Kirsten Dunst says she has her finger mostly on the pulse when it comes to watching television and movies, but admits that her taste isn’t what you’d expect. “I don’t tend to like whatever everyone else is watching,” the actress says. “I like things that are a little bit off the beaten path.”
In recent years, Dunst has similarly sought out roles that align with her more off-beat tastes. Most recently, her turn as Peggy Blumquist in Season Two of FX's Fargo earned her a Critics’ Choice Television Award, with similar nominations at the Globe Globes and the Emmys. Blumquist—a small-town hairdresser who’s equal parts sympathetic and psychotic—found Dunst at peak form, as she subtly played both ends of the spectrum to perfection.
Dunst’s current role as the lead on Showtime’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida feels like a natural progression from Peggy Blumquist. Dunst’s frenetic, lovable Krystal Stubbs is a waterpark employee earning minimum wage who is thrust into the shady multi-level marketing world as a means of raising her child as a single mom and widow.
On the show, Dunst not only fully inhibits the early ‘90s vibe of the show with her acid-wash outfits, but displays remarkable range as she creates a character viewers can sympathize with, but also someone who knows exactly what she wants (in this case: money to secure a future for herself and her daughter) and will go to any lengths to get it.
Krystal Stubbs is both a down-and-out single mother and also a determined capitalist willing to destroy lives to get what she wants. Dunst manages to make it all deeply believable. When she read the dark, wacky first script of the show several years ago, she was blown away. “It was such a weird world,” Dunst says. “I knew about Ponzi schemes but I didn’t know much. It was just funny enough, real enough, and dark enough—basically all the things I like when I watch television.”
On Becoming a God in Central Florida wrapped up its 10-episode first season this weekend, and has already been renewed for a second season. GQ caught up with Dunst to chat about how she helped shape the Krystal Stubbs character, the three-year process of getting the show onto television, and more.
GQ: Reportedly, as part of your research for Krystal, you watched a lot of Honey Boo Boo videos.
Kirsten Dunst: Just a little bit, for fun. [Laughs.] Krystal is just so out there. She doesn’t really care what she says, so I wanted to study that kind of not caring.
The show spends a lot of time with FAM, a fictional multi-level marketing company, but it seems based on a lot of actual real life companies who try to market the same kind of “American Dream” to their recruits. How did you dive into that world while you were researching?.
I watched Betting on Zero, the documentary about Herbalife, and the Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru doc. Basically anything in that realm, things that preyed on people in financially or emotionally difficult positions. These kind of multi-level marketing schemes prey on people that can’t afford to give the money that they’re giving and it’s destroyed families. That’s the whole heart and soul of our show.
You’re also an executive producer on the show. Did that make it easier for you to shape the character the way you wanted?
Part of me being an executive producer was to have more creative control, to really have my own stamp on the people we chose as part of the supporting cast and the supporting cast behind the camera. A lot of those people are my friends, too. It was basically being able to choose the best people, but also people that we liked.
Because the show is set in the early ‘90s, the outfits are very much of that era. Krystal has such standout ensembles, like her signature printed jacket-skirt combo, the adult braces, her rhinestone-studded sunglasses and denim shorts, just to name a few. How fun was it to shape the character through what she wore?
Stacy Battat (ed. note: the show’s costume designer) really stayed away from anything that’s hip, because it’s trendy to dress like the ‘90s now. The character never wears scrunchies, [for instance]. We made sure we didn’t choose anything that’s cool. We wanted to make sure Krystal had her own sense of style. She definitely has a fun style on the show. My favorite was probably her all-denim look, this acid-wash jacket with puffy pants. It was pretty great.
In the first episode, Krystal loses her husband and finds out that there’s no money left for herself and her daughter because he’s spent so much buying FAM product. Then she decides to dive into this world and figure out a way to get money for herself. How do you view her as a protagonist?
She’s a survivalist. She can’t sit around the house and cry or mope or feel all the feelings. She doesn’t have the luxury to process things. She has to survive and that means making money. I see her as a kind of anti-hero. She’ll do anything at any cost. She’s an anti-hero in the sense that you forgive her for what she does because she has to take care of her daughter. I do think she’s a sympathetic character. She has a conscience but I also think she sees the bigger picture.
So many of the characters on the show are swept up in their belief that FAM is this gateway to some “American Dream,” and financial success, which we continue to find out is not true. But the closer Krystal gets to infiltrating this world, she seems to still be above all of it, with a very clear idea of what she wants.
I think she sees it as: I’m going to use FAM for as long as I have to. Obviously, the more power she gets, the harder it is to leave. I do think what’s going to end up happening throughout the next couple of seasons is she’s going to become exactly what she hates. That’s my guess.
I hate that that’s probably where it’s going.
I’m sorry. [Laughs.] It’s all she’s got!
The relationship between Krystal and Cody (Théodore Pellerin) is such a central part of the first season. Cody is a firm believer in everything FAM is selling. His whole life revolves around it. Meanwhile, Krystal looks at FAM very skeptically. And they become this unexpected duo. I loved the energy between them, this strange chemistry they share. What was it like working with Théodore?
I’m so impressed by the way he works. It feels very similar to what I do. It’s always been very free and natural working with him. For him to be my everyday guy was the best. We had so much fun together. He’s so easy to work with. Also English is his second language! He’s from Montreal and speaks French so he was basically learning English as he was playing this role which was kind of amazing.
Without spoiling all the details of the season finale, Krystal gets what she wants, in a way. Now what?
Well, I’m betting someone is going to come into Krystal’s life and disrupt everything because we can’t just have her making money. We’ll see. I don’t really know because the guys haven’t come to me with their whole plan for Season Two. I do know one idea they have but I wouldn’t want to give anything away.
People might not know that it’s been a long process to get this show on the air. It was first developed at AMC, then YouTube, and finally Showtime. And in the process you gave birth to your first child in 2018. What has the last few years been like just getting this show made?
It was definitely disheartening for sure, and frustrating, and sometimes just sad. It’s hard to get anything made in this industry. And then I got pregnant and I didn’t know if I wanted to do this. Doing a television show is so much harder than doing a film. It’s longer hours and you’re constantly preparing for the next episode. It just doesn’t let up. But I really wanted the role and I stuck with it. It’s honestly kind of a miracle we ended up on Showtime. It couldn’t have worked out better.
And now Season One is done, the show has been renewed, and it’s gotten a lot of positive feedback. How does it feel on the other end of things?
Listen, I barely leave my house because I have a little kid, so all I know is my friends and family like the show. I don’t know if they would tell me if they didn’t anyways. They would just say, “It’s good!” But everyone seems to like it, and I’m really proud to make something that people want to watch. They like Krystal and they want another season of it. I usually don’t tend to like whatever everyone else is watching. I like things that are a little bit off the beaten path—one of my favorite shows is Baskets. So I’m happy people are enjoying it. That’s all I can really hope for.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Originally Appeared on GQ