| August 25, 2015 | People
As she readies for the fall premiere of Fargo and next year’s release of Midnight Special, actress Kirsten Dunst talks about these projects—both written by Austinites—her influences, fashion, and our city with friend and fellow risk-taker Julianne Moore.
Green dress (price on request) and brooch ($850), Prada. Neiman Marcus, The Domain, 512-719-1200
Kirsten Dunst likes to keep things interesting. With a catalog full of edgy, thoughtful roles going back to childhood, the actress, now 33, certainly has had her blockbusters (the Spider-Man franchise, Bring It On), but she is drawn to visionary directors like Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette) and Lars von Trier (Melancholia, for which Dunst won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011) and interesting writing. Her two new big projects, both created by Austin talents, continue that streak. First up is the second season of FX’s acclaimed anthology series Fargo, written by the Emmy Award–winning Noah Hawley and premiering in September. Dunst’s costar is Austin favorite Jesse Plemons of Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad. Next spring comes Midnight Special, the anticipated major-studio debut of local writer and director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter). The supernatural thriller costars Dunst, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, and Adam Driver.
Another actress known for risk-taking roles, the Academy Award–winning Julianne Moore, spoke to Dunst for Austin Way about her friend’s new roles, fashion, and why Dunst wants to move to Austin.
Julianne Moore: You have a busy fall, Kirsten! Let’s start with your role of Peggy in Fargo. What drew you to the character?
Kirsten Dunst: The first season was outstanding. I loved the writing and the way it was shot. And then I got [the scripts for] two episodes of the new season with Noah [Hawley], and I just knew that whatever trajectory Peggy was going on was going to [make her] one of the nuttiest characters I’ve ever played. The roles in the films I was being considered for weren’t even close to what I got with Fargo.
Wow. So what’s the character trying to do?
She’s trying to break out of Minnesota… and basically become a celebrity hairdresser. Something intercepts her goal, and she and her husband spend the season figuring it out. She’s pretty delusional.
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Who plays your husband?
Jesse Plemons. He’s awesome. He played Landry [on Friday Night Lights]; he was in Olive Kitteridge; and he’s coming out with a lot of movies now. Most of our scenes are together, and we developed a great friendship. We had a really great bond together for the show.
What about Midnight Special? What’s that about?
Midnight Special is about a young boy—my son in the movie—who has special powers, and we don’t know what those are. It reminds me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a road trip/chase movie to get my son to where he may need to be—we don’t know.
Both Fargo and Midnight Special were made by Austinites who have achieved success by sticking to their creative principles. What was it like working with Jeff Nichols and Noah Hawley?
I really love Take Shelter and Mud. I think Jeff is one of the best young directors of our time. I’ve wanted to work with him for a while, so I fought to be in this movie. Jeff is incredible. He’s not from Austin, but I understand why he lives here. And Noah Hawley wants to retire here, he tells me. He’s a genius, too, in his own right. Cool people move to Austin. I want to live here, for sure. When I first came to Austin, I immediately said, ‘How can I find a realtor? I want to move.’ Jesse Plemons has a place in Austin. It has the best sushi restaurant [Uchi], and everything is just so theatrical. I’ve road-tripped through Austin and swum in Barton Springs; Austin is just one of the best cities in America, hands-down.
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That’s what everybody says! Were you at South by Southwest?
I did go once to South by Southwest, and then I just did a road trip and made sure Austin was one of our destinations. I love it. There’s something about the air, and the people, and the vibe; it’s perfect.
This is a question I get a lot, and I’ll tell you what my answer is after you tell me yours: What role in what movie was the closest to your own character?
When I was a girl and did Bring It On, I was that girl. Like a normal 15-year-old girl, I was a cheerleader; my best friend was a cheerleader. I wasn’t in competitions, but I watched them on TV with my friend. It was like I was back in high school as myself—it wasn’t a stretch at all. What’s your answer?
I always say, “No one and everyone.” No one, because none of them are me, but then they all are because I have to find something in every single one of them to have a relationship with.
I agree with that. But being a child actor, it’s hard not to play parts that are basically, “You’re a cute kid, and, you know, be yourself!”
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That’s what you’re always trying to do as an adult with kids, because you want them to relax and just talk to you.
I had to work with this little boy, Jaeden [Lieberher], on Midnight Special, and he was a very grown-up little boy. Not to the extent that he wasn’t playing his video games, but he was so mature and just a little old spirit. He was just a very thoughtful, well-spoken child.
You were tremendously alive and present and a realistic child, but you also were mature. I remember seeing you at an awards show, and I thought, Oh, look at that little girl; she’s such a grown-up.
I probably handled myself better there than I would now. Now I’m terrified to go to any of that stuff.
How do you choose a script?
It’s the director every time. I’d rather play a tiny, who-cares role if the director’s great. And I’ve taken chances on first-time directors as well. You can make a great script so bad with the wrong director—it can be terrible.
One part you were great in was in the Walter Salles movie On the Road. The weariness, the exhaustion, that guy coming in and out of your life—it was just heartbreaking. But you did a lot with very little. It was really great.
Thank you! I wish more people had seen that movie. Garrett [Hedlund] was so good, and it was such a fun ensemble. I was the first one hired for that movie, [right after making] Marie Antoinette—that’s, like, six years later, five years to make the movie.
That brings us to Marie Antoinette and all of those clothes. Did you have any input into the designs? They were spectacular.
We had a genius, legendary costume designer, Milena Canonero, doing our costumes. She always brought in accessories, and I [would say], “Oh, maybe let’s do a red ribbon around my waist with my blue dress, like I was cut in half to kind of foreshadow the beheading.” She liked that collaboration, but those were her fabrics, her designs. They were fabulous—it wasn’t very comfortable, but very impressive. Oh, corsets are the worst!
Yeah, they are the worst. But they do actively change your shape; that’s what’s amazing about them. In Fargo, are the clothes something that helped you shape your character?
I did want people, in the first few episodes, to look at Peggy and just giggle a little bit—just a pinch! Not at her, but with her, so that you’re on this girl’s side. Because some of the stuff that she manipulates her husband into doing… I was like, “Give me some cute bunny earmuffs to wear in this scene.” Or, I wanted flashes of red, [like] red gloves because I was caught red-handed. I was really into the wardrobe decisions on this one. And because she wants to get out of Minnesota, I wanted her to have a little beret to wear, or a little shirt that has the Eiffel Tower all over it.
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That’s fantastic! Because I think clothes are signifiers. People are telling you who they want to be with their clothes, so it’s always such fun. I love the bunnies and the beret—that’s so cute.
That was the most fun I’ve gotten to have with my wardrobe in a while. I got to make a real character. Even in Midnight Special, I was a real character, not an actress who looks pretty for role-playing. Both roles are character-acting roles, which I like a lot.
It’s challenging when you’re doing a mainstream film and everybody just wants you to look attractive. It’s difficult because it’s subjective, and it’s not telling you anything about the character. The great thing about clothes is that you get to tell a story. In real life, though, you were the first major celebrity to wear Rodarte. How did you meet the founders?
I have worked with these stylists, Nina and Clare Hallworth, since I was very young. They introduced me to the clothes, so I started wearing them. Then I met [Rodarte founders Kate and Laura Mulleavy] afterward, and we became fast friends. Now we’re working together and making a movie [Woodshock] together.
That’s so great! What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten advice; for me it’s more what I’ve seen other girls wear, and I had really good influences. When I was 16, I was working with Sofia Coppola, who is one of the chicest women I’ve ever met, so from a young age I had a good barometer.
What charities are you involved with?
I’ve been involved in The Art of Elysium for a while. You can go any day to the hospital, talk to kids, do paint work… just do fun things with kids in the hospital. It’s a charity that’s close to my home, and I’ve known everyone there since maybe my early 20s.
If you weren’t an actress, you would be…
Definitely something creative, like a painter, or photographer, or a fashion designer.
Something creative and visual. Can you imagine yourself directing?
Yeah, I might be doing that next year.
That’s impressive. Do you have a script?
I am in rewrites with my friends, and we have an actress.
Have you ever received any career advice?
My mom always sent me to normal school, so I never missed out on prom or field trips or any of that. I feel like the influence of [my upbringing] was the best career advice, because being a child actress can be unhealthy for your psyche. I think that’s why I’ve been able to still reinvent what I do, because there was a time when I was over it in a way. Then I started working with this woman [Greta Seacat]—and I still work with her now—who helped me on scripts and who brought the joy back into it.
If people are having a miserable time acting, that’s the worst because that’s the secret about it—it should be fun.
You shouldn’t have to be in a dark cloud to do anything dark. I don’t believe any of that, and [acting is] cathartic.
photography by RENÉ & RADKA. styling by GiolliosA + NAtAliE FullER