Spider-Man producers’ crazy demand
2019 marks 30 years since Kirsten Dunst made her screen debut - and in those three decades, she's never stopped working.
And yet, as Dunst herself acknowledged in a brutally honest interview earlier this year, she's never really had a "moment", never been an awards season darling.
That could all change with her latest star turn in black comedy series On Becoming A God In Central Florida, debuting on SBS this Thursday night.
Dunst, 37, plays Krystal, an exhausted new mother barely scraping by in early '90s Florida. Her husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgard, in full redneck mullet disguise) is no help - he's been suckered into Founders American Merchandise, a cultish pyramid selling scheme he's convinced will deliver him eternal wealth. It won't - but as the season progresses, Krystal realises she might just have what it takes to scam the scammers.
Dunst spoke to news.com.au about what drew her to the role and got very candid about the power of saying no in Hollywood - even revealing extreme demands she flat-out refused from the producers of the Spider-Man franchise.
Krystal's a new mum, and filming started just a few months after you became a mother for the first time (her son Ennis was born in May 2018). How did you manage?
I was just so drained. The second we'd finish work, I'd just cry to my mother, saying, 'I don't know how I'm going to do this'. So it was rough, especially because Krystal's so feisty and talkative and high energy - I had to preserve my energy as best I could, but there were days I really struggled. I slept in Krystal's bed a lot!
What was it that drew you to Krystal?
Well, I knew if I was going to do a television show, I'd have to live with the character hopefully for a while, and I knew she was … she just doesn't care, Krystal. She'll do or say anything. She's very active too, you know? She's in charge of her whole journey. Plus, I knew it'd be fun for me to play. I mean, I had spray tans every Sunday night! It was perfect for the role - we wanted to make sure we weren't too trendy because the '90s are so popular and hip now. We wanted to stay clear of anything that's cool now.
Had you had any real-life experience with pyramid selling schemes?
I hadn't, outside of watching documentaries - I come from a family where it was very much 'You work hard, you show up on time and be a good person'. Nobody got involved in anything weird like that. But I also feel like Instagram's a bit like (a pyramid scheme) nowadays. The more followers you have, the more ads you put out, and the more ads you put out, the more people are buying stuff from you that you're not even using.
Alexander Skarsgard plays your husband in a near-unrecognisable performance. As an executive producer on the show, did you have a big say in him being cast?
I worked with him on (2011 Lars Von Trier film) Melancholia, so I knew that he was kind of a goofy Swede. He was funny in Zoolander when he played that Swedish model - like, I know he's funny. I said, 'Believe me, he'll be perfect'. He had the best time, and he was perfect. And it was my idea! (laughs)
Your character does an insane puppet dance from her beauty queen days in episode 2 - you've said previously it was actually a second choice after you refused to dance with a live snake.
I told them for months: I'm not dancing with a snake, there's no way, you've got to get a fake snake. But just before we shot the episode, one of our writers sent me a YouTube clip of a man dancing with two puppets attached to him. I just thought it was genius - and the first time they showed me the choreography, I kind of teared up because it's just … so … lonely, you know? It's weird, but it's also really lonely.
Is it hard to find those boundaries as a performer? To recognise when you're no longer comfortable, and you need to say no?
Mmm … not really. I've always said no. Like, it's my life, you know? I remember once with Spider-Man, they kept at me with this one stunt where they strung me to the top of the ceiling and basically I bungee jumped. I didn't really want to do it, and when I tried it I said, 'Well, you should've shot that because I'm never doing it again. You'll have to find another way'.
It was terrifying, I hated it - so you should've shot that because I will never do it again.
And on Spider-Man one of the producers tried to subtly coerce me into changing my teeth into those perfect Barbie doll teeth. I was like, 'Nope, not doing that either'.
Does that confidence to say no come with age and experience?
You know what, when I was younger I had really strong females around me - my mother, working with Sofia Coppola at 16 when I was really becoming a woman. I had very good influences personally of women who were like, 'You're great, love your teeth, don't change a thing'. I was given a strong sense of what I feel comfortable with. And, ultimately, it's a TV show or a movie, so I'm not going to kill myself and get in an accident. If my intuition's telling me 'No, no, no', then I'm not going to do it. And that puppet scene is SO MUCH cooler than a snake dance!
The puppet scene felt like a nice callback to the beauty queen satire Drop Dead Gorgeous. That movie didn't do much when it was first released - 20 years on, are you surprised by the life it's had?
I've been surprised with that, with (2006 Sofia Coppola film) Marie Antoinette as well … I feel like I do a lot of things that are beloved more now than when they actually came out.
You spoke about this recently, about working so much but never really having a 'moment'.
It's hard when you're a teenager and you do a movie and no one likes it, and then it becomes a hit later. For The Virgin Suicides (1999), I remember, no Spirit Awards, no indie awards or anything, and now people love that movie. It's just interesting I seem to have picked a lot of things that now people herald but then they didn't, for whatever reason.
I also feel like everyone tries to make you care about those things, and it's annoying. I know it doesn't matter, but the industry makes you care about it. But I would rather just be in good movies than anything else.
On Becoming A God In Central Florida premiers 8.30pm, Thursday, November 21 on SBS and SBS On Demand.