On November 2, 1898, the sport of cheerleading was born at the University of Minnesota. A male student (take that, ridiculous football players in Bring It On) encouraged Minnesota football fans to chant “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-so-tah!” Needless to say, Minnesota tramples the opposition, forever proving the power of pep.
To celebrate this momentous occasion for the future of film and television (and, of course, sports, Halloween costumes, and the high-school sociopolitical hierarchy) we present you with our 2000 cover interview with Kirsten Dunst. The interview appeared in our June issue, two months before the release of Bring It On (referred to here as Cheer Fever—good choice changing the name). In Bring It On, Dunst played Torrance Shipman, the head cheerleader who introduced us to cheertators, cheer-sex, cheerocracies, and the only non-Minnesota cheer we know (it begins with “Brrr, it’s cold in here,” and we’re sure you can finish the rest yourself.)
The child sobs and pummels the body of her plague-ridden mother with meek, daughter’s hands. The moment we look into the girl’s eyes, as pure as any child’s yet shadowed by a chilling knowingness, a shock of recognition shakes us. The film is Interview With the Vampire , the actress eleven-year-old Kirsten Dunst. As Claudia, Dunst gave a performance so harrowingly mature it moved even her role’s creator, Anne Rice, to astonished tears. “I feel a special love for her,” Rice says of Dunst, “because the role was so much beyond the imagination.” From her first lines as the most appalling specter in Rice’s vampire realm, a place where death is no redemption but only a nightmare deeper than life, Dunst revealed the unmistakable attributes of a great actress—a commanding, unassuagable presence; a face almost obscenely fluent in emotional disclosure; a voice already an instrument, not an appliance.
In a time when actors are expected to have the physical perfection and emotional range of fashion models, Dunst does what the greatest performers are revered (or attacked) for: She claws to the rock-bottom of her characters, conveying them so convincingly that even her most disturbing observations keep us watching.
But such depths can’t be discovered in every script, which makes Dunst’s latest assignment even more exciting. As Lux, the least morbid Lisbon sister in Sofia Coppola’s new film adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides, Dunst plays her first full-blown tragic heroine. Eugenides’ uncanny mixture of lyrical eroticism and savage morbidity couldn’t be more apt for talents like Dunst and her director—as an impressive large, unanimous pile of excited reviews quickly affirmed. Dunst’s success as Lux puts her in the best position to ensure that Lux won’t be the last role she plays that will exploit (and develop) her unique gifts.
It’s almost a relief to eavesdrop on Dunst’s Interview session and discover not a tangled muse but a sensible, witty adolescent, as well as a hard-working professional: This year she’ll open in several films. Somewhere inside her lies at least a bit of Claudia’s ravaging hunger and Lux’s despair. But the talent that illuminates them on celluloid has fortunately discovered how to live in the light of day. —PATRICK GILES
BRENDAN LEMON: So, you are a senior in high school and your career is going very well; are you thinking about college next year?
KIRSTEN DUNST: I definitely want to go to college, but not next year. I just don’t think it’s the right time.
LEMON: Up to this point, what’s been the hardest part of juggling high school and making movies?
DUNST: The hardest part is keeping good grades. Also, it’s hard because you always get different tutors, and some are stronger in some areas than others. Do you know how hard it was to find a tutor who was good at math? That was my weakest subject, but now I’m doing really well. I’m getting A’s, so I’m proud of myself. What I also find hard is being away from my friends. I was praying to God that the next movie I am doing, Getting over Allison (later, Get Over It) is shooting in L.A., and they were thinking about it, but now they’re going to Toronto. So, the Canadians get it again.
LEMON: What’s the story about?
DUNST: It’s such a funny script. It’s going to be really cool. It doesn’t sound as great when I tell it, but it’s a really cute comedy about a guy getting over his ex-girlfriend—who he’s still madly in love with. And then I fall into his life, and he ends up falling for me. It’s set in high school. I get to sing. I love to sing.LEMON: Your latest movie, The Virgin Suicides, has received a lot of attention. Did you expect that?
DUNST: I knew that it would get a lot of attention because it was Sofia Coppola’s first film, but I didn’t know it would all be positive. When I saw the movie, I didn’t expect it to be as beautiful as it was.
LEMON: You have a knack for characters who on paper might seem dark or troubled or tortured, but then don’t come across that way on screen. What’s your secret?
DUNST: Well, I don’t know. Lux, my character in The Virgin Suicides, was shown in happy times in her life—for instance, when she and her sisters went to the prom—so I think that made it sadder when the girls died.
LEMON: Still, you had to play a character who is ditched by her boyfriend and then goes and takes up with a string of other guys. How do you make that promiscuity sympathetic?
DUNST: You really can’t explain how you do the things you do. I can’t, anyway. I love certain actors, but sometimes they say the stupidest things about technique. I don’t want to say something stupid. [laughs] I try not to do scenes a certain way, because then I become conscious of it, and it doesn’t come off as realistic. I try to make it so that I’m not really aware of what I am doing.
LEMON: You’re just doing it.
DUNST: Right, but even though it sounds easier when you put it that way, it’s also harder to be not conscious of what you are doing than to be conscious. It’s hard to get lost in a scene, to get into a character when everyone’s standing around you on the set.
LEMON: Did any of the Virgin Suicides’ themes—suicide or promiscuity—intimidate you?
DUNST: I was nervous. It was my first role that was more of a sexy thing. I was also unsure about how large the role was gonna be, because a lot of it was without dialogue. What’s going on with these people is written on their faces, When I met Sofia, I immediately knew that she would handle it in a delicate way. What also concerns me with sex scenes—with directors—is how they’re going to shoot them. And the way Sofia did it was very abstract, so I was really comfortable. There were a lot of different versions of the script going around that various people had written, and they must have all been male. Thos scripts concentrated more on the suicidal and sexual parts. Sofia really bought out the luminous aspect of the girls; she made them like ethereal angels, almost like they weren’t really there.
LEMON: When you played Claudia in Interview With the Vampire back in 1994, what struck so many people about your performance was that even at age eleven, you were able to take a dark character who enjoyed sucking people’s blood, and make her seem angelic. Vampire seems connected to Virgin Suicides in that way.
DUNST: I saw a lot of Claudia in Lux. They both have that really old soul, yet they’re also very innocent. There is a fine line you have to walk, to still get sympathy for someone. You have sympathy with Claudia, not because of her age but because you know her pain. If you haven’t felt the pain, that yearning, if you don’t realize that she will never have a man in her life, for instance, then I don’t think you would have sympathy for her. If you just saw a girl who was like, “Let’s go suck some blood!” and didn’t really care, I don’t think you would feel anything for her.
LEMON: And if you don’t feel Lux’s pain about being deserted by her boyfriend, Trip, in Virgin Suicides, it doesn’t really work.
DUNST: I know, and I was really feeling that. I mean, a guy’s never done anything like that to me, but I could relate the feeling to other things going on in my life.LEMON: Has doing movies made it hard for you to have a boyfriend?
DUNST: Oh yeah, I mean, I don’t have a boyfriend; I never do. It’s either meet the people on set… but even that’s weird because you’re working with people you know, so you don’t wanna get involved. When a relationship happens for me, it will happen, but it’s hard, definitely.
LEMON: Is it also difficult because people recognize you from the movies?
DUNST: Usually, the guys I’ve gone out with don’t care. They’re comfortable enough in their own thing. And my one friend—he thinks it’s fun. But he doesn’t really care; he likes me for who I am.
LEMON: Speaking of liking you for who you are, you have a number of pets who must feel that way about you. You were photographed with three cats and a dog. Were any of them yours?
DUNST: All of them. I have a farm in my house, didn’t you hear? [laughs] I have four cats and a dog, and when the photo shoot was going on, we were taking care of two of our friends’ cats.
LEMON: Does the dog suffer from an inferiority complex with all those cats around?
DUNST: No. I always take Beauty—that’s the dog—on location with me, so that’s when she gets quality time.
LEMON: If you had to choose one to turn into a human to be your lover, which would it be?
DUNST: All of them.
LEMON: All? There wouldn’t be enough room in the bed.
DUNST: There isn’t enough room now!LEMON: Back to movies. There seem to be a lot of cheerleading films this year, and you are starring in one of them, Cheer Fever [Bring It On].
DUNST: It’s about hardcore cheerleaders who compete in places like on the ESPN channel. In the movie, there’s tension between a black school and a white school over this big competition. The white girls stole all these routines from the East Compton Clovers—the black school. So, I realize that all these cheers have been stolen and that something has to be done about it.
LEMON: Normally, when cheerleaders compete, it can get pretty rough-and-tumble.
DUNST: Yeah, it’s tense. But you know what I like about this movie? It doesn’t show cheerleaders in a bad light. It shows how hard they work. They are gymnasts, dancers. They work their butts off, these girls.
LEMON: If you had a more normal school life, would you be the kind of person who tried out for the cheerleading squad?
DUNST: No. I like watching the game. And I don’t trust the girls who hold you up. I would be terrified. [laughs]
LEMON: You are also in a movie called, Crow: The Salvation.
DUNST: It’s the third Crow movie, and it’s about a guy accused of killing his girlfriend he’s sentenced to death and electrocuted. He comes back as a crow. I help him avenge her death, to find the real people who killed her.
LEMON: Is that your most recent movie?
DUNST: No, I did Luckytown with James Caan in Las Vegas a while ago.
LEMON: So that’ll come out at some point.
DUNST: It’s an independent film, so you never know.
LEMON: Did you get bitten by the acting bug early?
DUNST: I started when I was three, so I had been doing it for a while before we moved to L.A. from New Jersey, where I grew up. I did have this drive inside me. I knew what I wanted to do, so I just kept at it. It’s a long process, and the people who really appreciate where they are are the people who have worked for a long time. A lot of people my age who are working right now have never acted; they get a show and suddenly they’re making millions. It’s always those people who get it fast who have the most trouble staying grounded and being themselves.