Kirsten Dunst has been in the spotlight for almost 30 years, yet she’s as grounded as the girl next door. SUSAN GRIFFIN meets a Hollywood star with a difference
Despite working since she was just three, Dunst clearly isn’t world-weary or jaded when it comes to enjoying luxurious surroundings. And while she may have a bank account befitting a Hollywood star, she doesn’t treat herself to long-haul holidays often, either.
“I’m not someone who takes vacations,” she says, taking a seat. “I tend to take little trips on a whim in California [she lives in LA] to the Big Sur, Palm Springs or Santa Barbara.”
That said, she has her eye on one particular beach holiday. “I really want to go to this place in Jamaica called GoldenEye [Bond author Ian Fleming’s former home]. I’ve had friends who have gone and say it’s so nice.”
It’s also secluded, which means she can relax without the threat of being papped in a bikini.
“Oh my goodness, if was on the beach in somewhere like Miami, I would be wearing a summer dress. I wouldn’t want my body critiqued,” says Dunst, showing off her “classic” taste and slim figure today in a blue pencil skirt and pale pink cashmere jumper, her blonde hair resting on her shoulders in gentle waves.
“I don’t have a problem with my body, but they’re so mean,” she says, referring to the paparazzi. “All they want are bad shots of you and if you sit like this [she sits forward slightly] you get rolls, everybody does.”
It’s not only the paps she’s unhappy with, but the magazines who buy the shots, and the women who then buy the magazines. Women are so mean to each other, because it’s really in women’s mags and gossip sites. It’s all our fault. If you buy the magazine, you’re [responsible] for it.”
Dunst is great company - easy to talk to, bright, quizzical, un-showy. Not only has she always made a point of making bold film choices, like controversial film-maker Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, which earned her the Best Actress Award at Cannes, but those who work with her allude to her intelligence and informed decisions.
Take Oscar Isaac, her co-star in the stylish suspense thriller The Two Faces Of January, who talks of the intricate notes she makes all over her script, and yet her performance appears “effortless”. And Hossein Amini, the Academy Award-nominated scriptwriter behind Drive and Snow White And The Huntsman, who welcomed the fact she scrapped some of his same The Two Faces Of January script, feeling it unnecessary when simply a look would do.
It was Amini’s words that attracted Dunst to the role. “I thought it was so well done. You don’t read movies like that often, where you get so excited afterwards. It really ignited creativity within me,” she says.
This may be Amini’s first time in the director’s chair but, Dunst believes, “he has such good taste and he’s a brilliant man”.
“His emotional intelligence is like that of a woman, almost, very sensitive and knowledgeable,” she adds.
The film is based on the book by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote The Talented Mr Ripley, and centres on three characters; the glamorous American couple Chester and Colette (played by Lord Of The Rings actor Viggo Mortensen and Dunst) and a conman called Rydal (Isaac), who meet in Greece in the early Sixties. No one is quite who they seem, and a journey of paranoia and jealousy follows.
“I knew Viggo was attached [to the project] and I’ve always respected him as an actor,” says Dunst. “I was intimidated by him,” she adds, recalling meeting the 55-year-old for the first time. “He’s so beautiful and he said, ‘It’s very nice to meet you’ in this very low voice, but he’s actually so funny.”
Of the three lead characters, Amini found the complex Colette the most difficult to cast, but when Dunst expressed an interest, he agreed to meet with her and was instantly won over.
“I think he decided he wanted someone with a little more worldliness about her [than the character in the book],” says the actress, who was born in New Jersey. “And I think Viggo and I work as a couple, it’s not gross in any way [despite the age gap].”
She describes Chester as a Gatsby-like character in the beginning; “rich, handsome, powerful”.
“Chester, in a sense, is like a male movie star,” she notes, adding that she’s met similar types of men in the movie business, but it’s not exclusive to the industry. “Everyone can relate to meeting someone who doesn’t turn out to be the person you thought they were.”
It was imperative to Dunst that Colette wasn’t simply arm candy. Not only because it wouldn’t be conducive to the emotional arc of the story, but because it isn’t appealing for her to play or for audiences to watch. “Their dynamic wouldn’t be as interesting,” says the actress, who has no interest in watching male-dominated movies.
“I like female characters in movies and TV shows,” she says, referencing Jane Campion’s TV series Top Of The Lake, and the recent comedy by Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer, Doll & Em.
“I crave that stuff. I love watching women in film.”
Campion, who directed The Piano, has spoken of the fact women are under-represented in the industry, but while Dunst has helmed two short films, she’s not sure she wants to focus solely on directing. “I could never direct and be in a movie. Do you know how hard that is?” she exclaims. “I can do one or the other but not both”. Plus, while she enjoys directing, “I like acting better”, she admits.
It was as a child model that Dunst’s career began, however. This led to adverts and then acting, and by the age of 12 she was appearing alongside Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in An Interview With A Vampire.
If she has children of her own, she realises there’s a high chance they could follow suit, and while she’d want her kids “to have as normal a life as possible”, she says she’d “support them 100%”.
Dunst doesn’t believe her success has come at any sort of sacrifice, however. “I know I get to do special things because of what I do, but in terms of how I grew up, it feels very normal. All my girlfriends weren’t in movies, and I always felt age appropriate.”
And, as she points out, 29 years on: “I still love acting, clearly. If I didn’t, I would have stopped by now.”
The Two Faces Of January is in cinemas now.