Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Kirsten Dunst - W Sept 05

Whatever strange twist of cinematic fate brought Kirsten Dunst to Versailles not once but twice during the past year, it certainly did the girl some good. As she strolls into the Café de Flore in Paris, her hair pulled back into a messy blond knot, flashing her signature sharp-toothed grin, she attracts admiring looks from tourists and snooty regulars alike. Dunst spent the summer of 2004 in Versailles—Kentucky, that is, home of Woodford Reserve Bourbon—playing the role of a plucky flight attendant in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. Then, all spring long, she minced her way through the glittering halls of the real Versailles—home of the 18th-century French monarchy—as the lead in Sofia Coppola's upcoming Marie Antoinette biopic.

Today, lingering in the aura of her last scene as queen, the big let-them-eat-cake moment filmed only days ago, she breezes in from Chanel's rue Cambon headquarters carrying Karl Lagerfeld's sketch of the black lace gown she wore to the Oscars. It's a far cry from her look of the moment—a geometric-pattern coat, checked shirt, rolled shorts, simple sandals—which trumpets eccentric West Coast cool, not Franco-chic. After three months here, Dunst, the consummate California girl, still says "Saint Ger-MAIN" the American way, but she orders her citron pressé like a regular, and she excitedly announces that Paris has become her new favorite city. "I'm totally being decadent and enjoying everything," she sighs, settling into a banquette, "wandering the streets and eating lots of macaroons at Ladurée."

She'll head back to Los Angeles tomorrow, but right now she's bent on prolonging her Paris moment. Living in a Left Bank apartment, Dunst has packed her weekends with good-girl thrills: checking out cute boys, hanging out at the café La Palette and chalking up a string of late nights at the city's trendiest club, Le Baron. Her luggage, like that of your average wide-eyed tourist, is bulging with modest souvenirs, including a couple of ashtrays from the Ritz's Hemingway bar. But she's also hauling home plenty of expensive new clothes. "I love fashion," she says, brightly ticking off her favorite addresses: Lanvin, Isabel Marant, A.P.C. and Free P Star, the vintage boutique she ransacked weekly. "I love buying clothes. It changes your whole mood."

Dunst is full of such chirpy pronouncements, and she's so bubbly that it's hard to imagine her in need of a boost. The easygoing allure that made her the perfect choice to play Spider-Man's über girl next door, Mary Jane Watson, has been working in her favor since she began acting and modeling at age three. As an angelic little girl with a ferocious bite, she first hit it big at 11 in Interview With the Vampire, and today, at 23, she's made more than 30 films and is a favorite of the industry's top directors, from Crowe and Coppola to Michel Gondry.

"Kirsten has always been extremely smart about mixing big studio movies with independent films," says Peyton Reed, who directed her in Bring It On, the arch cheerleading comedy that used Dunst's real-life pom-pom experience to great advantage.

In films both large and small, however, Dunst has exuded an irresistible innocence, sometimes self-aware and sometimes utterly giddy. In 1999's Dick, Dunst was at her bubbleheaded blondest, playing a ditzy teen with a thing for Richard Nixon. In Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she seemed somehow chaste even while stoned, in her underwear, bouncing wildly on a bed.

Gondry explains that offscreen as well as in films, there's something unexpectedly captivating about Dunst's pure, unfussy ease. "There is no tension with Kirsten," he says. "Most actors like to eat lunch in their trailers so they can concentrate on the next scene. Kirsten ate lunch every day with the crew. She doesn't come up to you after each take full of anguish about her performance.

"When I first met her," he adds, "I didn't know how much I'd like her. I didn't find her so attractive. But her beauty grows slowly on you, and you get hooked."A rock-solid optimism defines Dunst's role in this fall's Elizabethtown, a romantic comedy costarring a brooding Orlando Bloom, who first meets Dunst on a flight home to Kentucky. Bloom describes the movie as a "happy-sad comedy-drama" and explains that Dunst basically provides the happy comedy and he the sad drama. "Kirsten is a really positive person," Bloom says. "In the film she brings my character back to life. She's perfectly cast because she is that light."

Dunst says the role of Claire was one of the best female parts she'd read in ages. "She is honest and up-front to a fault," the actress says. "She doesn't have a lot of fear. She's dorky and doesn't care, and in that way she's cool." But capturing that unselfconsciousness required a great deal of conscious effort, as Dunst discovered when Crowe demanded multiple takes of even the simplest scenes. "Cameron pushed me more than any director I've worked with," Dunst says. "He has such a specific vision of the way he sees things, and, you know, you're not always going to nail it for him right away."

Crowe, who auditioned Dunst for the role of Penny Lane in Almost Famous—she lost out to Kate Hudson—explains that with Elizabethtown he was bent on taking Dunst "to a place where I could surprise her. Instead of just using the first take, her performances benefited from a few more laps around the field." Although he describes Claire as a "warrior for positivity," Crowe says there's a lot more to her—and to Dunst—than that. "Her character is actually a sad person hiding behind a front," he says. "Kirsten has a sadness in her, and that's what's interesting about her—when the clouds part and the sun shines through. That's the mystery of Kirsten and what makes you want to keep the camera fixed on her face."

While for some, Dunst's bright side can be almost blinding, it was Coppola who first recognized something a little darker and more complicated just below the surface, casting her at age 16 as The Virgin Suicides' melancholy sexpot, Lux. "It was the first time that anybody had looked at me and seen me as something besides this cute little girl," Dunst remembers. "She saw me as somebody who was complex and sexy and beautiful and was on the verge of becoming a woman. All these things that nobody wanted me to show, Sofia wanted me to show, which was who I really was anyway."

Marie-Antoinette, Dunst's second venture with Coppola, provided the actress with a whole new set of challenges. The two-hour hair and makeup regimen and the 18th-century couture costume fittings were exhausting in themselves. And the movie demanded that Dunst's Marie Antoinette evolve from a frightened teenager to a decadent thirtysomething. Meanwhile, from the moment Coppola and her crew arrived in town to infiltrate the local landmarks, the Parisians scrutinized them with a mixture of indulgent curiosity and suspicious Gallic froideur. Socialites vied for cameo roles. The paparazzi trained their telephoto lenses on the action. And the French fashion crowd buzzed with set gossip, including rumors that the rock band Phoenix played onscreen and that courtiers wore pink wigs. How could a film that stars Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI be remotely true to its era? Dunst predicts that the French press will be especially rough on the film when it debuts next year. "And I'm not sure whether historians are going to love our movie," she says buoyantly, "but we don't care."

Dunst's loose, all-American manner might seem to make her an odd choice for the role, but the actress says her own childhood gave her great insight into the plight of the doomed queen, a 14-year-old Austrian child bride who was shipped off to Versailles with a limited knowledge of French. "The way that I grew up," Dunst says, "starting so young, working on movie sets and being with all these older people—I could really relate to having people around you who always want something." Dunst credits her mother's own naïveté about the industry with keeping their family sane as her star was on the rise.

Though she says she mostly enjoyed her early life in Hollywood, she has this advice for other would-be child stars: "If you really like acting, just do plays in school. Kids should go to school and then veg out on the couch, and their biggest problem should be getting their homework done." As for her own career choices, she says, "I don't regret anything. That was my life and it was meant to be, and this is what I always wanted."

Of course, growing up on the set had its advantages. Dunst borrowed a John Galliano gown from Coppola to wear to her senior prom. But she says her girlfriends did their best to keep her life as idyllically dull as that of any other California kid: Together they put on plays in the backyard, threw sleepovers and went out for milk shakes and fries. "We, like, lived in the Fifties," she says. These days, those loyal friends reap the benefits of Dunst's fame, delivered in the form of all those freebies that land on her doorstep. "Everybody gets all the discounts I get," she says, eyes wide. "I give loot! My mom has so many purses!"

Beyond the goodie bags, Dunst's big box-office exposure—thanks mainly to the Spider-Man movies, which have a way of earning about $100 million in their opening weekends—also means that she increasingly has her pick of plum roles. Her price tag is now a reported $8 million, and Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin says that Dunst's unaffected, natural style helps her connect instantly with audiences, whether she's doing comedy, romance or drama. "She's a spectacular actress, but she does it all with ease—you don't see the wheels turning," says Ziskin. "Women like her. Men like her. They feel like they've known her for a long time."

Increasingly, the paparazzi like her too. In L.A. Dunst is followed and photographed almost daily, whether she's carrying her Starbucks coffee, walking her dog or eating a salad in front of her mother Inez's day spa. The tabloids also keep a close eye on the waxing and waning of her two-year romance with Jake Gyllenhaal, a relationship Dunst will not discuss. (She was apparently on her own in Paris, though since returning to L.A. she's been photographed smooching Gyllenhaal poolside.) "My love life is something I don't talk about," Dunst says firmly. She's happy to play the innocent abroad, but she also knows when to flex her star power.

In Paris she's had her photo snapped on the street only once. While she admits she's a little homesick for L.A.'s In-N-Out Burger and live music scene, "after being here where I've had so much freedom, I don't want to go back," she says.

She'll return to a newly redecorated house in the hills, and, since the filming for Spider-Man 3 is still several months away, she'll have plenty of time to kick back and relax. Sounding a bit like the fun-loving Marie Antoinette, Dunst explains why she's no workaholic: "If you don't live your life, then how can you act? You have no experience except the last experience on a movie."

Instead, Dunst breezily declares that she'll take a photography class—or maybe she'll even learn French.

"I know it sounds brain-dead, really blond of me to say that I want to learn French after I've spent three months in France, but honestly, all I know is hair and makeup terminology," she says. "And, like, très jolie."