose goes from being so capable to losing her bearings. To me, it felt like such a statement about how people can do you in.
Yeah. I totally understand that feeling. It’s a place where you’re feeling vulnerable, where people can influence you and infiltrate your brain in such a way that is so dangerous for your psyche. And that’s what happens to Rose. But, yes, in the beginning she runs her own inn. She’s a widow, and she runs it with her son. So, all those things of cooking and cleaning and making a beautiful table and keeping an inn running, that’s her pride and what gives her purpose in life. And when she goes to the ranch, she doesn’t have to do any of that stuff—those creature comforts that give you purpose are stripped away from her. She’s not doing the things she’s most comfortable doing, and then she’s slowly being gaslit by my partner’s brother [played by Benedict Cumberbatch].

Yes, that evil Mr. Burbank who calls your partner “fatso.” It’s so mean.
I know. He calls me “fat face,” too, which was not nice. [Laughs] That was an improvised line, though.

Were you always committed to acting? You started when you were so young.
I was committed, but there was a point where I was like, the way I’m doing this isn’t exciting to me anymore. My process [stopped being] fulfilling. And then I switched it up. I took a script to a bunch of different acting teachers, and I found one who I really love working with—who changed acting to something I do for myself rather than for anyone else. It made it personal, and it made it exciting. It was all about looking inward and satisfying yourself in your [own] creativity.

You were the first person I knew to join the Marvel universe, which I’ve always admired—I think it was brave at the time. Now it’s almost like doing Hamlet or something.
That’s really funny.

Was it a big decision for you to do Spider-Man?
Not at all. I auditioned, and then Tobey [Maguire] and Sam [Raimi] and all the producers came to Berlin to screen-test me at this hotel. And I just knew that Sam [the director] was going to do something special. It felt like an indie. Just these choices Sam was making, like casting Tobey—he had only been in Wonder Boys and The Cider House Rules at the time—and Willem Dafoe. He set the tone for hiring really interesting actors for these Marvel movies.

And of course, there was the famous kiss. Did you feel like it was going to be a famous kiss at the time?
I did not feel like it was a famous kiss because Tobey was… Water was getting up his nose because of the rain, and then he couldn’t breathe in the Spider-Man suit, and then… And it just felt very late at night. I didn’t think about it that way. But the way it was presented to me, Sam gave me this book of famous kisses, so that made me realize how romantic and special Sam wanted this to be. Even though it wasn’t necessarily feeling that way with Tobey hanging upside down.

And now it’s in every montage of famous kisses.
Well, I’m proud to be a part of that.

It’s a good kiss.
Yeah. It looked like a great kiss.

Lynn Hirschberg, W Magazine

John / January 9th, 2022

Kirsten Dunst has been acting almost as long as she’s been alive. From early starring roles in films like Interview with the Vampire and Jumanji through Bring It On and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, she’s gotten to work with some of the best directors in the business: Brian De Palma, Peter Bogdanovich, Sofia Coppola, Jeff Nichols—the list goes on. However, one filmmaker who was at the top of her bucket list and has always eluded her was Jane Campion.

The opportunity to work with the Palme d’Or and Oscar winning force behind films like The Piano, In the Cut, and Bright Star almost passed Dunst by yet again. Her role as Rose Gordon in The Power of the Dog, Campion’s adaptation of the novel by Thomas Savage, was originally occupied by Elisabeth Moss, who had recently worked with Campion on the Top of the Lake television series. Scheduling conflicts with The Handmaid’s Tale caused Moss to drop out, and so swooped in Dunst to work with this dream director in what would end up being one of the finest roles she’s had to date.

In Campion’s film, which has been racking up awards recognition and topping myriad critics top ten lists, Rose and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) find themselves at the mercy of menacing rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) after Rose falls in love with and marries Phil’s brother George (Jesse Plemons, Dunst’s real-life partner). Secluded on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Rose constantly feels the specter of Phil’s rage and jealousy looming over her. It’s a heavy character to take on, one who becomes increasingly isolated as the strain of this toxic environment becomes too much for her to take.

Dunst delivers a staggering performance, capturing not only the devastating weight that Rose is under, but also the humanity of the character, and the hope she feels when she first finds her connection with George. Her and Plemons have a remarkable chemistry on screen, a true gift for the film as Plemons coincidentally was also originally not supposed to be the one taking on his role—that was Paul Dano, who had to drop out due to scheduling issues with The Batman. It all worked out for the best, as Dunst and Plemons bring to life the heart at the core of the film, right before it all takes a major turn to wrenching terror.

As Dunst continues to pick up nominations and wins left and right during this awards season, likely on the way to finally netting her long-overdue first Oscar nomination, I had an incredibly pleasant and jovial conversation with the actress about one of the most grueling roles of her career.

Mitchell Beaupre: Hi Kirsten, how are you doing today?

Kirsten Dunst: Oh, I’m good. Chilling out in bed. Just taking care of babies. [laughs] I’m starting to work on this other movie that I’m going to do, so I’m watching some documentaries trying to get into a new zone, which is fun. I feel like I’ve got some purpose now other than just putting a bottle in someone’s mouth. [laughs]

MB: Sounds like a good way to ring in the new year. It’s like a fresh new start, right?

KD: Yeah, I started with some anxiety over getting back into the swing of things. I had to do this interview on camera and it was just like, “Oh, I’ve been relaxing and not doing anything. Can I say anything smart?” I don’t know, I just felt like I was in this Christmas bubble that suddenly got burst.

MB: How do the holidays go in the Dunst-Plemons household? Do you do it up big, or is it more low-key cozy?

KD: Oh, we drove all over Texas. Basically, my mom got into town and then my brother got into town on Christmas Eve. We picked him up at the airport, I rented a van, and me, the kids, Jesse, my mom and my brother all drove to Mart, Texas, which is just 20 minutes outside of Waco. Then the next day, we drove to granny’s house, which is in Ferris, Texas, another hour and a half away for like a huge Christmas. What we did not know was that my mom had COVID the whole time. We just thought she had bad allergies. And yet none of us got sick.

MB: Oh wow.

KD: She was totally fine, we literally all thought she had bad allergies. None of us even second guessed it. She was the most sick at Christmas, then she flew home to LA, and I guess my brother was like, “maybe you should get tested”, and she did, and yeah she had COVID the whole time, and none of us got it. We were in vans together for long rides and no one got it from her. Not Jesse’s parents, nobody. It’s very strange.

MB: It’s super strange. I had a similar situation happen. It’s wild how random it can seem, because then someone does get it without even having a clue where they got it from.

KD: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s thanks to immune systems or whatever. I have no idea, but I haven’t gotten anything yet. Knock on wood. I’ve also loaded myself with every booster imaginable and everything. Literally, my armpit was swollen for days. It was so painful.

MB: You got to work with Jesse again on The Power of the Dog, several years after being together on Fargo. How was that process for you this time around? Particularly when you’re working on a film that’s as heavy as this one is, how does that impact your relationship off-set? Does it help to have a partner at home who you feel is right there in it with you, working on the same project?

KD: So, so much. Usually you’re on different films, you’re not always together, and you’re calling each other and trying to explain the dynamics or what’s happening in the film or how you feel like the day went. It can be tough. With this though, he knew everything already exactly, and vice versa for me with him. I feel like we’ll always find things to work on together. For us, it’s one of our greatest joys, getting to work together. That’s how we first fell in love, creatively on Fargo. It’s just like having your best friend with you, the person who you know is going to be the realest about everything, who will give you the best ideas, and who wants you to succeed. There’s no ego.

Our roles on this one were very reserved as well. I like getting a little more crazy, you know? I loved doing Fargo with Jesse. Getting to go crazier together was more satisfying. Sometimes on this one there are scenes where they’re communicating to each other, but they’re not actually communicating at all. So, it can be a little frustrating to do that with someone that you actually communicate with so well.

MB: The first act of Power of the Dog really centers on this lovely courting between Rose and George, which crescendos with that gorgeous scene on the mountaintop with the two of you. Jesse has that line, “How nice it is not to be alone”, which I think is probably the best line of any film last year. And Jesse’s delivery is phenomenal—

KD: It’s the best! I totally agree. Even thinking about it right now, I could well up.

MB: Same! The second he said it, I broke into tears. What was the energy like on set the day the two of you were shooting that scene together?

KD: It was very relaxing. We were there all day, but we were waiting for the light to be just right so that it would be really beautiful, so we had a lot of downtime. There wasn’t much to do in that scene, there wasn’t a ton of shoot setups or coverage or anything. So, we were on this really high mountain, and it was a very calm, sweet day. I feel like it was an important scene because it clearly shows how lonely these people were, and how you hope for their life to get better and to flourish. It’s so heartwarming. Then you can have the rest of the film to suffer. [laughs] But, you hope it’s all gonna work out.

MB: The film is a really tough watch, which I was somewhat prepared for going into it just from the way other people were talking about it. What surprised me, though, was seeing in the beginning that connection between Rose and George. It’s this achingly beautiful romance between two people who were in these miserable circumstances, and were able to find solace in one another. How did you view the connection between them in relation to everything else going on in the film?

KD: Yeah, I think when they first meet there’s this recognizing of loneliness in their souls, and a kindness and sweetness that surprises her—and a sense of humor. Then moving to the ranch, and the dynamics with the brother really messes things up. I mean, Jesse’s role was sleeping next to his brother before I came into the house. Phil, I think, is terribly jealous of what’s going on, and George is trying to remedy that, but he also has to go and work. It’s not a time where Rose feels like she has a voice, because Phil is George’s brother, and you don’t want to make waves in the family. I think there’s a politeness to Rose, and this belief that it’s gonna get better, or that Phil will get used to her, and see that she’s not just here for the money. There’s a hopefulness and a sweetness to Rose where she just wants to keep her chin up for as long as she can, until she can’t take it anymore.

MB: That’s when she starts to become really isolated. What was that like for you on a day-to-day basis, having to inhabit this character who is living under this aura of constant menace? Does that become tough to shake off?

KD: Some days were harder than others. It was harder on the ranch for the exteriors, because I didn’t work every day. I had to do these really intense scenes like once a week, but I couldn’t get into a rhythm when I was in the middle of nowhere and not working those other days. I was mostly taking care of my son, but then I had to come in with all of this gusto, so I was a bit overwhelmed. And of course, I wanted to do a good job because Jane Campion is one of my heroes, so I was pretty stressed.

MB: I know you and Benedict didn’t talk much during filming for the sake of finding that character dynamic. Did you have a lot of conversations with Jane during the shoot? Or was Rose’s isolation reflected in your experience on set?

KD: No, I really felt a little bit alone as Rose. Obviously, Jane was there to help me and give me ideas, but I mostly found myself listening to a lot of music. I was lucky to have Jesse to come home to and to talk to about anything that I was feeling. I also had Noriko [Watanabe] there, who did my hair and makeup. I remember her hugging me after the scene with the Native Americans, and me crying in her arms. I had worked with her since Eternal Sunshine. I met her on that, and then we worked together on Spider-Man, on the second one. So, I’d known Noriko for a long time.

I had my allies, but I also felt my own pressure. I felt a pressure to perform. I didn’t want to disappoint my other creatives around myself, but I think that pressure was also partly from the role. I don’t think I would have felt that same way if I had been playing Phil, for instance. It was because I was playing that kind of a woman that I felt a little bit more insecure about things that I normally wouldn’t be.

MB: There’s almost an osmosis there of you taking on the qualities of the character. It’s like the scene with the whole family around, and all that pressure is on Rose to play the piano and she just can’t bring herself to do it.

KD: Mhmm, and that scene I remember—well, actually, the scene before, when she listened to [Phil] play the banjo so effortlessly, and riff on it creatively and make it his own; it was like this feeling of someone trumping you in something that you can do very confidently. Rose can play the piano well, and then suddenly she can’t—she physically can’t do it anymore. It’s like when someone’s so much better than you, and so effortless with it, it just makes you not want to do it anymore.

MB: You’ve talked about working with your acting coach, who you’ve had for a while—

I’m working with her right after this phone call! [laughs]

MB: You’ve mentioned the process you have with her, where you do a lot of dream work.

KD: Oh yeah, I dreamed big last night! I was so happy, because sometimes you don’t get a dream every night, and I got a great one last night. Got really good stuff to start with.

MB: When you were working on finding Rose, what were some of those things you drew out from your unconscious mind that really helped you in that process?

KD: I think it was that feeling of—oh, the baby’s awake. Um, [laughs] let me just send a text to say I’m doing an interview. [pauses] Okay, sorry.

MB: Not a problem at all.

KD: Okay, Rose. I think I just had to go back to a younger place of myself, of feeling insecure or less than. Of being on sets where I felt like I didn’t speak up. Being a young woman in this industry is enough to give you some good mojo for Rose, some good ideas and sense memories—or “as if”s I do as well. There’s a lot of things that you can use to try and create the scene, and make it feel alive for yourself, and not feel like you’re reaching for anything. That it—oh, he went back to sleep. Good. Alright, okay. Just let me send this text to say he’s back asleep. So sorry.

MB: It’s totally fine. [laughs]

KD: The baby’s in a closet right now because we don’t have any place for him. [laughs] He lives in a closet. It’s a nice closet. It’s a nice size. It’s like a nice car.

MB: [laughs] I’m sure.

KD: It’s just not a house with that many rooms is all, let’s just put it that way.

MB: That’s going to be the headline for the interview, by the way: “Kirsten Dunst Keeps Baby In Closet”

KD: [laughs] It’s a walk-in closet with a window. [laughs] But yeah, he’s a closet baby.

MB: [laughs] Okay, so pulling this back together. Something that sets Jane Campion apart from other filmmakers is the tactile nature of her work. The audiences really feel her films in a way you don’t get with other directors. The fingers on piano keys or banjo strings. The texture of grass or of the rope.

KD: Yeah, totally.

MB: Is that something that you feel on set working with her? Are there details you find her focusing on that maybe other directors wouldn’t be giving the same attention to?

KD: Yes, yes. The blowing out of a candle, and the shot of that. The way Peter’s hands are delicately creating a flower, and just to see a mother of that time encouraging her son to do that. It was a beautiful thing to see. Also just every day on set with her production designer Grant Major, you would open every drawer and find little messages, notes, poems, newspapers, magazines. Everything felt that it was authentic to the time. It was a really majestic set to be on. I was pretty blown away by Grant’s work. He’s one of the best. I mean, he did Lord of the Rings. He’s a genius. That house he built in the middle of nowhere—it felt sturdy. It felt like a real home. I mean, the interiors were done in Auckland, in a studio, but it never felt fake or weird. Everything was so lux. I’ve been on sets where everything just feels super cheap. Like, you touch some wood and realize it’s styrofoam [laughs]. Couldn’t afford the wood.

MB: Is that something crucial for you in getting into the character? Having that real environment where you’re not surrounded by green screens.

KD: I think you’re just like, “Oh wow, this is a real movie”. You know? People spent money on making these things look good. And then seeing Ari [Wegner]’s camera shifts, setups and everything, I was blown away. And the landscapes, the way they used the specific lenses, or the way she shot different scenes. There’s so many lead characters in the film in a way, and they had to really create these dynamics with the lenses that they chose. I’m still blown away by Ari and Jane’s relationship and what they did together.

MB: As the film is so much about masculinity, it really benefited from having that female perspective at its head. You’ve always been very director-focused with the projects you take on, and you’ve had a long career of films with female directors. Bachelorette, Woodshock, obviously your whole relationship with Sofia Coppola. Is that something you seek out specifically, or do you not even put that kind of thought into it?

KD: After I did Interview with the Vampire, I worked with Gillian Armstrong on Little Women, and so I think from a young age I never really differentiated between working with a female director or working with a male director. It really never mattered to me. I think nowadays everyone’s more conscientious of that, but for me it was a gift I was given young to never even question it. I’d already worked with some of the most powerful men, and then I worked with some of the most powerful women in this industry. To have that experience at age 12 or 13 is a huge lesson that you don’t even realize is getting into your head. To me, it was always a very natural thing to work with females and female directors.

MB: One of my favorite films of yours is Melancholia, which just had its 10-year anniversary last year. Looking back on the film now, its themes of accepting the end of the world and also those deeper meanings of grappling with depression and mental health struggles have only become more potent than they already were. What are your reflections on that film when you think about it these days?

KD: I haven’t watched it since it came out, but I will say that working on that movie was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever had. [laughs] I really had so much fun making that movie. I just felt free with my creative people around me, and the way that Lars [von Trier] makes his films. I felt at home in the way he made that film. I feel like I’m drawn to a more European kind of aesthetic when it comes to filmmaking and the vibe on set. That movie is really special. I mean—hold on, I’ve got to turn off this baby sound. The machine is driving me nuts. [laughs]

Okay. Depression is a boring thing to film, and Lars made it extremely relatable and magnificent, you know what I mean? Even with the end of the world, and this subject matter, it was beautiful. He’s an incredible filmmaker, and I was so happy to be part of what is basically his Disney movie—when you compare them to his other ones. [laughs] Also, another funny thing to me is that me, Lars, and Jane Campion all have the same birthday. Which is very weird to me. It’s very witchy.

MB: That’s super serendipitous, right?

KD: Mhmm.

MB: I’ve got time for one more question, and I’d love to end with a fun one. I was watching this interview with you where you said that the one genre you’d most love to do is a musical.


MB: I wanted to ask you, if you could go back in time and be in any musical in the history of film, which would you want to be in and why?

KD: Woah! Huh… maybe All That Jazz. Hold on, let me just think. Hmm, I’m just trying to think. Yeah, I’d want to be in a Bob Fosse one for sure. I think All That Jazz. You know what, the other movie I loved is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That was such a good movie. I loved that movie so much when it came out. I love the music so much. And listen, I know that there’s a Charlie Kaufman musical that he wrote that has never been made. It’s probably just a script and it hasn’t gotten made, and I’m so curious. I don’t think I would want to do a musical that we all love, because they’ve all kind of been done.

One of the movies that I watched over and over as a kid was Annie, and it was on TV recently with that special, you know? That was on TV, and I watched it with my son, and I was singing along, and he was kind of impressed that I knew the words to the songs. [laughs] He had never heard them before, and I just started crying because there is something so beautiful to hear someone’s emotions through song. I just love it. So yeah, being in an original one, that would be really cool.

MB: Well, you’ve got that connection to Charlie. Get Jesse to give you the hookup.

KD: [laughs] I wish! You know, I feel like with all of these creative people, you’ve just got to leave ‘em alone and hope for the best.

MB: I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we can see you in an original musical one day then. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, and congratulations on the film and on your performance, which is absolutely tremendous.

KD: Thank you, I’m very proud to be in a good movie that people like. [laughs]

Mitchell Beaupre, AwardsWatch

John / December 18th, 2021

Here’s Kirsten being interviewed by Gold Derby editor Daniel Montgomery.

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