Kirsten Dunst has never been trepidatious about speaking her mind. The Point Pleasant native has been in the spotlight since she was six years old, subject to entertainment journalists’ and gossip columnists’ searing questions before graduating junior high. Just last summer, a resurfaced clip from a 1994 interview went viral, when the 12-year old Dunst stood her ground when probed about critiquing her on-screen kiss with Brad Pitt in Interview with a Vampire (Pitt was 31 at the time, and Dunst didn’t mince words about the kiss being “awkward”). More recently, the 41 year old Oscar nominee opened up about her experience with ageism in Hollywood, noting her recent hiatus from acting was not due to lack of interest, but because she was only being offered roles as a “sad mom.” “There’s definitely less good roles for women my age,” she told Marie Claire, adding, “To be honest, that’s been hard for me…because I need to feed myself. The hardest thing is being a mom and…feeling like I have nothing for myself. That’s every mother not just me.”

This spring, Dunst returns to the silver screen in her first film since 2021’s psychological Western drama The Power of the Dog (for which she earned an Oscar nomination, the first of her career), and she is most certainly not portraying a sad mom. As the title character in cult director Alex Garland’s hotly anticipated dystopian action film Civil War, Dunst portrays military-embedded photojournalist Lee Smith on a dangerous trek to Washington D.C. in a deeply fractured, near-future United States. The film, which has unsurprisingly sparked gobs of internet chatter given its release during a contentious election year, is the most expensive project to date from A24, the indie entertainment company behind several critically acclaimed sleeper hits like Everything Everywhere All at Once, Talk To Me, and The Whale.

“When I read the script, I thought, I’ve never done anything like this,” she told Marie Claire, and that’s what hooked her. Throughout her three-decade career, Dunst has fronted a vast range of genres, from hot-ticket superhero sagas (the Spider Man trilogy, anyone?) and biting satires (1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous) to heady horrors (2011’s Melancholia) and emotional dramas (2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). She told Marie Claire that Civil War’s explosive, gunfire-heavy setting presented a new challenge, even noting she experienced “PTSD for a good two weeks” once the film wrapped. “When I make something, I feel like no one’s ever going to see it,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2019. “I feel like I do it for myself.”

Dunst spent the first decade of her life in New Jersey, the daughter of a medical services executive and flight attendant. At age three, she was already getting commercial work, and at six she appeared in an episode of Saturday Night Live as President George W. Bush’s granddaughter. That same year, she landed her first feature film in the 1989 American anthology film New York Stories. Over the next few years, she had minor roles in a handful of films, including The Bonfire of the Vanities opposite Tom Hanks, before landing her breakout role as a child vampire in the 1994 fantasy-horror Interview with a Vampire, sharing scenes with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Christian Slater, and Antonio Banderas. While the film received tepid reviews, Dunst’s performance was widely celebrated, and she won an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance and a Saturn Award for Best Young Actress in addition to a Golden Globe nomination (the Globe went home with Dianne Wiest for her stunning portrayal of the martini-loving diva Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway).


Dunst ended the year with another universally lauded performance as the younger Amy March in the 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age classic Little Women. The New York Times labeled Dunst a “scene stealer,” and by the time she celebrated her 13th birthday, she was a bona-fide movie star.

“It’s not a natural way to grow up, but it’s the way I grew up and I wouldn’t change it,” said Dunst, whose foray into acting was largely guided by her mother, as she later reflected on her childhood fame. “I have my stuff to work out… I don’t think anybody can sit around and say, ‘My life is more screwed up than yours.’ Everybody has their issues.”

FARGO — Pictured: Kirsten Dunst as Peggy.
CR: Mathias Clamer/FX

From there, her career took off, landing roles in big-budget blockbusters like Jumanji (1995) opposite Robin Williams, and Wag the Dog (1997), starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, plus stints on long running television staples like ER and Touched By An Angel. Toward the turn of the millennium, she became the go-to choice in satire, leading the cast in time capsule hits like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Dick (1999), and 2000’s cheerleading cult sensation Bring It On. In 1999, she also teamed up with director/screenwriter Sofia Coppola for the first time in Virgin Suicides, whom she’d work with again several times throughout her career, including Marie Antoinette (2006) and The Beguiled (2017). Dunst said Coppola made a lasting impact on her career. “I feel like Virgin Suicides was a huge deal for me because it was that first, you know, I got to be beautiful, but ‘of substance’ in a movie,” she told Yahoo! Entertainment. “I was taken care of because it was Sofia, a female filmmaker. That was a transition that I think was a very important one for me and my career.”

Fame hit an all-time high in 2002 following the first installment of the record-shattering Spider-Man trilogy, the live-action franchise credited with birthing the now ubiquitous super hero cinematic movement. (Fun fact: the film’s producer and eventual president of yet-to-be formed Marvel Studios, Avi Arad, said every studio in town had turned the Spider-Man concept down before it was greenlit by Columbia Pictures). The upside down kiss in the rain between Dunst’s MJ and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man will forever live on in the pop culture hall of fame.

Since the onset of her career, Dunst has actively and successfully resisted being placed in a box. She’s hyper-selective of the roles she takes on, willing to wait until a character with meat, with nuance, with depth, comes across her lap (a perk of success, perhaps, but also a testament to her integrity as an actor). It’s the reason she was willing to stay out of the spotlight for three years until the right project presented itself, one that could push even a 30-year screen veteran. “She has a deep level of craft, and crucially for this role, she has soul,” Alex Garland said of choosing Dunst for Civil War. “It’s in her eyes, and her gaze, which felt perfect for a photographer.”