I've been racing around this week from interview to interview. You'll start seeing them as soon as I can catch my breath. For numerous reasons my mind kept leaping back to last year's precursor season when I met with Kirsten Dunst while she was on the promotional circuit for the true crime romantic drama All Good Things. Her name popped up Wednesday while I was talking with Ben Foster (Rampart) -- he's a past co-star and endearingly describes himself as "a silly fan of Kirsten" -- and Melancholia is never far from my mind as one of the most provocative and essential films of 2011. Her mysterious bewitching lead role as a severely depressed bride has, at this point, not garnered as much Best Actress traction as the performance merits, but there's little doubt that her career is most decidedly back on track. I read yesterday that she'd just joined the cast of Red Light Winter which will reunite her with Mark Ruffalo. This interview was already on my mind, and that sealed it since she had such happy memories of working with him.
So let's travel back in time a year to a pivotal re-energizing moment in her career when neither we nor Kirsten knew what to expect from Melancholia and the rollercoaster of the film's Cannes debut, controversial press conference, and Best Actress win was still future tense.
The Return of Kirsten Dunst (A Very Good Thing)
***Originally Published in December 2010***
It might sound silly to say, but seeing her in the flesh is something of a shock. Kirsten Dunst has been in the movies for many years, and she's made an indelible mark in them, whether as a child vampire, an unknowable teen dream, a disciplined cheerleader, a superhero's better half and so on; one half expects her to flicker when one meets her, as if she's being projected still. But there she was earlier this month at a New York City luncheon honoring her heartbreaking work in All Good Things. Her image did not fade or dissolve but remained steady in medium shot. She ate, she sipped, she walked around the room talking with reporters, friends and peers.
There was, however, a close-up. We shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries. Then she was whisked off, not by a sharp edit, jump cut or a quick pan, but by her people taking her to the next reporter. Imagine it!
I reminded her of the busy luncheon a few days later over the phone. She's already thousands of miles away. This time, she's a disembodied voice which is surprisingly more familiar, like a movie image. "You were so in demand," I say, reminding her of the crowd and well-wishers.
"You know...," she says, and I do having been there, "A lot of babies to kiss. A lot of hands to shake."
It's good to hear the smile in her voice and remember her amiable presence in the room that day. Especially considering the sadness that lingers from her fine work in All Good Things. People have won Oscar nominations for giving much less to their films than she does here, in one of her finest performances. She starts out sunny and delightful, the girlish woman we sort of recognize from numerous other films but she's soon torn apart by her husband's (Ryan Gosling) dark almost alien soul. The film is based on a true story, the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Katie Marks (Kirsten), the bride of the heir to a wealthy New York family. I've followed her career enthusiastically for many years, once even referring to her as "the future of the movies" but naturally we start with the present and the subject at hand.
It's not the first time she's played a real life character but how did she tackle someone who isn't easy to research, someone who went missing? Here Kirsten cedes most of the credit to her director, who knew the case inside and out.
KIRSTEN: Everything that we knew about [Katie] is in the script. She's not a public figure. Yes, she's a real person but not someone that we know her mannerisms. It was really about making her feel like a whole person that was unravelling, as he was in a way, someone with her own strong motives so it wouldn't just be The Victim of this crime.
Nathaniel: You have to have the full range of their romance.
KIRSTEN: That was so important. You have to believe these people were completely in love with each other in order for her to stay and to excuse the behavior
Did anything change a lot from filming to the finished movie? You're acting piecemeal and the movie takes place over a really long span. Did anything surprise you about the finished product?
KIRSTEN: With every movie you kind of never know how exactly it's going to come together. I had an idea but obviously I wasn't there for the last half of the movie. [She pauses briefly, considering] ...I only saw Ryan in drag once on the set so I wasn't sure how all that was going to come together.
While we were working we played things very differently; we improvised a lot. The scene where he asked me to marry him was very different in the script. We got to play around a lot which was exciting. But you never know what it's going to end up being.
I thought it was interesting that this movie opened so close to Blue Valentine, another unravelling Ryan Gosling marriage, and then I remembered that you've worked with Michelle Williams before on Dick. Hollywood is a small world.
KIRSTEN: It is a small world. I'm friendly with Michelle. That's funny. [Pauses considering the two movies] Ryan... he loves a good love story, that one! [laughs].
With some movie stars chemistry is a hit-and-miss thing but I've always felt from your films that you have a dependable connection to your co-stars/scene partners. What do you attribute that to?