Kirsten Dunst, who has been in the Hollywood spotlight for decades, seems to have found her comfort zone. The anti-diva opens up about her newfound TV stardom, the art of relaxation and living the California dream.
Though she has lived, off and on, in New York City, and was born at the Jersey Shore—Point Pleasant, if you want to put a fine point on it—Kirsten Dunst is now, through and through, a California girl.
Not one that stepped out of a Beach Boys classic or a Katy Perry single, but one that, today, is lounging in her sunny backyard at home in Toluca Lake, wearing a Rodarte sweatshirt (the same one she wore, she admits, on a trip to Disney-land the day before with her best friend and her daughter, Dunst’s 18-month-old goddaughter), Rodarte sweatpants and Ugg slippers.
These days, says Dunst, 33, with a laugh, “I like the lounging life.” And her good friends, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, “give me so many cozy clothes.”
That’s not to say that the actress, who got her start in the movie business as a 7-year-old, is taking things easy and resting on her laurels.
A much-acclaimed run on the second season of FX’s television series Fargo earned her a Golden Globe nomination and will, no doubt, lead to Emmy recognition this summer. This month, she appears opposite Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton in Midnight Special, a new thriller from Warner Bros. with sci-fi overtones. She is in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a screenplay she co-wrote and hopes to direct, perhaps even this year. She’s also looking forward to acting in a new Sofia Coppola movie, their first collaboration since Marie Antoinette a decade ago and The Virgin Suicides before that.
And she will likely head to some of fall’s major film festivals with the eagerly awaited and shrouded-in-secrecy Woodshock, the Mulleavys’ feature debut, which Dunst was an executive producer on. (A notice in Backstage magazine described the film thusly: “A woman falls deeper into paranoia after taking a deadly drug.”)
She has worked with the notoriously challenging Lars von Trier (Melancholia) and in the physically demanding Marvel Universe (as Mary Jane opposite Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man in three separate tentpoles), but making Woodshock was her most grueling project to date. That’s partly because she appears in every scene in the movie, but also because, in her words, “I was making it with people I love and respect and they love and respect me. So it made me work even harder. Afterwards, I was a shell of a person. I was a zombie. It was emotional and exhausting.”
On weekends during filming in Northern California, Dunst and the Mulleavy sisters would hole up and watch sitcoms on the Disney Channel. “We watched the one with Zendaya and maybe there was a talking dog one,” Dunst reveals, with a giggle. “We’d just zone out.”
In comparison, making Midnight Special was a walk in the park. Dunst had been a fan of director Jeff Nichols’ previous work, including Mud and Take Shelter. She read the script and talked to him about it at a dinner at which they both found themselves. Then Nichols asked Dunst to audition for the one female role: a mother who joins her husband and their son, who has special, inexplicable powers, on the run.
“I hate auditioning,” says Dunst. “At a certain point, I was like, really?”
But Nichols was impressed that she agreed to come in and read for him. “She said, ‘Let me show you,’” he recalls. “Her reading convinced me. Watching it, I felt like she transformed into this meek, yet resilient woman. She was able to carry the weight of this woman’s life on her face and shoulders.”
After making Midnight Special in early 2014, Dunst didn’t act in front of the camera for almost an entire year; then Fargo came along.
“Honestly, there was nothing that I wanted to do. There were no roles. There was nothing good enough,” she insists. Instead she spent the time writing the aforementioned screenplay. “I feel like I wait a lot,” she adds.
But waiting paid off as Fargo is perhaps her meatiest project to date. On the series, she plays Peggy Blumquist, a bumbling beautician—the wife of a butcher’s assistant—who thinks she deserves far more out of life than what she’s been given, and gets into hot water after a hit-and-run accident. “I was hesitant at first to do TV, but now I wish I could play that role for a long time,” Dunst says of Peggy.
Following a string of indie films (including On the Road, The Two Faces of January, Upside Down and Bachelorette) that barely made an impression on mainstream audiences or the box office, “it was nice to do something that people actually saw, and not another indie that just goes to VOD,” Dunst says. “Especially because you do those movies for no money, so it really feels like, what’s the point?”
Her most acclaimed recent role was in 2011’s Melancholia, which got raves from critics and colleagues alike. “People were nice about it and it’s a movie that will be important years from now because Lars is such an auteur, but who saw that?” Dunst asks. “Our community. A community of artists.” People are like, ‘What have you been doing these last few years?’ and I say, ‘I’ve been working. Sorry I haven’t been in a super-hero movie.’”
Though Dunst’s mom is often the recipient of praise about her daughter, especially from the sales folk at their local Bloomingdale’s, Dunst doesn’t actually hear much firsthand. “I’m a homebody and I only go to the same two places,” she says.
One of those places is the local tennis court, where she’s been taking lessons, her first since making 2004’s Wimbledon opposite Paul Bettany. “Before, I was good enough to do a few shots in a movie,” she says. “Now, I’m learning to play with other people.”
Another is to her best friend’s house, to spend time with her goddaughter. “I love her so much. She’s so precious. You get to experience life through their eyes. All of the little things,” Dunst says.
As for having kids of her own with her boyfriend, actor Garrett Hedlund, “I can wait a little time. It’s a lot of work.” But she definitely wants them. “Who else is going to take care of you when you’re an old fart?” she asks rhetorically.
Until then, she’s very happy in her suburban Toluca Lake life, sweatpants included. Her mother lives 12 houses away; she can get to another friend in six minutes. She loves ordering from Postmates, even from the nearby Taco Bell, and to hole up watching The Bachelor.
“You can run in my neighborhood. You can have an animal that won’t be eaten by coyotes, and my boyfriend loves animals. It makes the house cozy,” says Dunst, who with Hedlund adopted a cat named Tito—or rather Tito adopted them in 2014 by continually showing up in their backyard.
“I think to myself, One day, when I’m old, I’m going to live with my girlfriends. We’ll have a wacky house with lots of animals—bunnies, kitties, I don’t know. Maybe in L.A., or I like Montecito,” Dunst says, projecting into the future. “I just want to be in good weather when I’m old—near people I love and can have fun with.”
Photography by ALEXEI HAY.
Written by MARSHALL HEYMAN.
Styling by DEBORAH AFSHANI.