Kirsten Dunst is not one to shock easily as her often girlish demeanour suggests. However, on her recent trip to Australia where she conducted some early interviews for Spider-Man, she was appalled at the extent that the local media went to in prying into her private life.
"One radio station DJ asked me if Tobey [Maguire] and I were bumping the uglies. I was shocked and disgusted, couldn't believe it. He thought I was prude because I didn't like the way he phrased that question." While more sedate American journalists aren't quite as candid, there remains an ongoing fascination when it comes to celebrities who feature in the kinds of blockbusters that Spider-Man clearly is.
Dunst, a girlish 19, happily denies those pesky rumours about a supposedly hot affair with Spider-Man co-star Tobey Maguire, but concedes that the press has ITS job to do, and she accepts that. "They'll hopefully talk about the movie and I just look at it that way, and I know in myself what's true, so whatever, it's okay," she says, with a degree of nonchalance. Dunst remains equally ambivalent about the likely effect that Spider-Man will have on her status as a Hollywood celebrity. "I don't know what's going to happen, maybe nothing will; it's all about Spiderman, not me, so I'm very happy that it's not my face all over the billboards or anything like that so you KNOW I won't be on any cans of soda or anything like that," she adds laughingly.
It has been quite the year for the pretty former child star. She recently earned rave reviews for her very grown-up portrayal of Marion Davies in Peter Bogdanovich' s The Cat's Meow, which she is following up with Spider-Man, as the red-headed Mary Jane Watson. Both films presented the veteran young actress with varying challenges, she explains. "I was challenged emotionally with Marion Davies but challenged physically in Spider-Man and also challenged like I have never done this before like this." Not only was she challenged by the physicality of the film itself but its pre-media onslaught. "This is wild, like this much press and tours and all this craziness and if you are not getting enough good sleep and if you are sick it just drains you." When we met at Beverly Hills' proverbial Four Seasons Hotel, Dunst, despite her seemingly good spirits, was already feeling the effect of publicising a giant Hollywood blockbuster. "I have to admit that I am pretty tired today," but with that exhaustion comes some surprising advantages, she insists. "Sometimes being overtired is a good thing because somehow you get this energy boost that is this overtired energy feeling." In order for Dunst to cope with the added pressure of starring in and promoting a big movie, means "drinking a lot of diet coke and coffee so I can stay awake for you." Dunst has been making movies since she was 10 years old, and knew something of the strange world of shooting special effects films thus having "had a little bit of that acting-to-nothing experience before" thus she knew what she was getting in for. However she received very little training. "They gave me like an hour of training the day before I was going to do it, so it was pretty much a matter of jumping right into it. That is actually kind of a good thing because then you don't build up this thing in your head of: Oh God, and it just becomes more of a big deal." In Spider-Man, Dunst plays Parker's seemingly popular next door neighbour, who comes from a tough home and brutal father, and who has idealistic ambitions to be an actress and better herself. Dunst has always felt that the character was something of a role model for young girls, arguing that in her own way, she wanted to create a superhero "in her, because she is really not that, but starts out in the beginning to not really accept herself but rather accept the things that are happening to her. So she puts up a lot of masks, pretending she is happy when really she is having a hard home life. The only person she is really vulnerable to is Peter Parker and I think he brings that out in her even while she dates a lot of guys that aren't really good for her. I am kind of disappointed in Mary Jane for that but she learns her lesson and I think that by the end she is going to be on the right track and accept becoming a woman and secure in who she is."
Dunst understands Mary Jane, she says, and to some extent, identifies with the character's struggles. "I was much more open with my friends than she was; If I was upset I would be upset. I didn't really have a hard home life like Mary Jane but I could relate to making bad decisions with boyfriends and learning this and that," she says amidst a nervous laughter. As to relating to Mary Jane's struggles to be an actress, Kirsten says "I would rather have started out when I did, than to start out now because I think it's a little more ruthless and competitive as you get older, so I think that I'm happy that I got that done in the early days."
In those 'early days' Dunst was one of Hollywood's most appealing child stars, having appeared in the likes of Interview with the Vampire, Little Women and Jumanji, before seguing into young adolescent roles from Small Soldiers to Strike and to recent, mature work in Virgin Suicides and the acclaimed crazy beautiful. It seems like it was a seamless transition. "I've obviously been pretty lucky with the movies that I've done. Even if it was a teen film, people seem to have gotten more out of it than other ones, so I've been lucky and blessed; it's about making smart choices and being proud of what you're doing which I think shows and shines through. So even if you're in a movie that's not that successful, like Crazy Beautiful, at least that helped me a lot within the industry and people really respected it. Girls really like loved the film and that's what really matters to me." Dunst is equally passionate about Cat's Meow, hardly a blockbuster, but the perfect career move for the actress who plays a character older than herself, admitting "that it's definitely my first grown up role". Playing William Randolph Hearst's much younger mistress meant kissing her much older co-star Edward Herrmann. "It was really gross. I mean Ed's a wonderful man, but it was like kissing my own dad; it was really uncomfortable." Clearly kissing young Tobey Maguire - even upside down - was more pleasurable. "I'd kiss Tobey any time", she laughingly adds.