Kirsten Dunst: 'Working in my early 20s, I could feel what it was like to be insecure and powerless'

In an exclusive interview, Kirsten Dunst discusses her new film The Power of the Dog, 'creating her own monsters' to make her character feel powerless, and whether Western is a dated genre that should be done away with.

Devansh Sharma December 02, 2021 15:39:14 IST
Kirsten Dunst: 'Working in my early 20s, I could feel what it was like to be insecure and powerless'

As soon as I enter my Zoom interview, there I see Kirsten Dunst stretching and yawning. I echo the sentiment, glancing at the time on my phone. It's 6 am in India.

But as I ask my first question, Dunst slips into a different mode, just like she does in her new film The Power of the Dogdirected by Jane Campion and co-starring Benedict Cumberbatch. But she never shuns that layer of vulnerability that lends her an earnest appeal, both on-screen and off it. Edited excerpts from the exclusive interaction below:

You have worked with some fine women filmmakers like Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, The Beguiled), and now Jane Campion. How do you think she has maintained a female gaze over The Power of the Dog despite it being a Western, conventionally a male-dominated genre?

This movie is a Jane Campion film, there's no mistaking that. This is very much her vision of that Thomas Savage novel. I feel she's a masterful filmmaker. The main thing both Sofia and Jane have is their own sense of poetry, about what they want to see on screen and what they want to express through their work. That's what makes them interesting and unique.

Kirsten Dunst Working in my early 20s I could feel what it was like to be insecure and powerless

Your character Rose shares an eerie tension with that of Benedict Cumberbatch. How did you establish that despite having very little screen time with each other? Besides the haunting whistling sound he makes all the time...

Yeah, someone whistling would be the last thing that scares me (laughs). I had to create my own psychological monsters of what can break someone down. I tapped into my experience of how I can best make that feeling happen for Rose, and the audience, So for me, that was just about finding those places in my life or picking those pieces of music. Sometimes, I do some dreamwork to get in touch with my unconscious mind.

So it's like making soup that has a lot of ingredients to work with, and I didn't have just one thing to rely on.

Kirsten Dunst Working in my early 20s I could feel what it was like to be insecure and powerless

You reunite with your real-life partner Jesse Plemons after Fargo for this film. When you know your co-star inside out, then how do you translate the anonymity that comes with a new romantic relationship?

Ya, our familiarity was the biggest thing working against each other. I remember one time I grabbed Jesse's arm, and Jane said, "I think that was too familiar." And I said, "You're right." Our physicality together was so familiar that we had to create that space for Rose and George, that old-fashioned courtship where you get married very quickly. They barely know each other but I think there's a loneliness they recognise in each other that binds them pretty quickly.

The recent debate sparked after the tragedy on the sets of Rust has raised the question of whether we even need the dated, violent genre of a Western anymore. While it is a time capsule and a crucial aspect of Hollywood's history, what do you personally feel about the relevance of the genre now?

Anyone can make, and should make, the movies they want to make. I think if you start putting limitations on things, that doesn't make sense to me either. This is a Western where no one even shoots a gun, but it's still a Western. I think what you're talking about is an old-timey kind of way to do things. Those are definitely passe but if Jane Campion wants to make a Western, it won't be like that. I wouldn't go all, "No more Westerns." There's a story to be told in every genre.

Kirsten Dunst Working in my early 20s I could feel what it was like to be insecure and powerless

Finally, did going through this character arc take you back to your own struggle with mental health?

Working in my early 20s, I could feel how it was to be powerless. Other people were in control. I just set up my own scenarios of things that made me feel insecure and less than others. I used to amplify things in my mind. By the time I'm done with a character, I do think it should work as therapy. Something cathartic should come out of it. It feels nice to do some therapy between you and your role, and connect the two.

The Power of the Dog is streaming on Netflix. 

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