Kirsten Dunst remembers shooting a particularly poignant scene from her latest film "The Power of the Dog." In it, she and her real-life partner, Jesse Plemons, play two deeply lonely people who've finally found a connection in 1920s Montana.
Dunst told correspondent Luke Burbank, "Do you wanna know the truth? I felt like, 'Oh my God, this feels so corny right now. To be this, like, proper and, I made you these sandwiches,' like, I felt a little silly, to be honest."
But Dunst had complete faith in director Jane Campion, so she went along: "I'm very director-driven, so I would have done anything for Jane. She could have talked about this grey couch, and I would have done the movie – and played the green pillow!"
"That's your next project – I read about it in Variety," Burbank quipped.
"I really would have done anything for Jane," she said.
That faith seems well-placed, as "The Power of The Dog" – and Dunst's performance particular – are getting rave reviews and even rumors of Oscar consideration.
To watch a trailer for "The Power of the Dog," click on the video player below:
For Dunst, now 39, an Academy Award nomination would be the latest step in a life spent in front of the camera, starting at age three in New Jersey, when her mother would drive her into New York City for modeling gigs. But it was her role at age 11 as Claudia in "Interview With a Vampire," opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, that really put her on the map..
Dunst said, "I mean, even kids in my school who had never acted before were auditioning. And it was a worldwide search, you know? So, that was a really – I knew that it would be, yeah, like, a life-changing thing."
Her star was rising, fast, with roles in classics like "Little Women"; indies like "The Virgin Suicides"; hits like "Bring It On"; and blockbusters like the "Spider-Man" franchise:
Dunst said, "It's interesting. I always felt, like, this nice safety net going back to 'Spider-Man' – I did not realize how on-the-nose [that was]! Almost like a safety web or whatever. I always liked that I got to go back to this, like, to this home base of working with these people again."
And yet, amidst all the outward success, something inside Dunst just didn't feel right, and at age 27 she checked herself into a Utah rehab facility for treatment for depression.
"I just really was very much more a people-pleaser, you know?" she said. "Growing up in that industry, you're wanting to do good for the director, wanting to do good for the other actors – like, there's a lot of pleasing. And I think that that starts to affect someone unconsciously or whatever, and can hit you over the head. This is something that I think is just, like, part of being a human being, you know?"
Burbank asked, "Did you consider walking away from acting at that point?"
"I just knew however I approached acting, it had to change. So, there was a more cathartic way of entering into a role, as opposed to performative. I was, like, freed basically to try anything and not feel fearful at all."
That's on display in "The Power of the Dog." When her character, Rose Gordon, develops a drinking problem, Dunst resorted to an unusual acting technique: "I would come out of the house a lot in distress in this film. And so yeah, spinning around in circles is a very helpful trick. Closing your eyes and spinning around in circles, like, rolling … and then 'Action,' I'd just kinda stumble out of the house!" she laughed.
WEB EXTRA: Kirsten Dunst shares an acting trick:
The final product seems to have paid off, with one reviewer saying, "Few actors have played drunks as convincingly or sympathetically."
The fact that the project also let her work with partner and fellow costar Jesse Plemons was also a plus. The couple has lived in Austin, Texas, during much of the pandemic, raising their two small boys.
Burbank asked, "Is it just because of less paparazzi attention?"
"No, it's everything," she replied. "People care less because it's not a movie town. They are better with children, the parks are nicer. In general, I've had a more fun time living here."
After a life spent making movies, Dunst understands just how unique this moment is for her:
"It's like, it has to be a good movie, and you have to give a good performance, and you don't wanna be the weakest link. And like, it's like, so many things! And then, everyone has to like it, and then it has to be the buzzy one. And it's a rare thing that this happens."
But if the Oscars don't come calling?
"Listen, if it ended tomorrow, I'd figure something else out," Dunst said. "I love my life separately. It's not like all of my confidence and everything is wrapped up in this industry. Like, I think finding Jesse and having children, it gives you stability. And it gives you, when you find your person, like, a way that just grounds your life.
"So, it feels like a time that, like, I can really, really soak things in and appreciate them and feel good about them."
For more info:
Story produced by Sara Kugel. Editor: Mike Levine.
- Benedict Cumberbatch on "The Power of the Dog" ("Sunday Morning")
for more features.