Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview: The Return of Kirsten Dunst (A Very Good Thing)

at the NYC premiere
of All Good Things.
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 such 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 in All 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 remind 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."

Katie (Kirsten) fixes her husband's bow tie in All Good Things.

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 in All 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.

Doomed Love
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.

Nathaniel: 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.

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

[more on All Good Things, Eternal Sunshine, and her favorite films after the jump]

Ryan's Disastrous Screen Marriages

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]

Nathaniel: 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 and scene partners. What do you attribute that to?

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.

Nathaniel:  When it's harder with actors -- I'm not going to ask you to name names of course -- 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.

Nathaniel: 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.

Nathaniel: 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: Ummmm... okay.

 Nathaniel: Here we go.
  1. Dancing in your undies with Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine)
  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 [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind] 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.

Nathaniel: [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.

Nathaniel: Weren't you going to work with Michel Gondry again after Eternal 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?

Nathaniel: So it was her hesitancy?

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.

Nathaniel: 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 sutdio. I was singing to myself. I could hear myself. Oof that was not... it was not... [laughter]

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

Kirsten: That's hilarious.

Nathaniel: 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!

Nathaniel: 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.

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

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

Nathaniel: 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.

Nathaniel: Oh, 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.

The first of many little girl vampires.

Nathaniel: You and Chloe have both played teenage vampires.

Kirsten: Even Dakota [Fanning] played a vampire in the Twilight movies.

Nathaniel: It's a running theme.

Kirsten: It is.

Nathaniel: One of 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 like All Good Things do 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 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.

Nathaniel: Yeah, 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]  In The Cat's Meow I 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.

Nathaniel: I'm sure you're experience from the inside is very different than ours.

Kirsten: It is.

Nathaniel: Well, All Good Things... it's a beautiful performance. My favorite performance of yours was always Crazy/Beautiful and I just love Marie-Antoinette. It's a grossly undervalued movie.

Kirsten: You know, people who love Marie Antoinette really love it so I feel like it'll stick around.

5 Best Performances: Virgin Suicides, Crazy/Beautiful, Eternal Sunshine,
Marie-Antoinette, All Good Things
. Do you agree?

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 doing Eternal 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.

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

At this point, we wrapped up our interview. Kirsten mentioned Melancholia  (the Lars Von Trier picture) again 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 Things marks a major return to a career that's already had more dizzying heights than most 28 year-old actors could dream of.

Kirsten might not want to call All Good Things a 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, but 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.


joy said...

Thank you for another great interview!

I can't believe how much i dislike "All Good Things" yet so in love with Kirsten in it. It's not quite as special as "Crazy/Beautiful" or "Interview with the Vampire" to me but still one of the best performance of 2010.

Happy New Year!

FrenchGirl said...

her interview is a nice manner to finish the year!

mrripley said...

On this blog i have always bashed her even called her the "dunced" but she had me from hello in all good things,a career transformer to casting agents who see it and hopefully they will,nice piece nat!!!

Leo said...

Great interview Nathaniel! One of the things I love about your site is your admiration for actresses whom for whatever undecipherable reason are badmouthed by both audiences and critics alike (Nicole Kidman comes to mind). I don't understand and am disappointed that people inside and outside the industry sort of take Kirsten for granted. She is hugely underrated. This may be a bad residue from the Spiderman franchise which did her no favors, as much as the Star Wars prequels did no favors for Natalie Portman. For me whenever Kirsten is onscreen, she is always genuine and believable as whatever character she is playing. Plus her offscreen persona seems very natural, and unpretentious. Can't wait for Melancholia to be released. And like Portman, I keep my fingers crossed she may someday be bestowed the kind of role and awards attention she rightfully deserves.


Joy --i feel the same way about the performance vs. the film. But I prefer this performance to the one in INTERVIEW W/ VAMPIRE... which I've always been slightly less into then everyone else. Which is kind of funny since I am such a champion of her work.

pomme -- i was trying to get it up on Monday but yes, it works as a closer ;)

mrripley -- ooh. new convert? i guess will have to wait until her next performance to see.

leo -thanks. we'll see. She's at the exact right age for major major roles but you never know. That transition from very famous in your youth to a fully grown star is always tricky (Jodie Foster being kind of anomaly)

Lucky said...

What a nice interview. I like Kirsten but I've never been excited by any of her performances... I felt she was very bland in Marie Antoinette and I'm one of those who love that film.

/3rtfu11 said...

A word of advice to Kirsten Dunst -- stop competing for roles that demand you to be the romantic lead. Like Maggie Gyllenhaal, you’re on the mean end of heterosexual men’s bitching about your physical appearance in spite of your talent. The time is now to become a real character actress and play unappealing, un-redeeming, super bitchy characters, or take parts that require you to get ugly. It’s not fair but when I think of Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman – I wouldn’t want to fight them off for anything juicy – I would go the road less traveled and become someone closer to the vein of Bette Davis except I know I’ll never be as talented.

D! said...

Wonderful interview! As a big Dunst fan and someone that also finds her work vastly undervalued, I appreciate your support of her work! I gotta say, one of my favorite performances of her - and a movie that has become such a cult classic - is DROP DEAD GORGEOUS. It's total goofball, but so delicious.

OtherRobert said...

Great interview. I think Kirsten Dunst is a talented actress that hasn't always had material that matched her abilities. Even something like Interview with a Vampire felt like she could have brought more if the director didn't just want her throwing tantrum after tantrum on screen. I always forget that she's one of the few things I liked about Eternal Sunshine. I do not, however, forget Dick. It's one of those films I drop everything to watch when its on TV.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I just wish you got to interview everybody whose work you admire, because you make these interviews so much fun to read. And as so many of us keep saying, it's just so palpable that the interviewees are actually thinking about your questions, and don't feel like they're being asked all the usual stuff. Great way to finish the year!

Ruth said...

It's true when you say she hasn't been away..but it does kind of feel like it. I'd like to see her performance in All Good Things, I'll have to keep an eye out for it here...

Glenn said...

As Nick said, I really like your interviews. I've found lately that whenever these celebrities are being interviewed by notsomuch "newcomers" or niche-bound "bloggers", but less "seasoned professionals"/"entertainment reporters" writers that they're far more entertaining. It's not the same questions as everyone else and boring claptrap like "why did you choose this role?"

Plus, Kiki is adorable. Looking forward to this performance (not the film, however)

Cinesnatch said...

Great interview! Thanks! I saw AGT yesterday. I loved it, despite it's wonkiness. Dunst was definitely MVP and made me a believer (I wasn't a fan of hers in the past, but with Marie Antoinetteand AGT, I'm starting to like her).


nicks -- thanks. I don't actually feel that actors enjoy being interviewed that much so I'm still working on my skills there. Since it's a necessity of their job, hopefully i can make it less of a chore by making it more of a surprise.

otherrobert -- i guess i need to watch more tv because i haven't seen Dick in years. ;) (and it's so funny)

mrripley said...

I always get the feeling from your interviews nat that you change it up and you have a genuine affection for the person instead of doing a "job" so to speak.


well, you're all very nice. but i'm hoping to get better in 2011. :)

Bia said...

She does have a great filmography -- even her teen movies held up well. But I do feel she is taken for granted and I hate that gossips were so nasty to her for so long. It was really unnecessary and I think it messed her up for a bit.

Henry said...

Added Crazy/Beautiful to my Netflix queue right after reading this interview.


Henry -- ooh, do let me know what you thought of it.

Bia -yeah. even if people are immune to her charm, that's an enviable filmography. period.

Michael said...

She's exciting in her career choices - from Bring it On to Lars Von Trier ! - why couldn't Lindsay Lohan have done the same??

Hayden said...

It's hard to say how the tribulations of fame and her unjust treatment by the media has weighed on her personally. But I have always thought the candor with which Kirsten Dunst conducts herself and her life is admirable, even endearing.

Regardless of whatever personal or professional stigma might be attached to it at any given moment of her career, "Kirsten Dunst" has proven to be an enduring name in the business. And she seems to be a great example of putting one foot in front of the other.

Ryan said...

awesome interview. i thought ALL GOOD THINGS was mediocre (granted it was hot seeing Gosling wearing only drenched, tighty-whitys) but i have to admit Kirsten totally nailed her role and practically saved the film. i've always held the 'she makes acting look too easy' view of her. but this is easily her finest hour since her one-two punch in 2000 with BRING IT ON and THE VIRGIN SUICIDES.


Hayden -- well put.

Glenn said...

Imagine if, by the half way mark of this year, Kirsten Dunst could be a Cannes Film Festival winner for Best Actress. MAKE IT HAPPEN, CANNES!

RickDVD said...

Great article! Look at those dimples. Someone was smiling when she got them, I bet!

Iggy said...

Agree with what Nicks, Gleen or mrripley among others say.

I don't know if it's your admiration for them, that you come with your homework really well done before the interview, but these interviews are just great. They make you want to know more about the interviewees and about those point in their careers one (me) may've missed. Whatever it is, they're so refreshing and a joy to read it!

(Happy new year!)

Rob R. said...

Nathaniel- I've been aware of your love for Dunst ever since I first discovered your site 9 years ago. Ever since then, my appreciation for her work and star appeal has expanded with each passing movie. Like you said, definitely some weak points. But she is much smarter and more instinctive then many other actresses in her age group.