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Kirsten Dunst Talks the Beguiled and Sophia Coppola

by Jan Janssen
CANNES –  Kirsten Dunst has worked with some of Hollywood’s top directors, but Sofia Coppola has always had a special connection to her.  First with The Virgin Suicides and then with Marie Antoinette, Dunst saw Coppola as both a friend and mentor.  Now, with THE BEGUILED, the two women may have collaborated on the finest film of their respective careers. For Dunst, however, it’s their 17-year-long friendship which counts the most.
“We’re very close and Sofia is someone who has always helped and supported me,” Dunst says.  “She was like a big sister to me on Virgin Suicides at an age when I was still insecure and trying to figure things out.  Working with her again meant so much to me and it’s especially gratifying to work with a very talented director who’s also such a good friend.”
The film was enjoyed its world premiere in the Competition at the Cannes Film Festival where it earned positive reviews and a coveted best director award for Coppola. Meanwhile, Dunst dazzled adoring crowds on the Croisette in her powder blue Schiaparelli Couture gown, accompanied by her fiancé Jesse Plemons whom she met while they co-starred in the Fargo TV series.
An inspired feminist remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film directed by Don Siegel, The Beguiled stars Dunst alongside Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, and Elle Fanning.  The Southern Gothic tale is set in 1864 Virginia during the final stages of the American Civil War where John, a wounded Union soldier finds sanctuary at an all-girls’ boarding school run by the headmistress Martha (Kidman) and devoted teacher Edwina (Dunst).  While John recovers, the sexual tension mounts and Farrell has several torrid scenes involving Dunst and Fanning as the sexually rapacious student, Alicia.  Dunst gives one of the best performances of her career in the film, having previously won the best actress award at Cannes in 2011 for her work in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.
Dunst is currently planning on directing her first feature film, The Bell Jar, based on the eponymous Sylvia Plath novel, next year.  The project will star Dakota Fanning, Elle’s older sister, as a New York magazine intern who is stricken with debilitating depression.
Q:  Kirsten,  how would you describe the sex-charged atmosphere between the women at the school and Colin Farrell’s character?
DUNST:  It’s like a pressure cooker.  There’s so much going on in the background and you can feel the sexual tension rising and waiting to explode.  It was interesting to watch how the relationship with Colin’s character evolves and you wonder what’s going to happen next.
Q:  How did you relate to your schoolteacher character Edwina in the film.  Did you feel that she has led a very insular life?
DUNST:  Edwina is very demure and innocent.  She’s been working at the school for so long and it’s been holding her back in life.  She hasn’t gotten out in the world at all and she finds herself at an age where she feels she should have been married already and had children.  That’s a source of frustration for her and obviously when the Union soldier arrives it awakens a lot pent-up feelings and tensions inside her.
Q:  The Beguiled marks your third film with Sofia Coppola.  Does it make a difference when you’re working with a director whom you know very well?
DUNST:  It makes it a lot easier.  I love Sofia and it’s like we’ve grown up together. We’ve also worked together for what seems like forever and we know each other so well.  I’ve always looked up to her and I’m proud that she as a director keeps wanting to work with me.
I think it makes for a better film when you share a bond with the people you collaborate with and I think that’s particularly true when I work with Sofia.
Q:  One of your first major film roles came in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.  Do you consider that to be a turning point in your career?
DUNST:  I was a teenager when I did that movie and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself.  Sofia believed in me and helped me so much not just in terms of my performance but also as a young woman.
She was a very important influence in my life and I’m so happy that our friendship has grown over the years.
Q:  Did you and Sofia get to hang out a lot together while you were shooting the film in New Orleans?
DUNST:  Oh, sure.  We tried out a lot of different restaurants together and had a good time.  We get along so easily together and that carried over on the set where we don’t have to talk very much.  She just has to give me a certain look and I’ll know what she wants.
Q:  Was it a no-brainer for you to work with Sofia when she first discussed The Beguiled with you?
DUNST:  I would do almost anything with Sofia.  I liked the story, but the main reason I did the film was to be able to work with her again. She called me and told me that she wanted to remake The Beguiled and wanted me to play the schoolteacher.  She asked me to see the (1971) film and that was basically it.
Being able to share that experience with a friend and also be able to do good work together is about as good as it can get in this business.  I’m lucky that she keeps asking me to be part of her films.
Q:  You and the rest of the cast seem to be enjoying yourselves so much in Cannes.  Was that the kind of mood you had while shooting the film?
DUNST:  I think we all got along as well as you can imagine.  I also got to become close to Elle Fanning.  I love her and how funny and sweet and self-assured she is.  She has such a wonderful attitude about life and we spent some time getting to know each other and sometimes she would even sleep over at my house.
Q:  You won the best actress prize at Cannes in 2011 for Melancholia.  Do you enjoy coming back to Cannes and being in France?
DUNST:  I think that for some reason French audiences appreciate my work and I feel very accepted and comfortable here.  My father is German and I grew up in a European environment and I think there’s a different mentality when it comes to films over here.
In France especially audiences are drawn so much more to independent movies and more artistic kinds of films and they’re not so much interested in big action or superhero movies.
Q:  You’ve recently worked on the TV series Fargo (for which she received both a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination) and other independent films of late.  Is that the kind of career trajectory you prefer?
DUNST:  I like it.  I’ve been working in front of a camera since I was three years old and I don’t need to work in the biggest films or do projects just to fill up my time.  I have a very relaxed life and I don’t mind taking long breaks.
Of course, there’s a lot of competition and you need to keep working to stay relevant or otherwise people forget you and you worry whether you’re ever going to work again.  I try to do as much good work as I can and keep my name in there because that can help get a film get financed,  But I think I’ve had a pretty solid career – the bigger problem is that there is still  a lack of good roles for women.
Q:  What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt over the years in this business?
DUNST:  You need to feel good about who you are and what you’re doing according to your own instincts and choices.  When you’re younger and wanting to make your mark as an actor you try to fit in and often it’s hard to say no to projects.
I wanted to make everyone happy and that wasn’t always the best thing for me.  As you get older, you discover what’s truly important in life and you have to do things that are right for you and define yourself according to your own needs and choices.
This interview with Kirsten Dunst took place in on Monday, May 22nd in Cannes where she was promoting her new film, The Beguiled, which was making its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

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