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Nov 18 2011

From the Archives: Kirsten Dunst Interviewed

I've been racing around this week from interview to interview.You'll start seeing them as soon as I can catch my breath.For numerous reasons my mind kept leaping back to last year's precursor season when I met with Kirsten Dunst while she was on the promotional circuit for the true crime romantic dramaAll Good Things.Her name popped up Wednesday while I was talking with Ben Foster (Rampart) -- he's a past co-star and endearingly describes himself as "a silly fan of Kirsten"-- andMelancholiais never far from my mind as one of the most provocative and essential films of 2011.Her mysterious bewitching lead role as a severely depressed bride has,at this point,not garnered as muchBest Actress tractionas the performance merits,but there's little doubt that her career is most decidedly back on track.I read yesterday that she'd justjoined the cast ofRed Light Winterwhich will reunite her with Mark Ruffalo.This interview was already on my mind,and that sealed it since she had such happy memories of working with him.

So let's travel back in time a year to a pivotal re-energizing moment in her career when neither we nor Kirsten knew what to expect fromMelancholiaand the rollercoaster of the film's Cannes debut,controversial press conference,and Best Actress win was still future tense.

The Return of Kirsten Dunst (A Very Good Thing)
***Originally Published in December 2010***

It might sound silly to say,but seeing her in the flesh is something of a shock.Kirsten Dunst has been in the movies for many years,and she's made an indelible mark in them,whether as a child vampire,an unknowable teen dream,a disciplined cheerleader,a superhero's better half and so on;one half expects her to flicker when one meets her,as if she's being projected still.But there she was earlier this month at a New York City luncheon honoring her heartbreaking work inAll Good Things.Her image did not fade or dissolve but remained steady in medium shot.She ate,she sipped,she walked around the room talking with reporters,friends and peers.

There was,however,a close-up.We shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries.Then she was whisked off,not by a sharp edit,jump cut or a quick pan,but by her people taking her to the next reporter.Imagine it!

I reminded her of the busy luncheon a few days later over the phone.She's already thousands of miles away.This time,she's a disembodied voice which is surprisingly more familiar,like a movie image."You were so in demand,"I say,reminding her of the crowd and well-wishers.

"You know...,"she says,and I do having been there,"A lot of babies to kiss.A lot of hands to shake."

It's good to hear the smile in her voice and remember her amiable presence in the room that day.Especially considering the sadness that lingers from her fine work inAll Good Things.People have won Oscar nominations for giving much less to their films than she does here,in one of her finest performances.She starts out sunny and delightful,the girlish woman we sort of recognize from numerous other films but she's soon torn apart by her husband's (Ryan Gosling) dark almost alien soul.The film is based on a true story,the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Katie Marks (Kirsten),the bride of the heir to a wealthy New York family.I've followed her career enthusiastically for many years,once even referring to her as "the future of the movies"but naturally we start with the present and the subject at hand.

It's not the first time she's played a real life character but how did she tackle someone who isn't easy to research,someone who went missing?Here Kirsten cedes most of the credit to her director,who knew the case inside and out.

KIRSTEN:Everything that we knew about [Katie] is in the script.She's not a public figure.Yes,she's a real person but not someone that we know her mannerisms.It was really about making her feel like a whole person that was unravelling,as he was in a way,someone with her own strong motives so it wouldn't just be The Victim of this crime.

Nathaniel: You have to have the full range of their romance.

KIRSTEN: That was so important.You have to believe these people were completely in love with each other in order for her to stay and to excuse the behavior

Did anything change a lot from filming to the finished movie?You're acting piecemeal and the movie takes place over a really long span.Did anything surprise you about the finished product?

KIRSTEN: With every movie you kind of never know how exactly it's going to come together.I had an idea but obviously I wasn't there for the last half of the movie.[She pauses briefly,considering] ...I only saw Ryan in drag once on the set so I wasn't sure how all that was going to come together.

While we were working we played things very differently;we improvised a lot.The scene where he asked me to marry him was very different in the script.We got to play around a lot which was exciting.But you never know what it's going to end up being.

I thought it was interesting that this movie  opened so close toBlue Valentine,another unravelling Ryan Gosling marriage,and then I remembered that you've worked with Michelle Williams before onDick.Hollywood is a small world.

KIRSTEN: It is a small world.I'm friendly with Michelle.That's funny.[Pauses considering the two movies]  Ryan...he loves a good love story,that one![laughs].

With some movie stars chemistry is a hit-and-miss thing but I've always felt from your films that you have a dependable connection to your co-stars/scene partners.What do you attribute that to?

[Kiki's answer and her favorite films after the jump]

KIRSTEN: That's nice of you to say but it isn't always as organic as it can be.You get lucky sometimes.With Ryan,it felt very natural.The way he works as an actor is similar to me.We don't stay in a box like 'We did it this way so that's how we're going to do it for the rest of the scene.' We're both very open to change and were very perceptive of each other.With Ryan it was really easy.You do have to fall in love with them a little [your co-stars].In this movie it was especially important because otherwise,why does this woman stay?

It's not always easy to have that chemistry but you find things in the person you can connect with.

When it's harder with actors -- I'm not going to ask you to name names -- is it because the processes are different or is it just a lack of a personal connection?

KIRSTEN: I think it's -- I do think it has to do with the the process.When you work with someone who you can be inspired by,it elevates it.When you don't have that it kind of dies in a way and then you have to put more effort into it.You're lucky if you work with actors that it feels truthful to respond to,not forced.

And I've definitely felt that way in the past.But I think that certain directors are better at choosing actors that match well with each other.And I have feelings about actors and who I think I'd work well with better moreso than others.

So who would you love to work with?

KIRSTEN: [Amused,like she's been caught] And then you ask me that question!!!I can think of directors more.[Curiously,she pauses and doesn't offer up any names.]

I'd like to work with Leonardo DiCaprio.I've known him throughout the years and I feel like we'd be good together.Even as brother and sister.I feel like I'd work well with him.

I have a silly question for you.I'm going to name my three favorite single moments from your filmography.You tell me which one you would reshoot right this second if you had to.

KIRSTEN: Ummm....okay.

Here we go.

  1. Dancing in your undies with Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
  2. Kissing Tobey Maguire upside down in the rain (Spider-Man)
  3. Brushing your teeth with Jesse Bradford (Bring it On)

KIRSTEN: [Laughs] Funny question.Definitely dancing in my underwear with Mark!That was fun.That was such a loose set.It felt like whatever we did,wherever we went,the camera followed us.It was practical lighting,natural lighting.It felt very free,like we weren't even acting at all.When that happens,you know it's going to be good.You don't always feel that way but you get glimpses of it in certain movies.When it feels like you're just in it with someone,it's the best.

I felt that way working with Lars von Trier,too.

[Surprised] But they say he's very hard on his actresses!

KIRSTEN: I did not experience that with Lars.I had a great working relationship with him.I trust him.

[Thinking about it...] I think that if you close off your actors you're not going to get what you want.I don't think.I never felt that...well,I didn't have that experience.Also: he's very funny.Even if he didn't like like a take or whatever it was,he doesn't berate you.There's nothing like that.He wouldn't get the performances he gets if he did that.People usually shut down in that environment.

Weren't you going to work with Michel Gondry again afterEternal Sunshine.You were going to do a Debbie Harry picture?

KIRSTEN: Yeah,yeah.No.That was definitely happening at one point.It's difficult.Debbie was,I think....[trails off] It kind of went away.[Referring to Debbie again] "I don't know if i really want to tell my story."You know what I mean?

So it was her hesistancy?

KIRSTEN: I think so.It was awhile ago.I can't really remember why.But I think that that's only natural.Usually that stuff happens,biopics,after someone has passed away.It's a weird thing.But I'd still love to do that if she wanted to do that

The reason I bring that up is that I love your singing voice.Last time I heard it was in that "Turning Japanese"video.

KIRSTEN: [Very animated] Oh god.That was so painfully difficult.I HATED doing that.Not the dancing around Tokyo but singing the song.It's the hardest song.It's a cockney dude who sings the song and it's very specific to his voice and the way he speaks.It's a personality song,not an easy cover song.

I hated singing in the sound studio.I was singing to myself.I could hear myself.Oof that was not...it was not...[laughter]

I don't know if you know this but your wikipedia page describes you as "an actress,model and singer."

KIRSTEN: That's hilarious.

Are those the three words you'd use to describe yourself?

KIRSTEN: No.Not at all![laughter] That's funny.I did some kid modelling when I was younger.I've only sung for parts;a singer is someone who puts out an album.That's a very generous description.[Sarcastically] It sounds like I've mastered it all!

You've done some directing,too

KIRSTEN: I did a short film.I'm playing around with a screenplay with two friends right now.Not something for me to direct but to be in.I definitely want to direct some day.I need to have -- I think when I do that I need to block out a year of just  thinking,writing,reading.You can't be focused on which role you're taking next -- I personally can't -- and then be "I want to direct.What should I do?"You know what I mean?I've had ideas but i'd have to really focus on just that.That won't be for probably a few years.We'll see what happens

So no 'Ben Affleck' then for you;everything at once?

That's...I couldn't do that the first time out.That would be very stressful.I'd just want to direct

You started out as a child actress and you're next film is with Chloe Moretz,right?Hick

KIRSTEN: I'm not committed to that film,actually.That's a rumor

Okay.But do you ever look at these young actresses like her,Elle Fanning,and think  "that was me!"

KIRSTEN: Yeah,I do.It's weird.Yes.

You and Chloe have both played teenage vampires.

KIRSTEN: Even Dakota [Fanning] played a vampire in theTwilightmovies.

It's a running theme.


One of the things that was remarkable about meeting you -- maybe because I've seen you in movies for a long time -- I'm not sure how to phrase this.You're very womanly in persona and your screen persona is very young.When you take a part likeAll Good Thingsdo you think about it as a transition role.Do you plot out your career like that?

KIRSTEN: I don't.I'm older now is all.I don't think I grow up in that film but what you emanate is different as you grow up.That'll continue to happen.It's more prominent because you've seen me young,as a teenager,adult.This role [All Good Things] is pretty adult even though she starts out young.But I'm not like "Now is the time to play adults."It's just more prominent because I was a child actor.

I can see that.The scene that really impressed me the most [SPOILER] you're looking in the mirror after the abortion.You can feel Katie as a character aging.Not makeup effects.Just you as an actress conveying the weight of that.That's my favorite beat in the performance.[Recognizing Kirsten is displaying some hesitancy about this 'now you're grown up!thing...] I'm not saying that this is your coming out ball -- I mean you've been famous for a long time now -- but it felt like a transition to me.

KIRSTEN: I'm older now and It'll be different from now on,for sure.This is the first movie -- well,it's hard for me because...[Reconsidering]  InThe Cat's MeowI had to play someone older but she was kind of a childlike adult.I feel like [All Good Things] is definitely a transition into a different way of people looking at me.I think you're absolutely right but it's hard for me to look outside of myself in that way

I'm sure your experience from the inside is very different than ours.


Her Best Roles: Interview with the Vampire,The Virgin Suicides,Bring it On,Crazy/Beautiful,Eternal Sunshine,Marie Antoinette,All Good Things and Melancholia

Well,All Good Things...it's a beautiful performance.My favorite performance of yours was alwaysCrazy/Beautifuland I just loveMarie-Antoinette.It's a grossly undervalued movie.

KIRSTEN: You know,people who loveMarie Antoinettereally love it so I feel like it'll stick around.

Those are the ones for me,personally,but how about you?Are there any you feel more connected to?

KIRSTEN: [No hesistation]The Virgin Suicides.That was a different thing for me at the time.I was allowed to not talk and not be the bubbly girl.I was allowed to show another side of myself that I was even discovering at the time.That was a really cool moment for me to look back on.[Pause]  Usually I see these things more in retrospect than when they're happening.

And I loved doingEternal Sunshine.[Delighted voice] I'm just so proud to be in that movie.It's so many people's favorite film.To be in someone's favorite film is just -- that's what you want.You want to be in great films that are memorable.It's nice when the movie is not on your shoulders,too.It's fun to do a smaller part sometimes.

Well,you've already racked up several great films.Good luck adding to that list.

[At this point,we wrapped up our interview]

Kirsten mentionedMelancholiaagain(the von Trier picture) and amusingly we both expressed curiousity about what that final movie will be like.There is only a little bit of information about the movie out there,though Lars did famously mischievously joke that there would be "no more happy endings"(As if the rest of his filmography is rainbows and bliss!) Still,like she said,you never know what something is going to end up being.When I called her 'the future of the movies' years ago,I had no idea exactly what that future would hold,for her or Hollywood.It was a vote of confidence and faith that this gifted natural would flourish.She did.There were a few rough spots,sure,as there are in any career.But after a short break,All Good Thingsmarks a major return to a career that's already had more dizzying heights than most 28 year-old actors could dream of.

Kirsten cannot be comforted in "Melancholia"

Kirsten might not want to callAll Good Thingsa transition,and perhaps it is the wrong word.Transition implies something unformed and her Katie Marks is a fully shaped character.It's not a comeback either since she hasn't really been away,just stuck in that spider web.Let's call it a reminder,then.Let it serve as a reminder to Hollywood of what she's always been capable of doing.May she keep on reminding them.

Jumping forward in time to NOW.Melancholiais in theaters and available on demand.See it!

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Reader Comments (12)

Wow I didn't read this interview last year,thanks for posting it again.She really seems warm and passionate,I definitely have to watch again Melancholia: I found her astonishing but I didn't like the movie at all.

November 18,2011 | Unregistered Commenterferdi

Kiki deserves an oscar nomination!it's not funny she has been nomination worthy many times!definitely one of the best if not the best young actress without an Oscar Nomination

November 18,2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Last year's Oscar dark horse was Williams and this year might be KiKI's.I hope she can make it in.

November 18,2011 | Unregistered Commenterchand

This is one interview I definitely don't mind revisiting (and in fact has been on my mind ever since Melancholia came out.) I'm glad to see her career is back on track even if she doesn't get any awards traction out of this (think: Nicole or Patty Clarkson in Dogville).

November 18,2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

I think she will be this year's dark horse for an Oscar nomination,I really do.


November 18,2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

OMG!Melancholia was unbelievable.I so am not kidding you.I was BLOWN away.The visuals,the music,the actors,the mystery,the EVERYTHING.I feel like it will really go down in history.

November 19,2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

I saw it a few weeks back on On-Demand and I can't get it out of my head.With no one here to talk about it with!Living in Utah is fine but it takes hard work to find someone around here who freaks out about Von Trier or any of this hot mess?Can I get an AMEN?

November 19,2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Kiki is going to be the Gosling/Fassbender of 2012!

She'll have On The Road,Upside Down,Bachelorette,and Red Light Winter

supporting role,high budget sci-fi,indie comedy,and playing a prostitute!hopefully there's an oscar nod somewhere in there

November 19,2011 | Unregistered CommenterZach

Robert -- AMEN.i'll write more about the movie soon.i don't know what's taking me so long.

November 19,2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think she deserves an oscar!Her performance is perfect,but..."The earth is evil"!:(

November 19,2011 | Unregistered Commentergabriel

She's proven things in 1999 that most actresses her age are still trying to do now.Team Kiki!

Melancholia is one of three movies I'm possibly seeing tomorrow.

November 19,2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

Great interview,you ask perfect questions!

December 15,2011 | Unregistered CommenterKid In The Front Row
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