Kirsten Dunst Busts out
THIS YEAR KIRSTEN DUNST HAS DECIDED TO KICK ASS. She has a new house, new management, new attitude and a new ‘do. No more bottled-up blond pixie for her. Turning up the heat as redheaded Mary Jane Watson, the feisty love match for Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man – the first blockbuster of summer 2002 – also had an effect. “I feel like a ballsier kind of woman,” says Dunst, who worked with director Sam Raimi, “to make Mary Jane a hero for girls. The boys are going to have Spider-Man, and we want Mary Jane to be someone the audience can look up to and believe in.” Dunst describes a key scene: “These thugs come and try to steal my purse and, yeah, Spider-Man does end up saving me, but this is four guys I take on – I’m not a wimpy girl. They pin me up against the wall, but I kick one in the dick, and I slap another one…. I’m just a little fireball.”
A little fireball, maybe, but a doll no more, even on the day she literally started to become one. The process began while she was on the set of Spider-Man: Tiny toy heads designed to look like her Mary Jane character would arrive for her inspection, a courtesy afforded Dunst by the manufacturer of the movie’s licensed action figures. Most actors sign off after a few nips and tucks. Dunst was more obliging, sending back copious notes about the shape of her doll’s face and the fact that she has only one dimple and it’s on her left cheek. The actress who has vowed never to do a nude scene was a little surprised that she did not get the opportunity to examine the doll’s body for other dimples.
Do not for a moment imagine that the twenty-year-old star whom friends and family call Kiki – a professional for seventeen years, with more than thirty films and nearly Ioo commercials on her résumé – has suddenly emerged from the cocoon of child stardom to become an imperious iron butterfly. True, Spider-Man has spun her into the major leagues (she just signed for the sequel), and she has left the house in the burbs that she bought for her mother and brother to feather a nest of her own in the Hollywood Hills. But Dunst is still a Valley girl at heart. It’s where she grew up, after leaving Point Pleasant, New Jersey, in elementary school. It’s where she can see her pals, have an In-N-Out Burger and be her happy-go-lucky self. She still hangs out at Mom’s or invites friends to sleep over at her new place, which is more of a cottage in the woods than a movie-star mansion. A doll’s house, if you will.
Dunst knows a thing or two about being a doll. As a little girl, she was the very embodiment of the mid-Eighties beautiful baby: porcelain skin and sparkling blue-green eyes framed by ringlets of golden hair. She was so striking that when her mother took her to the prestigious Ford modeling agency at age three, she was immediately sent out to audition for commercials. “I did a baby doll that peed and pooped in its diaper,” she recalls one day over coffee at a deli in the San Fernando Valley. “That was really gross. And then I did this commercial for a pregnant doll, which was really morbid, if you think about it. You’d press its tummy and this doll would shoot out a little baby with this nice little smile on its face.” Dunst shudders. “Creepy.”
In Spider-Man, Dunst plays a doll from the wrong side of the tracks with a weakness for creepy men. “Mary Jane’s always with the cool guy who’s wrong for her but is handsome, maybe with more money,” Dunst says, offering a quick yet accurate psychological reading of her character, a girl drawn to the mystery of Spider-Man, not Peter Parker, the shy, devoted Everyman hiding inside the Spidey drag. Maguire, who plays both roles, praises his co-star. “She’s not very self-conscious in front of the camera or offscreen,” he says. “She exposes her true self, which is very admirable. What is that quote? I think it’s from Dangerous Liaisons: ‘Vanity and happiness cannot coexist.’ She’s a happy girl. She’s not worried about that stuff. If you’re too involved in ‘How do I look?’ then you’re too preoccupied to live and be free. She seems like a really sweet, aware, open person, who’s really talented, knows how to focus her energy and makes intelligent decisions beyond her years.”
One decision Dunst made when she found out Maguire had been cast as Peter was to become his Mary Jane.
“I had wanted to work with Tobey for the longest time,” Dunst confesses. “I always found something very appealing about him. I just had a feeling we’d be really good onscreen together. As soon as I heard they were making Spider-Man with Tobey and Sam Raimi, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I want this role so badly.’ So I met with Sam. It was a very brief meeting, but I thought we hit it off.”
Dunst waited; no call. “I was getting really depressed. I was, ‘Oh, God, I don’t have red hair, and they’re looking at all these redheads.’ ” She went to Berlin to film The Cat’s Meow for director Peter Bogdanovich, taking on the daunting role of Marion Davies, the silent-film star who was the mistress of the much older newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) and the love toy of Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard). Still no call. Until the one that informed her the director and star were flying over to audition her again, to see if there was any onscreen chemistry. “How intimidating, right?” Dunst says. “And I have three pages to do; two of them are crying scenes. I’d worked since five in the morning and had to get up at five the next day, and here I am in this makeshift meeting room with this little camcorder. I was so nervous. I had to go to the bathroom and have a little breathing session, get focused. I was listening to Coldplay the whole way there, getting myself in a state of mind to be emotional.” So what happened? “I kicked ass!”
(A few more words about music. And Coldplay. Dunst likes music with substance: Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Bebel Gilberto, Jimi Hendrix and Patti Smith. But it is the British band Coldplay that has played a seminal role in the Dunst career of late; the group not only helped Dunst land her role in Spider-Man, it also helped her break the ice with Maguire. She took him to a Coldplay concert during the filming of Spider-Man. It was not a date, per se, but the show did fall on Valentine’s Day. Tongues wagged, as they do. Since then, both parties coldly play the same routine when asked whether they are an item. “I understand your curiosity,” Maguire starts. “But we’re just good friends,” Dunst finishes.)