Thursday, June 23, 2005

Elle November 03 - Kirsten Dunst

True to her anti-diva reputation, actress Kirsten Dunst charmed the assorted photographers and stylists at ELLE's November cover shoot by acting, shockingly enough, exactly like the 21-year-old she is: eating whatever she wanted (in this case, healthy helpings of chicken, quiche, and salad), rocking out to her favorite music (surfer boy Jack Johnson), and staying thisclose to her real-life leading man (swoon-worthy Jake Gyllenhaal, (who cheered her on from the sidelines). The Hamptons locale made the whole process feel like, well, a day at the beach, with Dunst looking equally radiant in the gym shorts and T-shirt she showed up in, as in the Chanel and Marc Jacobs dresses she modeled for the shoot. If this is the new face (and attitude) of stardom, we say: Bring it on.

Kirsten Dunst isn't a kid anymore. In fact, she's on her way to becoming one of the most fearsome talents of her time. Holly Millea finds Dunst wise beyond her years.

Kirsten Dunst isn't cultivating cool. You will not catch her chugging kabbalah water, or lugging a yoga mat, or rubbing shoulders with Donatella. She would laugh in the face of a raw-food diet: “I think vegetarians—for a lot of them—it's about a lack of commitment to life and relationships. I understand if you really don't want to hurt the animal or if it really grosses you out. But then there are some who just like the fact that they're controlling something in their life. And that's what they can control—what they're eating or not eating.”

No, Kirsten Dunst is inherently, organically, preternaturally cool. She's “None of my friends are actresses” cool. Catholic schoolgirl cool. She's “Joni Mitchell's Blue is my favorite album of all time” cool. Dating Jake Gyllenhaal cool. She's four films in the can this year and Cameron Crowe's next movie cool. Doubters of her coolness should read the truth-telling blog, which decrees: “All young performers who suck at acting must be immediately replaced by Kirsten Dunst.” How cool is that?

Answering the door to her London flat near Notting Hill, the actress is damp-haired and dewy, fresh from the shower, wearing hip-huggers, a white spaghetti-strap undershirt (not wearing a bra cool), and a dimpled smile. At 21 she is casually self-possessed, generating the warmth of someone who knows how to meet strangers and put them at ease. “She's totally lacking in self-consciousness,” says Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jake's older sister and Kirsten's costar in this December's Mona Lisa Smile. “A lot of people put that on, but she just takes each thing as it comes to her and is unconcerned with the effect that she's having.” Dunst is here shooting the romantic comedy Wimbledon, in which she plays a “badass” tennis diva opposite Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind). “I'm trying to make my character the female McEnroe,” she says. “I'm reading his book and taking tennis lessons two hours a day. I love it. It's so sexual, tennis. Everybody's, like, grunting and sweating.”

Dunst's voice echoes off the vaulted, molded ceilings as she talks and walks her way through a tour of her temporary digs. “I'm living here alone, except for the rats,” she says. “A huge one walked across the living room this morning. I thought it was a cat at first.” She does a little shiver dance. In the master bedroom, a television sits inside an empty fireplace, facing a white-sheeted bed the size of a tennis court. (“She had a fax from Jake on her nightstand,” says Molly, her best friend since sixth grade. “It's so sweet. He wrote, 'I love you, Kirsten. I miss you'…over and over and over.”) Pointing out the guest bathroom, Dunst cringes at the sight of a Gucci tissue-box holder. “Omigod, I have to get rid of that,” she says. “It's so Jennifer Lopez.” But later she admits, “Working on Mona Lisa Smile, we got hooked up with full-on JLO sweatsuits, and we all wore them. They're so ridiculous, they're awesome.”It was just before making the Julia Roberts vehicle, set in the '50s on an all-girls college campus, that Dunst was introduced to Jake Gyllenhaal, the quirky star of Donnie Darko, The Good Girl, and Moonlight Mile (and very nearly Spider-Man 2). “I met Jake through Maggie,” Dunst says. “She was like, 'Oh, you should get to know my brother.' And I was, like, 'Whatever.'”

“I was sworn off of boys,” explains Dunst, who has dated Ben Foster and her Spider-Man costar Tobey Maguire—a vegetarian. “I was just kind of bitter. I've not had the greatest…you have to go through the wringer before you find the one. I was a very insecure girl, I guess, and wanting, like, a parental figure. I had a very controlling relationship.”

Like so many other girls, Dunst fell for Jake in a movie theater. “I saw Lovely & Amazing, and I was like, Omigod, he is so hot! He's gorgeous!” Unlike so many other girls, Dunst knew how to reach him. Maggie laughs. “At a certain point she said, 'I have a crush on your brother.' I called Jake and two seconds later.…”

They've been together ever since—about one year. He's visiting (again) next week, but she misses him. “My life right now is working out and playing tennis. I go shopping, walk around Hyde Park, read at night,” she says, pouring a round of the French aperitif Lillet—“my new favorite drink”—at a table in her open-air kitchen. “It's so depressing when you're lonely and people recognize you. I'm by myself, and people come up to me and say, 'Omigod! You're Kirsten Dunst!' And they're so happy to see you. And the only contact you're having with people is when you sign an autograph.” She looks down, laughs a little. “Not that I don't want fans.”
It's just that Dunst had no idea what she was in for when, in 1994, she told the Los Angeles Times, “The prospect of becoming famous doesn't make me nervous—in fact, it will probably bother me if it doesn't happen because I've worked kind of hard. If it happens, I'll just wear dark sunglasses.” Dunst was promoting Interview With the Vampire. She was 12. Some 30 films later—including Little Women, The Virgin Suicides, Bring It On, crazy/beautiful, and the highest-grossing film of 2002, Spider-Man—sunglasses won't do the trick.

Bypassing the teen tortures of zits, braces, and awkwardness, Dunst didn't so much make the leap from child star to leading lady as place one surefooted performance in front of another. From the outside, it looked easy. From the inside, “not easy,” she says of acting once she'd gained a grown-up's self-awareness. “As a kid you're so open, and when somebody tells you to play with something, you just do it. But as an adult, you build up all these walls. You're not as vulnerable.” By 18, she could project old enough to play 27-year-old silent movie star Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst's mistress, in Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow. “I was thrown in with all these adults,” Dunst recalls. “I was hired because I could get distribution and the producers knew who I was. But I don't think Peter really saw my movies. He just thought I was some blond actress. Then by the end, he's asking my opinion for everything and showing complete respect, and 'Darling, honey…' and in love with what I'm doing.”

“Kirsten has a big-picture sense of film,” says her crazy/beautiful director, John Stockwell. “She would go through and cut a lot of her lines from a scene. Literally cut, cut, cut because she knew she could convey visually, emotionally, without having to say anything.” Like Agassi's backhand, the close-up is Dunst's winning shot. “She's like Jodie Foster in that way,” says Peyton Reed, who directed Dunst in Bring It On. “You see the wheels turning.”

Unlike vegetarians, Dunst cannot control what she's eating. “I eat like a pig,” she says, her head in the refrigerator. “I'm supposed to be getting a tennis body right now, lean muscle and everything.” Flexing her arm, she shows off the beginnings of what could maybe be a promising bicep. “I saw Charlie's Angels, and Cameron Diaz is perfectly ripped. Why can't they just superimpose her body onto me? I'm a mushier girl. I have hips, boobs.” Despite having had lunch, Dunst works her way through a bowl of roasted almonds, cottage cheese with blueberries, a bag of vegetable chips, and a pint of sorbet. “All she wants to do is eat!” says Mark Ruffalo, her costar in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which opens in March. “It cracks me up—she's like a strapping little waif.”

“I'm thin, but I'm not anorexic,” Dunst says. “I have to admit, I love the way some of these stick women look. Like Kate Moss, she's my favorite model. A lot of iconic beauties are sticks. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn—she'd just smoke. A lot of times when I'm watching her act, it's like she's on speed or something. 'Oh darling!' Like, so anxious.”

Dunst has more of an impressionistic beauty, with a broad face, cleft chin, high cheekbones, and large gray blue eyes set far apart—the right eye looking ever so slightly off, as if seeing beyond what's in front of her. She can portray high, low, and every class of character in between. This year alone she plays a frigid married college student in Mona Lisa Smile, the object of an arachnid's affection in Spider-Man 2, and a secretary in love with a much older man in Eternal Sunshine. She was set to star in M. Night Shyamalan's next thriller, The Woods, after Wimbledon, but instead she opted to take time off before starting Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown in January. “I've been working too much,” Dunst says simply. “I need a break.” Easier said than done for Dunst, who has been up and at it since starring in a Kix commercial at age three. Always working, she had so many homes away from home that when her parents divorced, “I was pretty okay with it,” says Dunst, who was 13 at the time. “I never was really sad. But then I see families that are together and see that it's nice to have a mother and father who have each other because I feel like maybe my mom needs me more because she doesn't have my dad. I feel like the husband sometimes.”

“It's an interesting position for her to be in, being the breadwinner all these years,” observes her childhood friend Molly.

“She's kind of been kept a little girl by the people who are working for her. And for Kirsten to be like, 'Look, I'm aware of myself now, and I'm able to make my career decisions—I don't want people making them anymore' has been the biggest struggle she's had in her life.”

Deciding to star in a Cameron Crowe project was a no-brainer. “He's one of the dream directors of all time,” as Dunst puts it. “She gets to play the queen of ache,” Crowe says, laughing, trying to describe Dunst's character without giving away the plot. “Nobody but a completely insightful person knows how to play that. Oh man, we did the auditions to music, and when she turns and faces the camera—her face is aching. She's wide open to all her deepest feelings.”

“One, two, three, four…” Dunst is in the back of a taxi, counting the blisters on her flip-flopped feet. “…five, six! Thanks a lot, Marc Jacobs!” He would be the luxe name on her list of favorite designers, which include A.P.C., Vanessa Bruno, Mayle, and Generra, who makes “the best soft shirts.” Strolling around the streets of London's Soho, Dunst turns a lot of shaved heads. Her head swivels too, at the parade of piercings, tattoos, and getups going by. “I wish I had a camera,” says Dunst—a paparazzi favorite—without irony.

When her key card fails to open the door at the exclusive Soho House club—“Closed on Sunday?”—she's just as happy to cap off the night at the less tony Coach and Horses pub, where, no, the bartender has never heard of Lillet. From the craggy looks of him, he hasn't heard of Kirsten Dunst either. She settles for a vodka with soda and, thinking it's funny when it arrives without any fizz, drinks it anyway. “Oh, he's so hip, it hurts,” Dunst says, directing your attention to the stuck-in-the-'80s character who just walked in, a cross between Rod Stewart and People magazine style guru Steven Cojocaru. “The blazer, the hair—he thinks he's in a rock band. Oh look, he's walking out.” Dunst smiles and gives a little wave goodbye. “He's too cool for us.”