Kirsten Dunst has been acting since she was three, making her feature film debut at age seven in Woody Allen’s 1989 film New York Stories and earning her first Golden Globe nomination at age twelve acting opposite Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire. By the time she was 18, when most teenagers were still trying to figure out what to do with their lives, she was getting rave reviews and critical acclaim for Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut The Virgin Suicides. That was when she got cast in a movie that would change her life – Spider-Man.
“I remember I was in Germany doing a film when I first met Tobey Maguire and I read for the movie,” Kirsten recalls during a recent chat in a Los Angeles hotel room. The soft-spoken 24-year-old is relaxing after a long day of media, drinking a can of soda and wearing a borrowed sweater over her green vintage dress as she prepares for the release of the next chapter in the Spider-Man franchise. “I remember wanting to be in this film so badly that I kept looking on the website to see if they were talking to other girls and I put so much energy into wanting it that it was intense,” she adds.
Of course she got the role of Mary Jane Watson, the girl who loves Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and in the past six years, audiences have literally got to watch Kirsten grow up on screen. “It’s been such a gift in a way because I can really mark where I’ve changed and how she’s grown and how I’ve grown as an actor,” she reflects. “It’s wonderful to come back to a group of people that you continually grow with and I’ve definitely grown up along with Mary Jane and the franchise and really cherish it in my life,” she adds proudly.
In Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to Mary Jane (Dunst) and his duties as a superhero. But when his suit is invaded by an alien symbiotic organism, it turns jet-black and begins to enhance his powers. The black suit transforms Peter; bringing out his dark, vengeful side and prompts him to start neglecting the people who care about him the most. Forced to choose between the seductive power of the new suit and the compassionate hero he used to be, Peter must overcome his personal demons as his feud with former best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), escalates. At the same time two of the most-feared villains yet, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace), threaten Peter and everyone he loves, especially Mary Jane.
“For me, Mary Jane was a young girl always searching,” Kirsten says of her character’s journey. “In the first movie she was weak and in the second film it was about finding out what she loves and going for it even though she was terrified. Now in this movie she has her career and she’s performing but a lot of her confidence and happiness comes from her work, which is not the best way to live.
“Her career and her romance with Peter seem rosy at the beginning of this film,” she continues, “but then we break her down and it’s about Mary Jane becoming a woman and really finding out what means most to her in her life.”
When we first see Mary Jane in Spider-Man 3, she is finally making her Broadway debut, wearing a stunning blue dress and performing on stage with her adoring boyfriend Peter Parker watching from the audience. “We wanted to have her start out in a good place and then really pull the rug out from under her,” Kirsten explains. “But that scene was tough! I had to walk down the stairs in high heels without looking at my feet, wearing a long dress and performing and lip-synching to my own voice!”
When Kirsten talks about Mary Jane, it becomes clear that her alter ego is more like a sister. “Of course I can relate to Mary Jane,” she admits readily, with a smile playing on her lips as she rolls her eyes. “Why do you think I played her? Why do you think Sam Raimi, the director, picked me? She’s a girl searching to be a woman and I’ve told that story in many beautiful ways; I’ve done it in Marie Antoinette, in Elizabethtown and in The Virgin Suicides. I’ve done it in Spider-Man 3 and I have no idea how many more movies I’ll do it in before I figure out what I’m searching for. But Mary Jane loves what she does and puts all her passion into performing, so it is definitely a part of me too.”
Kirsten is especially protective of Mary Jane’s relationship with Peter Parker in the film and hints to a possible love triangle with Peter and Harry. “I think she is a woman of much strength to be with someone like Peter,” she insists. “She loves him so much and he loves her so much and it’s nice that they love each other so much they are willing to work on it to be together. But it’s a crazy situation when the person you are with could die any day or run off with someone else because he’s bigger than a rock star, so she put herself in a situation that is difficult and then they both just hope their love is strong enough.”
Kirsten will reveal that her scenes in Spider-Man 3 are some of her most emotional yet. “I really had to make an effort not to be this depressed lump throughout the film, because she takes an emotional beating,” she says. “But I’d much rather cry all day than jump off scaffolding or do blue screen! I still give it all I can, but those action and blue screen scenes were really the bane of my existence!”
Kirsten is like most women, eager to talk about beauty and fashion; bragging that the vintage dress she’s wearing today only cost her US$20. She is just as eager to discuss twin sisters, Clare and Nina Hallworth; who worked with Dunst on both Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3. The identical siblings worked closely with Dunst to perfect Mary Jane’s look in the film. “It’s the fabric of the person,” she says adamantly. “You look at a person walking down the street and you can understand who they are and what they’re into by how they look. So you use hair and makeup and clothes to tell the story and I felt we finally got it all right in this last film, from the hair color to the makeup to clothes.”
As for Mary Jane’s wardrobe, Kirsten insists we won’t be finding a closet full of Versace or Marc Jacobs. “For us it was still about using the same brown jacket I wore in the second movie, because MJ wouldn’t be a girl who would have more than one jacket,” she explains. “It was creating a look that was vintage, like a girl who dresses for auditions but can’t afford designers so goes to vintage stores for the same look.”
And what is next for this talented young woman? She’s been handpicked by Blondie singer Debbie Harry to portray the musician in a movie about her life, but Kirsten won’t rule out a return to MJ in the future. “If Sam and Tobey and I decide we want to all explore this franchise again, I would do it in a heartbeat, as long as all three of us were involved,” she says sweetly.