With her drawn, solemn little mouth, perturbed eyes and often furrowed brow, Kirsten Dunst has often been characterized as the rather serious representative from the young acting crowd. Even as an 11-year-old in Interview With a Vampire, her memorable film debut, her impassive, pale face gave her a more cerebral appearance than any of the older and more experienced actors around her. (Admittedly not difficult when acting alongside Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but still not bad going for a prepubescent.)
When we meet in an airless hotel room in London, she raises a thin eyebrow at the perception of her as "the serious one," but adds that working in the acting business from such a young age has given her a harder core than most of her contemporaries. It has probably come from more than just working. Although her family life has been nowhere near as fraught as that of contemporaries like Lindsay Lohan, whose battles with her father have kept the American media enthralled for years, Dunst has endured her own issues. She financially supported her family as a teenager, something she began to resent: "Um ... now I'm proud that I have the means to help my family," she begins hesitantly, "but when you're younger you struggle with things. I mean, I struggled that I was famous at all. It's hard to grow up in this industry, and some people work out how to do it quicker than others. But yeah, it probably has made me a stronger person — I have a very good bullshitometer." Does she have to use that regularly? She makes a dry pause: "Only during press junkets."
This jumpy sense of antagonism is understandable in a young woman — Dunst isn't yet 25 — who has been poked and prodded by the media all her life. She has been asked her thoughts on everything from global warming to her favorite flavor of ice cream, but the constant interest in her love life has made Dunst buckle in every interview in which the subject is raised. She called a journalist a "bitch" when she wouldn't stop asking questions about Dunst's ex, Jake Gyllenhaal. In one of her first interviews, when she was promoting Interview With a Vampire aged just 12, a journalist from the LA Times solemnly asked her, "In a sense, this is a film about the dark side of romantic love; have you ever been in love?" (Dunst, to her great credit, politely replied: "I've had crushes but I'm not sure what you mean by 'in love.'")
Dunst's current relationship with singer Johnny Borrell from Razorlight has enthralled the press. She dismisses any questions with a pithy, "I don't gossip about myself," but can't resist mentioning how much she "admires" musicians these days.
Her film choices have suggested a similarly offbeat sensibility, more than one usually finds in an actor now on the receiving end of a very blockbuster-sized paycheck of US$10 million a movie. Films like Wag the Dog and The Virgin Suicides brought her indie credibility, while the enjoyable cheerleader satire Bring It On gave her wider comic appeal. Her resume is far from faultless, particularly recently, with disappointments such as Wimbledon and Elizabethtown. But, in the main, Dunst is one of the very few child actors to have made an irrefutably triumphant transition from child actor to grown-up star.
When we meet, it's apparent from the start how she has done this. Sitting in a ridiculously ornate plush armchair which dwarfs her, making her look even more frail in her skinny black trousers and T-shirt which flaps around her thin, pale arms, she looks utterly unflustered by the chaos around her, with various over-eager assistants dashing up and down barking excitedly into walkie-talkies about "how Kirsten's doin'." She laconically inhales on another cigarette ("It's bad for me, I know, but, like, I won't do it forever"), and looks detached from all the surrounding gilt.