Kirsten Dunst, Illuminated
She’s a movie star but hates being shot on the red carpet. She’s “a prude” but appeared topless. She’s a fashion icon but loves spray tans. Dunst is full of contradictions—and that’s exactly what makes her so much fun to interview.
“Just don’t write the ‘she’s back!’ thing. I wasn’t ever away! Sorry I wasn’t in Spiderman 4 a year after I was in Spiderman 3!”
Kirsten Dunst and I have known each other for 10 minutes, but already we’re in the weeds. She doesn’t want a boring celebrity profile written about her. And she hates pieces that proclaim her return to acting. Well, what kind of Kirsten Dunst story does she want told?
“You know what I like?” Dunst says. “I like reading about a person’s favorite restaurant, stuff like that.” Okay then, I say, what’s your favorite restaurant?
“It’s Roberta’s in Brooklyn.” Pause. She looks at me expectantly, hands folded primly before her. Then her face kind of deflates. “You’re right: That sounds boring.”
We’re sitting at Café Gitane in the fiercely trendy Jane Hotel in New York City’s West Village. Ceiling fans whirring above us, afternoon light pouring through the slatted windows, it’s the kind of place that attracts a very good-looking, not-entirely-employed crowd—writers, models, actresses. Dunst has a short, dark manicure and smudgy last-night makeup—both leftovers from a photo shoot the day before. Then she has another thought.
“I like when there’s an event around the interview,” suggests Dunst. “Like I kind of wanted to go to ABC Carpet and Home because I need towels.”
But, I point out, sifting through stacks of washcloths isn’t exactly conducive to conversation.
“You’re right. I’d be like: ‘These are soft.’ ‘These are pretty.’ ”
“These are slightly less soft,” I say. “Oooh, are these Egyptian?”
“Now our interview sounds like an SNL skit.”
Cut. Take Four.
“You know what else I don’t like?” Dunst says. “Most people ask me questions based on a previous interview. That’s not an interview. It’s like they’re just saying my quotes back to me.” I look down at my notebook and discreetly cross out questions seven through 15.
“And at this point, you can’t ask me about [the movie Melancholia] because I only have my go-to answers in my head,” she says.
“Well,” I say, “I can’t just write, ‘We met at Café Gitane, and she’s totally nice. The end.’ ”
“But why?! That would be so awesome! That would be my favorite celebrity profile ever!”
Terrific. Except that this is a fashion magazine. And Dunst—with her vintage slash girly downtown look—is a style icon for legions of young women, I tell her. We’re here to talk style.
“That’s much more fun than the”—she takes on a heavy, serious voice—“ ‘Tell me about your process’ stuff. Let’s talk style!”
Today she’s wearing well-worn black suede ankle boots and a flouncy black dress with tiny flowers, which she flattens out over her lap.
“You like it?” she asks, looking down. “It’s Rebecca Taylor. I’m a sucker for a cute dress and I knew I’d be happy wearing it. I’m the kind of person who buys a new thing, wears it so much and then is totally sick of it. I’ve already worn it two days in a row.” (In fact, I’d later see her wearing the same dress in the new REM video, in which she stars, alone.)
The dress has a large, super-revealing keyhole cutout on the décolleté. “It’s harder to dress if you have boobs,” says Dunst. “I usually cover them. This is not usually my style.” She gestures to the keyhole. “When you have a beanpole body everything looks cute. Like Alexa Chung. I like her style, but she’s really tall and skinny so everything looks good on her.”
Sitting here in the café, Dunst is at a point in her career—and her life—in which she’s so totally aware of the cliché of being a “celebrity” that she has figured out how to live like a civilian. “If you walk in the room and you’re like, ‘Ta da! I’m here!’ and you’re all done up, then yes, you’re going to get noticed,” she says. “But if you’re normal, then you get recognized a lot less.”
These days, she has more and more reason to be recognized. Dunst just finished filming a comedy (unnamed at press time) costarring Isla Fisher. She’s also starring in On the Road with Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart. And last spring, Dunst won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in Lars von Trier’s crushingly beautiful apocalypse movie Melancholia.
Not that that’s all translating into great riches. “You don’t want to know how much I got paid for Melancholia!” she says. “Okay, if someone were reading that I’m sure they’d be like, ‘Oh please!’ But hey, man, I’ve been doing independent films!”
While winning the award at Cannes was a milestone for Dunst, it’s probably not what most people remember about Melancholia’s debut. Dunst was sitting next to von Trier when he gave his now infamous press conference, in which he called himself a “Nazi,” saying “Israel is a pain in the ass” and he “understand[s] Hitler.” In the midst of the director’s verbal train wreck, Dunst was seated to his left looking composed and ladylike—her eyes slightly widening in horror as von Trier dug himself deeper into a hole. At one point she leaned over and whispered something in his ear.
“What did you say to him?” I ask her.
“I just said, ‘Come on, Lars,’ or something like that,” says the actress, shaking her head dismissively. “What was I supposed to say? There were a lot of us up there and I feel like if [my costars John Hurt or Stellan Skarsgård] had said something it would have been easier. I think one of the guys could have been like, ‘All right, Lars’ or made a joke out of it. We were all in shock.”
Champagne arrives. I’ve somehow convinced her that a 3 pm drink is a smashing idea. It’s easy to pretend you’re friends with Dunst, which is precisely her appeal. She’s like the cousin with a really cool job; the friend from class who would make fun of the professor but still get A’s; the roommate who wants to order in and watch The Bachelorette. Actually, that last part wasn’t a metaphor.
“I’m obsessed with that show!” Dunst suddenly gets really animated. “The girls go so crazy. And the fact that everyone is freaking out about the roses! It’s insane! I wish there was one person who was like”—she drops an octave—“ ‘Um, you guys are all crazy. This is the dumbest thing ever.’ ” I tell her I’ve never seen the show. “Oh my God. You have to Youtube ‘The Bachelorette Kasey’—he spells it with a K. He does this song …” At this point, Dunst starts singing. She’s trying to sound bad but she has too nice a voice. She actually can’t sing off-key.
“It’s my favorite reality-show moment,” she says. “We tried to get him to come to the Rodarte show.”
By “we,” Dunst means herself and her friends Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind the California label. Dunst, the line’s unofficial muse, often wears Rodarte to awards shows. Now that we’ve swung back to fashion, I ask her if she has a favorite red-carpet look. This is what you call a throwaway question—the kind you toss out to buy time while you shake off the champagne and flip through your notebook hunting for something smart to ask. But Dunst takes a deep breath. I’m learning this is what she does when she’s about to go off. I brace.
“I hate red-carpet photographs!”
This is unexpected. Is it the gorgeous hair? The gazillion-dollar dress? Or the whole Cinderella fantasy in general? I’m missing something.
“It’s such flat lighting! They take away my cheekbones—I just become a moonface. I hate those photos so much. I always look terrible. And they don’t know angles on faces. There is no artistry to it. It’s like—” Dunst does an impression of what can only be called a lobotomy patient taking a picture. “I hate them!”
I point out that she’s hardly known as “Kirsten Dunst: That Moonface Actress.” But then again everyone has her thing. Or things. She’s also not a big fan of her nose (“I don’t love it. It’s round. I like strong noses on women”) or her skin tone (“I wear foundation every day; I look dis-gust-ing without it”).
Dunst, who says she has “the kind of skin that you touch and it gets red,” recently discovered spray tans. “You lose like five pounds immediately, and your face is glowing and gorgeous!” It’s fun to watch Dunst continuously cast herself in these one-minute roles. Talking about self-tanner, she becomes a mini opera star, puffing up her chest and opening her hands like she’s going to belt it to the mezzanine level. “I look amaziiiiiiing! I did it for my last movie. Then Isla saw me and was like, ‘I’m gonna get spray-tanned too!’ I only did it twice so I’m tan in like two scenes and super-pale in the rest of the film.”
And her favorite body part? She takes a sip of champagne and thinks for a minute. “I like my legs,” says Dunst. “I like wearing short dresses and high heels. And I think I have good hair. The last time I cut it short, my boyfriend at the time was like, ‘You look so much better with short hair.’ So I cut it off.” At this point, I must have had a what-happened-to-Kirsten-the-feminist look on my face. “I know, I know, so stupid! My girlfriend thinks he just didn’t want any guys to look at me.” She drums her fingertips together and takes on a vampire-ish accent: “ ‘Mwuh-hah-hah! How can I make her ugly? Cut off her hair!’ ” Her laugh dies down and she’s serious again. “I actually can’t wait to have long hair. It’s getting a little longer and my face already looks better.”
The natural blonde (“I go to OC61 Salon on Madison and 61st to get highlights. I go to this chick Melissa who’s awesome”) famously dyed her hair red for her role in Spiderman. “I attract a different kind of boy when my hair’s red,” she says. “I get more quality men—like a more thoughtful, nerdy dude."
You might think that the actress, with a string of movies released back to back this year, would be completely focused on her career. But you’d be wrong. For the first time, settling down is becoming a priority for her. “I thought when I reached 30 I’d have a lot more figured out,” she says. “Until you have a kid, you’re just looking for your partner. And guys have a Peter Pan vibe. They’re 35 and they act like they’re 25. That’s what scares me about being in my 30s: not finding someone to have kids with.”
She sounds giddy at the prospect of starting her own family. “I can’t wait to relive life in a little kid’s way. I’m so ready for that lifestyle: Get a little place upstate and have them go to school up there.”
“They’re probably not watching a lot of Lars von Trier in upstate New York,” I point out.
“That’s good for me,” says Dunst. Then, affecting another one of her mock-serious voices, she holds up a hand and waves: “ ‘Oh, hello, neighbors, you saw my breasts in the last movie I did.’
”Despite the nudity, Dunst calls herself “pretty prude. I’m shocked by certain people’s behavior. I like the idea of not living with someone and having your own places. I’m very traditional.”
Outside, the sun has dropped closer to the Hudson River and inside Café Gitane the waitresses’ shadows have taken on Giacometti proportions. Maybe it’s the champagne, maybe it’s the talk of children, maybe it’s the orangey, movie-set lighting, but Dunst has grown nostalgic.
“I had such a great childhood,” she says. “My parents and I are really close. It’s funny: Every role they see their daughter in, they feel like is really happening. I remember when my dad saw All Good Things, he was like”—taking on her father’s most worried, wrinkled-brow expression—“ ‘And then you died!’ I’m like, ‘Dad, I’m right here! I’m alive! I’m fine.’ ”
That may be a huge understatement—given the career-defining roles, the best-actress award, the onslaught of accolades—for someone who is a few months shy of 30. But being fine may also be her ethos. Fine as in not crazy. Fine as in normal. Fine as in never missing an episode of The Bachelorette, as in being convincingly convinced that her nose is too round, as in outspokenly singing the praises of the transformative powers of a spray tan. A normal girl who was also in Spiderman.
Soon Dunst has to go. She stands up to leave, we say goodbye, and I linger for a few minutes to go over my notes. My phone rings—it’s my editor. “So?” she asks. “How did it go?”
“We met at Café Gitane,” I say, reading from my notepad: “She’s totally nice.” The end.
Click through the slideshow to see some of Kirsten's favorite things and more looks from her cover shoot.
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