Marvin Gaye is crooning “Mercy Mercy Me,” which is just what you’d be thinking if you were standing behind Kirsten Dunst, watching her shake her groove thing to the foul line and launch a screaming-orange bowling ball right up your alley, dropping all ten pins for a strike. “I’ll slap your ass for good luck,” the star of crazy/beautiful, who today is working both sides of that equation, tells me when it’s my turn to roll.
My knees buckle at the suggestion, and I quote the title of her last hit movie: “Bring it on!”
Dunst delivers a healthy swat, and it really is lucky; I strike back, nosing out victory by six points. She instantly demands a rematch.
Meet Kirsten Dunst, a young woman on the verge of a nervy breakthrough as a temptress. “She may look like the innocent girl next door, but when she wants something, watch out,” observes crazy/beautiful director John Stockwell. He chose Dunst — who, at nineteen, has appeared in more than twenty feature films — to play Nicole Oakley, a depressed, booze-and-drug-addled student at a posh Pacific Palisades high school who falls for a Hispanic boy from East L.A., played by Jay Hernandez. The director and Dunst first met when she was filming the musical Get Over It. “She was in full Kiki mode,” says Stockwell, using Dunst’s nickname. “Very upbeat, very composed, a girl who had a great relationship with her mother. I’d read that she was a virgin. I left with some uncertainty that she could pull off the role of a sexual provocateur.”
But when Dunst stepped onto the set, all traces of the perky Kiki disappeared. “Her eyes glazed over, her shoulders slumped, she was really able without chemical aids to become this girl,” Stockwell says. “It seemed important to her to do a movie that would upset some of her fans.”
“This movie made me feel like crap every day,” Dunst recalls. “It’s hard to get to certain places, like being drunk and doing drugs. I can’t say I’ve never had a drink before, but I’ve never actually done a drug in my life.” Reading Sylvia Plath helped; so did listening to lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Adds Dunst, “The character is falling in love for the first time, and I was going through that, too.” At the time, she was beginning a relationship with her Get Over It co-star Ben Foster. (They have since split, and Dunst has reportedly hooked up with her Spider-Man co-star Tobey Maguire.)
Crazy/beautiful gave Dunst her first shot at an adult sex scene. According to Hernandez, the always-professional Dunst was sweet enough to turn the potentially intimidating situation into a comfortable experience: “She just said, ‘Go ahead, do what you have to do. Don’t worry about it.’ “
“At one point she just reached over and put his hand on her breast and said, ‘You can touch them, they won’t bite,’ ” Stockwell remembers with a laugh. “And then, when she and her mother came in the editing suite to watch Kirsten’s first sex scene on film, her mother turned to her and said, ‘Kiki, where did you learn to make that face?’ “
Kirsten Dunst has been making faces for a living since the age of three. The daughter of Inez, a free-spirited fine-arts major, and Klaus, a conservative businessman, Kirsten Caroline Dunst shot dozens of commercials before she and her mother left Point Pleasant, New Jersey, for Los Angeles ten years ago. Since then, Dunst has worked almost nonstop, supporting her mother and younger brother, Christian.
A self-described “girly-girl” who turned popped balloons into designer rubber outfits for her Barbies, Dunst also had a morbid side, obsessing over tragedies like the sinking of the Titanic. When she was ten and living in New Orleans while filming Interview With a Vampire with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, Dunst frequently felt the presence of ghosts. “They always wanted to communicate,” she says. “And I’d get so scared that I’d have to ask them to leave me alone.”
There were other disturbances that hit closer to home. “My parents fought,” Dunst admits. “What family doesn’t? My dad didn’t think it would turn into anything serious when I was doing commercials in New York.” It was her mom who believed, driving Kiki into Manhattan for auditions and eventually moving her and Christian to L.A. “My mom is like a life force coming in the room, that’s for sure,” Dunst says. “She should have been the actress, I think.”
After being separated for a few years, Dunst’s parents divorced when she was thirteen. “My mom and dad are the most opposite people. This isn’t the opposites-attract type, either. This is, ‘How the hell did you ever get together, you two?’ ” She claims to be unaffected by the end of their marriage. “What’s the point in staying married for the kids? I mean, really, you’re just doing more damage being together and fighting all the time. I know I’d rather live with one parent, see the other and have them both be happy.”
On the day we go bowling, Dunst is in Kiki mode, using her fingers to scoop out the inside of a bagel at Jerry’s Deli, in the Valley, a few miles from the home she shares with her mom and brother.
A fan lopes over to our table. “Hey!” he says, sticking out his hand. “Don Ray. Are you Dido?”
“You thought I was Dido?” Dunst replies, tossing back her blond hair, which is now red in front to blend in with the wig she is wearing to play Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man. “God, I thought I had a Gwen Stefani thing going today!”
Dunst has recently returned from Berlin, where she starred in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow, in which she plays the role of silent-film actress Marion Davies. It was her first time living and working alone, so she took along “my blanky, the brown one Mom got when she was pregnant and didn’t know if I was a girl or a boy.” She brought Woolite from the States so she could wash her own drawers: “I was not going to pay eight dollars for the hotel to do one pair. I didn’t pay that much for the damn underwear.”
Today, Dunst hears the word panties and cringes. “Panties — eeew. It’s so pervy sounding,” she grimaces. “It just sounds gross. So does gynecologist. It’s an ugly word. And I hate the word cunt — it’s so demeaning.” I ask if she has seen The Vagina Monologues, a play that not only examines the c-word but also asks the question, “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?”
“I don’t want to say,” Dunst demurs. But Kiki knows: “I think it wouldn’t shut up! It’d be directing the guy. It’d be, ‘You’re doing it all wrong!’ “
Do you find it easy to be so frank with men?
Not at all. Guys and girls can’t really be friends. They are always thinking — and you’re thinking — what would it be like to be with them? I want to be like those Hollywood guys who are considered cool and dark and mysterious and get all the girls. If I was a man, I’d be such a player. Girls are never like that, really. Then you’re just considered a slut; that kind of pisses me off.
How would you spend a day as a man?
I’d be this gorgeous actor that girls just drop all over. I work with a lot of those fellows, and they’re very interesting. I’d want to know what they’re really thinking, if they’re really insecure.
Is it easier for a celebrity to set limits on intimacy? Like Britney Spears, who says she’s a virgin.
She is? She and Justin Timberlake look a little close. Maybe she is. I don’t know. I don’t want to put down other girls. But there’s a contradiction there: I might be a virgin, but I have so much makeup on, I look like a man in drag. Is it the fashion to look like such a sleaze?
Has virginity been an issue in terms of your image?
I don’t talk about it; that’s personal. I’m nineteen; think what you want to think.
Is there an appropriate age for having sex?
Whenever it’s right for you; when you feel comfortable. Have you felt comfortable yet? I don’t want to say all this. [Pause] It wasn’t that recently. But it wasn’t miles away, either. I was completely high on that guy. I was so glad that I did.
When did you first discover your sexual side?
I used to write about lusting over different guys in grade school, that adolescent love obsession. Things affected me so much more when I was younger. You get calluses. I lost that purity that I felt.
Why do actors hook up with one another?
They understand. I want so badly to have a normal guy but for them to understand that my career is very important to me and I’ve got to concentrate on it.
Is that why Hollywood is full of romantic roadkill?
In this industry, it’s so difficult. Chemistry onscreen can be misinterpreted for something else offscreen. You think it might be real, and then you find you can’t even have a conversation with the person. You have nothing in common; it’s just sexual tension.
Do you brush your teeth after you do a kissing scene?
Before. Unless they’re really skanky. I just tell them if they smoke to chew some gum or something.
Is there a technique for getting over someone?
Cry. Don’t keep things bottled up, it just brings in issues to the next relationship. Let it out. Burn things.
Do you date?
I connect with somebody and then hang out, and if it clicks, then I’ll go out. It’s never, “Let’s go on a date.” I hate that word: date. That’s a dried fruit.
Although Dunst is growing into a sexy woman — wearing short dresses on the MTV Movie Awards — she does not want to be known for working it. “If you try, it’s too much,” she declares. “If somebody says, ‘I enjoyed you in The Virgin Suicides,‘ that’s what I want to know: that I affect people. If somebody said, ‘Oh, you’re so hot!’ I’d feel so empty.”
Dunst is not immune to thinking about her appearance though. Sometimes her nose seems too button-y and her cheekbones not chiseled enough. Her dentist even suggested burning her gums back to make her teeth look bigger and reshaping her prominent canines. “You can’t fix everything about yourself,” she says. “I like my little fangs. They’re good for biting.”
Dunst admits to being headstrong, but she’s not impervious to other people’s opinions. “I wish I wasn’t as much,” she says. “I’ve worked my butt off since I was three years old, so nobody can say I’m the flavor of the month. It’s their prerogative to say it, but it’s bullshit.”
With Spider-Man, Dunst has become a teenage millionaire. “It doesn’t bother me that I support my family,” she says. “I worry that people think my mom’s a stage mother.” She shrugs. “Oh, I don’t give a fuck. A lot of younger actors have broken away from their families. Dad and I are definitely on different wavelengths. But my mom and I have an open and trusting relationship. People are surprised when they hear I still live with her, but she lets me have my freedom. I live such a normal life compared to most actors and celebrities. I know that I’m a caring person…. I couldn’t live without my cats. I’ll set up a blanket outside in my front yard and just play with them all day. I’m a big dork.”
What else constitutes dorkdom?
Going to Bob’s Big Boy, having french fries and shakes with my friends, wearing rollers in my hair and lipstick on my teeth. Last year we went to Palm Springs, four girls in one hotel room. We would sit naked outside on our balcony and go skinny-dipping, lie under the stars on the golf course at night.
Have you ever thrown a TV out a hotel window?
No. I’m not into trashing hotel rooms. I don’t want that kind of reputation anyway. I mean, come on, get your shit together, the cleaning ladies have to clean that up. If I ever did that, I’d have to buy the whole staff presents because I’d feel so guilty.
Do you consider yourself generous?
I love taking people to dinner and buying presents. I think one of my credit cards is corporate for my company, Wooden Spoons Productions. I don’t know; my financial adviser does that. I don’t want to handle that shit. I make it, spend it — you can deal with it.
If time was money, how would you like to spend it?
I wish I had more downtime. I love to paint, to write, to learn acoustic guitar and French and Italian. I want to go backpacking with my friends in Europe. I want to go on Crossing Over With John Edward. I’d like to be regressed to find out about my past lives, because I feel I’ve been around a couple of times on this earth. I’d like to sing a torch song like Peggy Lee sings “Fever.” And I’d like to play a serial killer.