Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
KIRSTEN Dunst talks about working with Lars Von Trier in Melancholia and why she remains surprised that people are continuing to talk about his notorious Cannes press conference.
She also discusses some of the themes of the film, including depression, her own career and celebrity and getting to work with the likes of John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling.
Q. How do you feel when you watch Melancholia?
Kirsten Dunst: I think because I’ve experienced it… it’d be nice to feel that claustrophobic feeling or the anxiety that the film produces, but for me I look at it and think about what I was doing that day, where we shot it… It’s kind of like a weird memory. It’s more a photo album of memories than being able to feel connected to myself. It’s not easy to do.
Q. What was it like to get into the resignation and hopelessness of her character? She’s very resigned to the doom of it all, isn’t she?
Kirsten Dunst: She is and it’s kind of interesting because she’s so calm about it and I think that partly her depression keeps her so calm about it and gives her strength to keep everyone else intact and be able to create safe haven for the child and to make it more about being together in a meaningful way. But I also think there’s that calmness because she feels so connected to this planet and I always thought about how Justine would relate to that because it’s weird… it’s just a weird idea that she almost came from that planet in a way. But she’s also very cruel. I mean she says really mean things to her sister too towards the end, so she’s kind of immune to it but not. It was a weird thing to play. Those are the scenes towards the end where it’s a weird mix of seeing yourself act so strangely.
Q. Was she an easy character to shake off?
Kirsten Dunst: You know it’s always good… I’ve learned to do a movie and then not be in that place for a long time. I went immediately on a road trip with my dad. Literally the next day I think I left. Or maybe it was two days from then. And then even the last movie I did I came immediately to London [for this tour]. But it’s good not to focus because you miss those people… you really do create such a trusting environment and it is a quick family and everyone was so lovely on that film. We had such a nice time together. There were so many actors there that I’ve admired for so long that I really had such a wonderful experience with them.
Q. What was it like for you getting to work with people like John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling? Did you see any different acting or generational things that you could learn from?
Kirsten Dunst: John Hurt is one of the most poetic men without… he’s effortlessly poetic really. I mean, just the things he says; he has so much wisdom about him. So he, to me, I really just enjoy listening to talk… not even about acting or anything. It’s interesting because I felt really connected to all these people very easily. They’re all very open emotionally, like we’re in the scene together, so you never feel like anyone’s acting. And I like that too… I’m not someone who feels like I have to do it the same way. I never feel restricted. It all should grow out of different moments and if it goes completely different that’s how it should go. It might not be right eventually in the film but that’s what is exciting about acting. But Charlotte Rampling is someone I’ve wanted to work with for a very long time. I’ve always looked up to her as an actress and it’s a reason why I feel brave to do a film like this. So, to me she’s the ultimate.
Q. You’ve said in an interview that it was a very free atmosphere. How does Lars create that freeness?
Kirsten Dunst: Well, his persona to the world is very different to how he relates to his actors and on-set. You know, we had scenes like at the reception where we’d do 10 minute takes and there’d be no stopping and you wouldn’t know where the camera was or who it was on and so everyone has to be really present and really pay attention to each other. There are things that we need in the scene but yet you can do kind of whatever you wanted to and it almost felt like a play sometimes. It’s rare that everyone is in it together at the same time.
Q. What do you think Lars was getting at when you say your character has this mystical connection to the Earth? It’s a whole doom aesthetic, isn’t it? And the fact we live in an apocalypse culture in a lot of ways…
Kirsten Dunst: The thing about Lars is that whenever I’ve tried to talk to him about that stuff he just laughs. He doesn’t want to talk about these things. He literally is like: “That’s a stupid question!” When you’re trying to talk to him about anything. So, thank God I did all my homework before I got to even talking about this because he literally would be like: “Hmm, whatever you think.” So, he’s kind of like that. I had to come up with my own thing about what I thought about the planet and for me I always thought that I came from that planet and that’s why I have this strong connection to it.
Q. Were you afraid before meeting and working with him that you could have a Bjork-like experience?
Kirsten Dunst: You know, I feel like those two are such geniuses and they were really collaborating. So, that is difficult I think for anyone. I think you either get along with Lars or you really don’t and I really got along with him. I wasn’t scared because I talked to Bryce Dallas Howard about Lars.
Q. She’s a friend, right?
Kirsten Dunst: Yeah. And she laughed and she said she really enjoyed working with Lars and that he was lovely. She would tell me if it had been a horrible experience for her as an actress. Who else did I talk to? Well, Charlotte Gainsbourg was doing another movie with him after Antichrist, so clearly she wasn’t… I feel like she’s a pretty brave woman and it doesn’t phase her, things that Lars says, either. I get along really well with Lars but definitely during our first meetings I was feeling him out and he definitely says some things that are inappropriate and then you kind of get his sense of humour. I really enjoy him. He’s one of my favourite people I’ve met now. So, he’s pretty great.
Q. Did you have any concerns about the place you’d need to go within yourself or how it might re-define you as an actor?
Kirsten Dunst: I was excited as soon as I found out that Lars was wanting me for this film, so to me it was a journey that was exciting. But that’s the point of acting. I’m not someone who is scared of doing things out of the box and I feel like I wouldn’t be doing this if I felt like I had these limitations within myself or was afraid to go to any places. For me, my favourite actresses are like Charlotte Rampling or Gena Rowlands… people who have always stepped outside of the restraints of a certain type of woman or story. I always like those movies the best.
Q. How do you think the film will affect people? I mean, if it’s a metaphor for death there are people who would say it could be taken as everything is completely pointless. Or it could be saying that death gives life meaning…
Kirsten Dunst: That’s a really interesting question. I like to think that death gives life meaning. I like that philosophy. But I would think hopefully that you would connect personally with either Justine or Claire in a way and if anyone’s been through dealing with depression or dealing with someone who has depression, I think that it’s very therapeutic to watch someone go through it on-screen. I don’t know many films where it’s portrayed even. In terms of persona it is, and people always go like: “Well, they’re just crazy.” So, it’s interesting to watch people go through it in something like this. I mean, what other films do they portray depression in?
Q. Was doing the film therapeutic for you?
Kirsten Dunst: Every movie I do, if I commit myself completely, has always felt like I got something out of myself that feels really good that I got to play that. Even the last movie I did, even though it’s a comedy, I get to play such a bitch and that was so fun for me. It was fun to play that role and it was helpful for me as a person in the end. I think that’s the great thing about acting… I get to do things that everyone else kind of can’t do or has to keep behind closed doors. If you think about what I get to do sometimes, it’s so fun and weird and it really takes you outside of yourself and challenges you in a way that we don’t always get to do in our everyday lifestyle.
Q. Does it ever spill out into everyday life?
Kirsten Dunst: No, it doesn’t need to because I get to do all these crazy things in the movies [laughs]. I’m a pretty chilled out person, actually… a very mellow person. So…
Q. Melancholia is quite psychedelic in a lot of ways, isn’t it?
Kirsten Dunst: I can see what you mean. I hope it’s like some cult film that people decide to watch when they’re stoned or on mushrooms or something [laughs]. Like: “Let’s get stoned and watch Melancholia, man!” That’s so hilarious!
Q. In your own battle with depression did you find that something helped you, or did you find that other people were trying to help and it didn’t really help?
Kirsten Dunst: I don’t really want to talk about my personal experience. It’s something that I have talked about just because it came out in the press but I’ve tried to navigate the waters in my own comfort-ability. But in the film – and I’ll talk about it like that – I think that obviously Kiefer Sutherland’s character is someone who is very afraid of it. Who knows how anyone would handle the last days on Earth but the fact that he would commit suicide and leaves his family is pretty cowardly. He’s a very scared man. And then Claire is someone who keeps pursuing and trying, or cooking this meal, and treats her like a child and tries to nurture her back. I think that bond between Claire and Justine is something very tolerant and beautiful in the movie because I think a lot of people don’t know how to deal with something like that.
Q. When you mention the media and having to talk about your depression, the media often want to put someone in a corner and leave them there and go over that topic again and again. Are you afraid this movie might feed their stories more, or do you not care about what those kind of magazines think?
Kirsten Dunst: Luckily, I’m not in those magazines very often at all… not anymore.
Q. So, how do you avoid being in them?
Kirsten Dunst: I live in New York now and most of those magazines have turned more towards reality stars. So, really I think that’s great because it’s turned towards people who want it rather than… So, I think it’s actually kind of imploding in on itself a little bit. Otherwise, you just say what you want to say and not say what you don’t want to say. I don’t think that this movie is the kind of movie that a magazine like In Touch even cares about, if you know what I mean. It’s a Lars von Trier film. They care about Moneyball, not Melancholia. They care about what I wear to Melancholia premieres; they don’t really care about a Lars von Trier film.
Q. Is there still a dream character that you’d like to play?
Kirsten Dunst: I would love to play Marlene Dietrich in a movie. My dad’s from Germany and so I feel like that would be a really interesting person to play. But who knows…
Q. Being of German heritage, do you think you have a greater sensibility towards the comments Lars made in Cannes?
Kirsten Dunst: No, I was uncomfortable because… I’m someone who shows my emotions on my face. I’m not someone who plays a part for the press junket. Yeah, I’m reserved when I know I have to be but I’m also very agreeable. I didn’t even know there was a camera on me then. I figured it was on Lars. I know there’s a wide-shot of all of us up there… I was watching my friend just sink and it was driving me crazy. But I also knew how inappropriate the forum was that he was making these jokes, or trying to be funny or whatever. I was born in America. It’s not my…
Q. But you got the feeling with that press conference that Lars was trying to say something amusing but digging himself ever deeper…
Kirsten Dunst: Well, some of the things that he does on-set are… you’re just like: “Wow Lars!” How I know the conversation was even spurred was from a really inappropriate question at the press conference about his mother and dying and what she said to him on her death bed – that his father who he thought was his father wasn’t his father. So, that is a really inappropriate question to ask somebody. Maybe in an interview, because people like to know about people’s private lives, but even then I personally would be like: “That’s none of your business!” But Lars’ version of that was trying to explain in a humorous way but to put people off, and then he just kept going because it wasn’t very funny to people, and then it just kept spiralling. But I also felt that after the press conference, even though I knew that he shouldn’t have said anything like that and it was totally inappropriate, I didn’t know that we’d still be talking about this. You know, it’s Lars von Trier; it’s not somebody who is known for conducting a normal press conference ever!
Q. Do you think it was exaggerated to expel him from Cannes?
Kirsten Dunst: I think they had to do that. I was thankful that they kept the film in the competition but I also believe that art is separate from… it should be judged on the film. Lars is an artist and people know Lars for who he is… I mean look at Antichrist. He’s not making films to be liked by everyone, so why is this so surprising coming from Lars von Trier?
Q. Why do you think there are so many movies coming out at the moment that are so kind of far out and based on getting back to the Earth before it ends, so to speak?
Kirsten Dunst: Well, I think the further we’re getting away from all that, the more… it’s interesting that a lot of the young people I know, who are getting married and stuff, are like: “I don’t want to raise my kids in the city; we’re going to buy a farm upstate.” Like, a lot of people I know are wanting to get back to the Earth in some way and not raise their kids in this world of Apps and Internet all the time. I grew up on a river in New Jersey and I was in fantasy land. I could do anything. I lived on a double cul-de-sac, I could walk anywhere and I was allowed to have an imagination rather than a need to be entertained all the time by television or computers or anything like that. So, I think it’s helpful to try and give your kids… I think everyone wants for their kids the good things that they had.
Q. What do you think of the new Spider-Man movie?
Kirsten Dunst: The remake? I think it’ll be fun in a different way.