Actor Kirsten Dunst teams up with fashion darlings Kate and Laura Mulleavy for a shocking film debut
People always warn not to work with friends—don’t mix business and pleasure. But Woodshock stands in direct opposition to that idea. In fact, it’s only because of the deep-rooted friendship between actor Kirsten Dunst and Rodarte’s sibling designers, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, who wrote and directed the film, that this intimate project ever came to fruition. (The initial conversation started over seven years ago.) It wasn’t until Dunst found a window between the second season of the FX TV series Fargo (she has since become engaged to one of the show’s co-stars, Jesse Plemons) and Sofia Coppola’s drama The Beguiled, that the timing was finally right for their small crew to decamp to the woods of Humboldt County, about 270 miles north of San Francisco, for an intensive five weeks of filming.
At the center of the narrative is Theresa, portrayed by Dunst, who, as she grieves the loss of her mother, descends ever deeper into a psychedelic world of drugs, violence and paranoia. A hauntingly beautiful portrayal of the California landscape is at once the backdrop and a character in and of itself.
While the experience offered many firsts for the Mulleavy sisters, it was also a significant first for Dunst: her first executive producer credit on a feature—something that she hopes to do more. And, maybe in the not-too-distant future, she may take on another collaboration with her besties.
Dunst popped into the Mulleavys’ Downtown L.A. studio to try on dresses for the Woodshock premiere when we caught up with the trio:
Kirsten, what were your first impressions when you read the script?
Kirsten Dunst: Well, this started a long time ago, back in 2010. Laura, Kate and I were in Italy (they were doing a show at Pitti Uomo). We were up one night and they were like, “We’ve been writing.” It was actually a short period film at the time, and we read it knowing that we wanted to make something together. It was something we talked about for years before we actually made it.
Can you paint a background for this story?
Kate Mulleavy: Laura and I grew up in Santa Cruz playing in the redwood forests. When we wrote this, we knew the trees would be a character in this film and that we had to film it in California. Humboldt County is where our parents fell in love; I felt destined to film there.
Laura Mulleavy: I think we wanted to tell a story that could bring out the emotion we feel when we stand among the redwoods—something that is so much older and wiser…you feel incredibly small. And the connection that Kate and I have to our natural surroundings. Kirsten was the only actress in the world that could play Theresa. Theresa is Kirsten and Kirsten is Theresa, you cannot separate the two from each other.
Theresa is a complex woman tortured by her past. How did you prepare for this role?
KD: I had just finished Fargo when I read the final draft of the script. I knew it was going to be an emotional journey, so I went into my own way of working with the lady that I collaborate with. I hate to call her [an acting coach] because she’s so much more than that. It’s not like we run scenes or lines; it’s more about trying to understand the unconscious mind and using dreams, books, discussions and songs to make this character as rich as possible. It’s a little like creative therapy.
What was it like working with such close friends?
LM: Kate, Kirsten and I know each other so well and respect each other so much as artists. We all formed such a singular voice in speaking with each other about who this person was, what this world was—all of that is in our heads and we really didn’t need to talk about it too much, just the way Kate and I have a nonverbal communication about what we love, why we love it and how it makes us feel. Kirsten kind of mixed right into that and suddenly there was a stream of communication that way.
Kirsten, obviously you’ve worked with a lot of experienced directors. What was it like working with Kate and Laura on their first feature?
KD: Well, I’ve known their work for so long as fashion designers, and every runway show feels like its own film. So, for me, they were making films already, and when it came to this film, we had prepared it together very intimately before we went out to shoot it. Once we were there, we were so emotionally in tune with each other. I was just impressed about how it felt like second nature to the both of them and I didn’t feel like I was working with some inexperienced director. I think that most directors’ first films are their best work.
Where did the film’s name come from?
KD: It’s kind of a colloquial term for someone getting lost in the woods. For us, it was a metaphor of Theresa getting lost deeper and deeper into her own mind.
Going deeper and deeper into the woods must have been physically challenging as well…
LM: We shot the period of levitation in the middle of the woods. We would lift and drop Kirsten from these different angles. I remember the bruises that she had just from that process. We had to cover them or think of if they were useful in this part of the film or not. Kirsten actually had to make a trip to the hospital at one point. It’s pretty surreal thinking about it now.
I hope you aren’t afraid of heights!
KD: Because of Spider-Man, I had to be hoisted up in all these different kinds of contraptions, so I was used to heights—that did help because I’ve done it before. But it was exhausting and cold.
What happened during your downtime?
KM: We really couldn’t get enough of each other. Break time was like, “Let’s go hang out.” We ate our meals together. We would be stressed out, but we would be stressed out together. We always had fun. We rented a house in Eureka, and Kirsten came over all the time.
The film isn’t necessarily about fashion, but there do seem to be a few special pieces. What was your approach to wardrobe?
KM: We had specific looks in mind beforehand. We wanted her to feel timeless, like she wasn’t from a specific era. We wanted it to be more dreamlike for the viewer. We worked with Christie Wittenborn and created seven versions of a slip dress: watery, aged, white, in the woods, levitation, running and clean. There were also three versions of a black dress. The intention behind that was to have a sudden psychological difference between each.
Kirsten, what did you think when you saw the final cut?
KD: I’m not going to lie. The first time I saw it the girls were on either side of me, so there was a lot of hand squeezing, and it hurt. There was a lot of laughing. It was like watching a documentary. I was so proud of them, but at the same time it was hard for me to enjoy it as an audience member because [I was] too involved.
What’s on the horizon? More films?
KD: We’re making another movie together, for sure.
LM: Of course! It’s already being talked about now. It’s an addictive process, and now you feel this internal need to tell another narrative. And, we’re also excited to be designing Kirsten’s wedding dress…
Photography by KURT ISWARIENKO.
Styling by ALISON EDMOND.
Written by KELSEY McKINNON.