Kirsten Dunst’s receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 29 should have been cause for only celebration. It was a big moment for the actress, albeit one long overdue—she’s been delivering consistently masterful performances across teen romps (Bring It On), period pieces (Marie Antoinette), cult classics (Drop Dead Gorgeous), and underrated gems (Melancholia) for the past 25 years. Dunst recently revealed that she’s often felt overlooked by her industry (“Maybe they just think I’m the girl from Bring It On. . . . Maybe I don’t play the game enough”), and the actor was visibly moved as her friends, family, and collaborators sang her praises. All of which made it especially frustrating when Reuters sent out a since-deleted tweet saying that Dunst is “best known for her role as Spiderman’s girlfriend.”
In a delightful twist, the sexist tweet only fanned the flames of Dunst’s recent resurgence as a pop-cultural icon. Of course, she never really went away: Audiences have flocked to see her onscreen ever since she earned a Golden Globe nomination at age 12 for her star-making turn in Interview With a Vampire. Nevertheless, the tweet sent her loyal fan base on a social media lovefest, highlighting just how impactful Dunst’s films, characters, and general presence have been. As one Twitter user put it when Reuters’s tweet inspired a new meme highlighting the versatility of female performers: “Kirsten Dunst could do Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t do Bring It On.”
The latest proof of her chameleon-like talent: Dunst is currently starring in Showtime’s kooky new dark comedy On Becoming a God in Central Florida, for which she is also an executive producer. Rocking adult braces and a denim-heavy wardrobe befitting of its 1992 setting, Dunst plays Krystal Stubbs, a water park employee who schemes her way up the ranks of the cultish pyramid scheme that ruined her life. Dunst is predictably dazzling in the series, her first project in two years since giving birth to her son with actor husband Jesse Plemons. Flipping from hilarious to devastating (often in the same scene), it’s a performance so lived-in that it would be borderline criminal for Emmy voters not to take notice come awards season. Vogue caught up with Dunst to chat about the road to On Becoming a God, how her approach to acting has changed since motherhood, and the scrapped fantasy series she and Sofia Coppola are dying to make.
I really adored On Becoming a God. What’s your origin story with it?
I FaceTimed with [the show’s original director] Yorgos Lanthimos because he was originally attached to direct and the material was so eccentric. I knew nothing of the world of Ponzi schemes and thought, Finally, an interesting female role, since a lot of roles are written with the male gaze. I read something recently everyone was praising—“It’s such a great script! It’s this! It’s that!”—and I was like, Am I not reading the same thing as everybody else? This part sucks! [The female character] basically functioned to let the male character deal with whatever he’s dealing with, and I hate those roles. Krystal was very much her own beast of a character.
When you’re choosing roles, are you drawn to literal aspects of a character or is it more intuitive?
I think it’s intuitive, and it comes down to your taste and your barometer of the stories you want to tell. Growing up in this industry, I had to learn about cinema and discover my own voice, and I think that’s the only way you have longevity in your career. There’s a sense of freedom post having a kid, too. I don’t know if other actresses have said this to you, but for me something inside just freed up, and you don’t care. I’ll do anything or go anywhere.
You were attached to the show from its beginning at AMC before it moved to YouTube Premium and eventually ended up at Showtime. Is that process common?
I’ve shopped a show around before. Me and Sofia [Coppola] wanted to do a show in the vein of Faerie Tale Theatre. Remember that Shelley Duvall show from the ’80s?
Oh, my God, yes.
That was my idea, but no one wanted it! It was too expensive. We were like, “We have the best directors wanting to do their takes on fairy tales and have fun people be in them!” Because that’s what it was in the day. They had Mick Jagger and Robin Williams! Francis Ford Coppola directed one. Everyone was directing them, and Shelley Duvall would come out saying, “For tonight’s episode . . . ” I really wanted to do that.
On Becoming a God’s tone is so offbeat. How do you calibrate a performance of a character like Krystal? I heard that you watched Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Toddlers & Tiaras for inspiration.
I watched a little bit to get that freedom of not having poise and being out there a little bit more. I always work with someone—an acting lady. I hate to call her a coach, because she’s so much more than that. We built such a strong foundation for the comedy and the absurdity. Krystal is doing anything to survive and make money for her daughter and save her house. She’s getting hit over the head over and over again, so I think watching her struggle with such ferocity is fun to watch because she doesn’t take anything lying down. She won that pageant for a reason!
Speaking of pageants, the scene in the second episode where Krystal re-creates the puppet dance from her glory days is so spectacular. Was that an homage to Drop Dead Gorgeous?
It’s funny because at first it was a sexy snake dance, but I’m terrified of snakes, so that was never gonna happen. The director was like, “Well, this is gonna look like crap if we have a fake snake and a body double.” Our choreographer sent me a link from YouTube of this man on the street dancing with puppets as an idea for the pageant routine. That came out of me not wanting to do the snake dance, but it’s so much better. I honestly didn’t think about Drop Dead Gorgeous, even though I love that whole beauty-contestant world.
Your ’90s wardrobe on the show is perfect, from the neon eye shadow to the chunky sneakers. How do you consider clothes and presentation when you’re shaping a character?
Stacey Battat did the costumes for The Beguiled and works with Sofia a lot, which is why I asked her to do the show. We wanted to make it authentic and stay away from anything cool because the ’90s are so popular now. I don’t even wear a scrunchie on the show because scrunchies are cool again. Also, Krystal doesn’t have much money and just had a baby, so we wanted to make sure she recycled some outfits. My favorite is this acid-wash denim shirt, denim skirt, and matching denim jacket outfit. I definitely watch shows where I felt the clothes were a distraction, like Halloween costumes. I really wanted to stay away from anything like that. I don’t know how many episodes you’ve watched . . .
All of them!
You watched all of them? I haven’t even watched all 10! There’s times I get sick of watching myself, where I’m like, I can’t do this anymore. But maybe when it comes out.
You’ve covered so much territory across your career, but I’m curious if there’s a genre you haven’t tackled yet that you’re dying to?
I guess I haven’t really done horror. But I don’t really wanna run around screaming either, you know? I feel like I’ve done a lot. Can you think of anything?
I’ve read that you enjoy singing, so I would really love to see you in a musical.
[Gasps] Are you kidding me? I honestly fought so hard for this one role—some other actress got it. But I wanted it so badly. It was a musical. You’re so right. I love musicals, so I would do that in a heartbeat.
As someone who basically grew up onscreen, what are your thoughts on the state of the film industry? Indie films are in such a weird place, and it begs the question if some beloved films would get made in 2019.
I think the movie star as an idea is kind of dead, in a way. I feel like I got to be a part of that in the ’90s. It felt like, Movies are important!—and now it feels like everything doesn’t matter. I remember, when I was younger, getting offers to do ads, and it was so cheesy. I was like, I can’t; I need to be taken seriously as an actress. It was really frowned upon to be an artist and do an ad. But now anyone can sell anything and no one cares. I can do 10 Amazon commercials and no one will be like, “Why is Kirsten doing that?” They’d say, “She wanted to make some money.” It’s a totally different time for film. It’s just remakes and action movies and kid movies.
It’s funny you say that because there was a viral tweet recently that said: “I love how the entire film industry is based on Kirsten Dunst remakes. Little Women, Spiderman, Jumanji . . . she runs this town.”
That’s hilarious. What can I say? I guess I had some good taste back in the day. I don’t know—I guess everything deserves a fresh take. But I’m proud of the ones I did.
So many of your films have developed these enormous cult followings years after they come out. It’s interesting how Marie Antoinette especially has been re-embraced as a sort of millennial masterpiece.
It’s crazy to me. I remember when Marie Antoinette came out; it was not well received. That hurts as a young 20-year-old when you’re the lead of something. It can’t not. I guess I’m proud of the fact that Sofia and I made something that was ahead of its time. I think the good things live on, and I’m proud that I’m a part of some of those films. When I was younger and I’d go to DVD stores and look at the Criterion Collection, I wanted to be a part of movies like that. I want to look back when I’m old and say I’m proud of the movies and television that I was a part of. For me, it’s trying to pick and choose wisely so I can keep doing this until I’m an old fart.
Originally Appeared on Vogue