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    Kirsten Dunst: When I was 16, a male director made a completely inappropriate comment to me

    Kirstin Dunst, 16, in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides

    Kirsten Dunst is sitting on a sofa in the West End from London, but her body clock is still somewhere over the Azores. The 41-year-old actress is jet-lagged and clings to the upholstery as if for dear life. She spoke to the BBC this morning, but on her way to eleven sessions with the Telegraph she stopped at the hotel to change out of her more glamorous outfit for the shoot into a comfortable black blouse and trousers.

    “I'm going. Do. Cup. OH TOOOOOOOOOO, she says, very cheerfully and deliberately, and shuffles towards the kettle on the sideboard.

    The star of Spider-Man, Marie Antoinette and Melancholia (her resume is as extensive as the laws of space-time allow) is in the UK for the premiere of her new film Civil War. Two days earlier, she had left her two sons at home in Los Angeles with their father, Killers of the Flower Moon actor Jesse Plemons, “and I got on a plane to London thinking, 'Hey, hey!' Then we landed, there was a show, and everyone went out to a nice dinner. And now…” She makes a long croak like a frog.

    Not that her three-year hiatus was a break. In May 2021, Dunst gave birth to her second son, James, who was conceived the evening of the wrap party for her first film with Plemons, The Power of the Dog. And nine months later, she was filming Civil War in Atlanta, with James's older brother Ennis, now almost six, occasionally visiting the set. Regardless, the release of Civil War in UK cinemas next week marks the end of Dunst's longest break from our screens since the former child star was the same age as her eldest son.

    Written and directed by British director Alex Garland in 28 Days Later and Ex Machina, Civil War is an incredibly gripping and sickeningly believable film. a thriller about the brutal collapse of the United States in the near future. Dunst plays Leigh, a headstrong photojournalist who navigates scenes of surreal carnage and chaos.

    As her name suggests, her character was partly inspired by Lee Miller, the fearless model turned combat photographer who was famously photographed in Hitler's bathtub during an assignment in Munich in 1945. But Dunst also took inspiration from war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria by Assad's forces in 2012. What struck her most, Dunst said, “was that she didn’t look at me at all. Zero. She did her job because she had to, and that’s it.”

    The rigors of surviving a war zone are a far cry from Dunst's August film career, which in eight years has taken her from Best Kiss at the MTV Awards (for Spider-Man) to Best Actress at Cannes (for Melancholia). ). But as a former child actress who filmed her first breakfast cereal commercial at age three, she spent her first two decades navigating a very different, treacherous landscape.

    Her early start to an acting career came courtesy of her mother Ines, a former Lufthansa flight attendant whose unfulfilled showbiz ambitions were set back a generation when strangers kept telling her how extraordinarily cute her daughter was. Dunst's parents separated when she was ten years old, after which she moved with her mother and older brother from New Jersey to Los Angeles.

    Brad Pitt and Kirstin Dunst in Interview with the Vampire (1994). Photo: Alami

    During her Spider-Man days, Dunst sometimes regretted her mother's persistence. For now, though, she's just grateful that Inez cared about her daughter's safety as much as she cared about her success.

    “I was able to avoid this predatory side of the business only because wherever I went, my mother was literally always there.”

    When Dunst starred opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire at age 11, she was “treated like a princess. Yes, it was an almost entirely male company, but everyone was very gentle and kind, and nothing seemed strange. Brad was like a big brother to me.” (Despite an on-screen kiss that a teenage Dunst once called “gross.”)

    “And then Tom… well, one morning before Christmas I remember walking into my dressing room at Pinewood. and he placed there for me a beautiful tree covered with ornaments.”

    'I have never been happy to play “love”; – It's so boring: Kirsten Dunst Photo: Sam Taylor-Johnson/CPi

    Her brush with the dark side of the industry came a few years later, when she was 16 and found herself in a very awkward conversation while auditioning for an in-demand role. “A male director kept me alone in his office and asked me about a movie he wanted me to do, and then out of the blue he asked me this inappropriate question,” she recalls.

    She refuses to go into detail or name the culprit. “Honestly, I’m not even sure it’s still working,” she says. “It's not something I like to think about. But I will say that what he said has nothing to do with acting. It's not that what he said was just “a little crazy.” It was completely indecent. And I remember sitting there and knowing something was wrong, but I had no idea what to do.”

    After the audition, Dunst told her mother about what happened: “And that was the end of it. She removed me from the process and said that I would not make the film.”

    In subsequent years, an unwavering business stance became Dunst's primary tactic for preventing such unwanted advances. “I don't give off that vibe,” she once told Sofia Coppola when the director asked if one of her male co-stars had ever jumped on Dunst on set.

    Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006). Photo: Alamy

    In fact, it was meeting Coppola when she was a teenager, during the casting of 1999's The Virgin Suicides, that gave her one of her most loyal friends and staunchest allies in the business.

    “The way Sofia is” made me feel like I looked on camera gave me so much confidence as a teenager,” she recalls. “This is a strange age to be working in Hollywood, and I know how rare and valuable it is to find a mentor like this.” After this, the couple starred in two more films: “Marie Antoinette” and “The Seduced.”

    She also credits Coppola for giving her the confidence to turn down various industry people who tried to convince her to straighten her teeth in the following years, including the Spider-Man producer who physically took her to the dentist when she was 19 years old.

    That time she refused to get out of the car, her natural smile remained – and, of course, the film was only better for it. Dunst's Mary Jane Watson may have been the dream of countless millennial men, but the fact that she wasn't an impossible beauty gave the early Spider-Man films a very human sensibility and warmth.

    “Everyone, What I can say is that when I was 19, I didn't think in those terms at all,” Dunst says of the time.

    Dunst has been around long enough to have seen Hollywood shaped many times over. shift, but has anything changed significantly since Spider-Man?

    Kirstin Dunst and Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man (2002) Photo: Alamy

    “One important thing is to have a more open conversation about women's pay,” she says. “When I got cast in Spider-Man, I had just had a big hit with Bring It On – so, you know, I actually brought something to the table. But I didn't realize that, or even that the fact that I was being paid so much less than Tobey [Maguire, her co-star] might be unfair. So I didn't show up to set every day and felt bad about it. It was just something that no one even thought to question.”

    She also didn't bristle when the crew called her on set—affectionately, if humiliatingly—”girl” rather than by her real name. name.

    Her first inkling that something was wrong came during the film's promotional campaign. continuation. “They put up a poster and my face was the only one visible on it because Toby was in a suit. And I thought, “Wait a minute, I'm the selling point.”

    The subsequent first rush of fame was, she says, “unusual because I was still discovering who I was throughout paths.” There was a swirl of celebrity boyfriends, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Garrett Hedlund and Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell, as well as roles in huge romantic comedies such as Wimbledon and Elizabethtown.

    Indeed, it was her character in the latter that prompted critic Nathan Rabin to coin the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the quirky but beautiful young female love objects that began popping up everywhere in American rom-coms of the noughties.

    “But I never liked playing the lover,” she says. “I hate it. It's so boring. There were a lot of these movies being made at the time, and I did quite a few of them – and the unconventional versions like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were great. But the roles I wasn't happy with were , seemed far-fetched.”

    Ironically, it was while playing one half of a married couple that she met Plemons, who in 2015 was cast as her husband in the second season of the dark comic thriller Fargo. Peggy and Ed Bloomquist, two eccentric Minnesotans embroiled in a criminal turf war, had obvious chemistry, and Dunst describes their relationship as “a love that's primarily creative—that feeling of freedom when you're working together.” someone who is so immersed in the moment with you that it feels like you’re not acting at all.”

    They got together the following spring, but until recently had only acted together once again, as Jane Campion in The Power of the Dog, which resulted in him and her being nominated for an Oscar.


    But after one of the original Civil War cast had to turn down a small but crucial role – the psychopathic Loyalist soldier Lee and her colleagues met on the road – Dunst offered her other half as a possible replacement.

    Kirsten Dunst with husband Jesse Plemons at this year's Oscars Photo: Lexi Moreland

    “I mean, it was an irresistible deal,” she laughs. “No additional costs for hotels or transportation. Plus he's very good.” Didn't she find it strange and uncomfortable being tormented by her loved one on camera? “To be honest, I haven’t thought about it,” she shrugs. “Acting is acting. Not everything comes from within. He's one of the kindest people I know.”

    She's proud of the Civil War: “It's a warning, and I hope it gets people talking,” although she notes that this is the first time one of her personal favorites. was met with a mostly positive first wave of reviews. Coppola's The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette took time to become cult classics.

    But luckily, today's tastemakers are the kids who were once delighted by that upside-down kiss and pinned “Bring It On” posters to their bedroom walls.

    Does it bother? it is her? “Maybe that’s how it should be,” she laughs, drinking the last drop of tea. “But I like not having to tell myself, 'They'll like this later.'”

    Civil War is in theaters Friday, April 12.

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