WANT TO MAKE KIRSTEN DUNST MAD? Ask her about the whole food chain of the movie biz. “People don’t know who you are, so they treat you like shit,” she says. “And then, when they do find out, they suck up to you. It’s just so pathetic. I don’t like being treated any differently than any other person. And if I call somewhere and then I say my name, they’re like, ‘Why didn’t you say that?’ Like I’m gonna call up and say, ‘My name is Kirsten Dunst, I don’t know if you’ve seen my films, but. . .’ That grosses me out.”
Dunst has equal distaste for the fish-bowl effect that distorts romantic relationships between actors. “That’s why I’ve decided I’m not going to talk about love relationships anymore,” she says. (Dunst had already been down that road when she talked about dating Ben Foster, her co-star in the little-seen musical Get Over It, a title that, unfortunately, turned out to be accurate; when I ran into Dunst at an awards show and congratulated her on the convincing scene in which their characters fall in love, she replied, “That was a re-shoot. We’d already broken up by then.”)
Still, despite the gossips and the poseurs, she has decided to take up residence on the other side of the Valley in Los Angeles. She doesn’t make good tabloid fodder in any case. She’s unfailingly nice, even to the most gauche sycophants, and she doesn’t party, doesn’t have a personal trainer and doesn’t live on cigarettes and diet cola. Nevertheless, despite a winning girlieness, Dunst has grown up. She has reached that stage of self-awareness where the validation of nearly two decades as a successful actress has begun to edge out her adolescent anxieties. Sure, she worries, like every young woman, about finding Mr. Right, even while she concedes that when it comes to men, she is “picky.” She would like to be married and have kids someday. But mostly she wants “to connect with someone where it’s more than just physical; to be understood and to be listened to.”
Dunst has also stopped long enough to listen to her heart and understands that by trying to please other people you may not be able to please yourself. “It’s not that I’m insecure,” she says. “A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t give a shit what people think about me.’ I do, and I wish I didn’t as much. I know that I am strong. I can handle just about anything.”
And she has. First, there was the teasing by the other schoolchildren in New Jersey who made fun of little Kirsten because her mom would pick her up from school and drive her into New York to be an actress. Then, after she had played Tom Hanks’ daughter in The Bonfire of the Vanities, there was the move to California with her mom and brother. And then the meeting with Iris Burton, the famed child-actor agent who discovered River Phoenix. “We met at Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset,” Dunst recalls. “I was nine. She made me get up, turn around and walk back. She was so excited for me to meet River.” (They were both cast in Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, but he died tragically before they could meet.)
As Claudia, the baby ghoul raised by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, Dunst was nominated for a Golden Globe and imprinted herself on a generation of moviegoers. Some experiences were a little more ardent – and goth – than a twelve-year-old should have to deal with. The following year, her parents, Inez and Klaus, who met and married while students at Carnegie Mellon, ended their estrangement with a divorce. (Though he never imagined that his daughter’s acting hobby would develop into a career, Klaus, who sells medical equipment to hospitals, lives in the Los Angeles area and sees his daughter and son often.)
Dunst took the divorce in stride, reasoning that opposites such as her parents would be better off apart. “I love my dad to death, but my dad is very conservative and reserved, while my mom is a free spirit, very vivacious. I look at her, and I’m like, ‘Ma, you should have been with some rockin’ musician.’ Maybe they were different together when they were younger. Or maybe they just had to get together to have my brother and me.”
The divorce left Kirsten the family breadwinner. “It doesn’t bother me that I support my family,” she says. “Of course, I do have some pressure on me, but we’re very blessed with our lifestyle. The thing I’m proud of is that I don’t feel like I’ve gotten here on an easy road. I come from this little town in New Jersey, and I’m proud to say that no one helped us and that I’ve lasted this long.”
Along the way, there have been unwise choices. “Accepting a movie that didn’t go anywhere,” she says, offering an example. “Not knowing all the information before I agree to do something, and not standing up for what I believe in and being influenced by other people.” Even in the last two years, after the twin triumphs of The Virgin Suicides and Bring It On, she has made a few straight-to-video films.
To ensure her longevity, Dunst has made some sweeping changes in her life in the past year. Once the biggest fish in her small pond, she has recently signed with Tobey Maguire’s manager and hired Jennifer Aniston’s publicist. She would like to get a place in New York, maybe a loft, so “I could be bicoastal.” Dunst has formed her own production company and has a corporate credit card. She tells her financial adviser, “I make it and spend it; you can deal with it. I hate dealing with numbers or money.”
Kirsten Dunst is twenty years old and many times a millionaire; she’s the survivor of a career as a child actor and a teen dream, stepping confidently into adulthood. Or almost. Though she has played the sex kitten in films, Dunst is uncomfortable with the idea of herself as calendar art. “I don’t try to be sexy,” she says. “If you’re sexy, it comes out. If you’re not, you’re not. And if you try to be, it just makes it too much.”
You could disagree. But these days, Kirsten Dunst just might kick your ass.