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Over more than 30 years in Hollywood, Kirsten Dunst has racked up an impressive résumé, her career spanning film and television, horror and satire, superhero spectacles and existential indies.

Though often overlooked by the industry, the 39-year-old star's long list of diverse credits speaks for itself. And this year, on the merit of her raw performance in Netflix's The Power of the Dog, the actress is poised to receive long-overdue recognition from her peers — perhaps in the form of her first-ever Oscar nomination.

With the film landing on Netflix this week, EW chatted with the star about some of her greatest roles, from a child-vampire to a cheerleading captain to a dead French queen and beyond.

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Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros.

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

At 11 years old, Dunst got her breakout role — as a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of an angelic-looking child — with a little help from Tom Cruise: "I was the tallest girl [at the last audition]. So he had me tuck my legs under, so I looked shorter when he picked me up," she recalls. "I felt like he was already like, 'I like this kid.'" Neil Jordan's adaptation of Anne Rice's 1976 gothic novel is mature stuff for a preteen, but despite the creepy material and constant night shoots, Cruise and costar Brad Pitt kept the mood light. "They treated me so sweetly. I was such a princess on that set," Dunst says. "The darkness was always balanced out by fart jokes by Brad."

DICK, from left: Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, 1999, ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collect
Credit: Everett Collection

Dick (1999)

Over an intense few months, Dunst filmed Dick, The Virgin Suicides, and Drop Dead Gorgeous "back to back to back," she remembers. "But I really liked all these scripts. [With] Dick, I was like, 'this is so funny.' I always loved comedies. I never took myself super seriously." Irreverence was a virtue in the making of Andrew Fleming's satirical comedy, which cheekily submits the possibility of two naïve teenagers (Dunst and Michelle Williams) having been Watergate informant Deep Throat. "Michelle and I had so much fun together," Dunst says. "We instantly had such an easy, nice, fun rapport with each other. It felt like you were working with your best friend every day."

The Virgin Suicides - 1999
Credit: American Zoetrope/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Dunst remembers Sofia Coppola's debut feature, which ignited a fruitful creative partnership between actress and director, as "unlike any other set I had been on before — very small and intimate." As Lux Lisbon, the boldest of the five doomed sisters whose fate gives the film (and the Jeffrey Eugenides novel on which it's based) its title, the "very innocent" 16-year-old Dunst found herself in a sexual role for the first time. "It was a turning point for me," she reflects. "To have that through a female gaze instead of a male gaze set me up for the rest of my career, being a young girl in this industry, to not want that approval from male directors. Sofia gave me that in such a tender, beautiful way."

Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Everett Collection

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Though misunderstood upon its release, Drop Dead Gorgeous has become a cult favorite in the decades since — but Dunst was in love from the minute she read the script. "When I read the script, I was dying," she says. "I wanted to be in that movie so bad." A satirical mocukmentary by Michael Patrick Jann, the film chronicles a fictional Minnesota teen pageant where, suspiciously, the contestants keep suffering bizarre accidents. "All the beauty pageants, Miss America, all that crap — I love it. I love that world," Dunst says. "It was fun because we got to learn dance routines for it. Growing up, I was a cheerleader in eighth grade." That experience served her well again a year later, with…

Bring It On (2000)Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Ken Jacques/Universal

Bring It On (2000)

"We made the movie for nothing," Dunst says of Bring It On. "We were a little Universal movie that no one cared about." Until everyone did. Peyton Reed's comedy, in which Dunst stars as effervescent high-school cheerleading captain Torrance Shipman, went on to become one of the defining teen movies of the early aughts, launching a string of straight-to-video sequels and a whole new millennial lexicon. "Even my friends — who tell me how it is — will be like, 'I'll get the door, Tor,'" the actress says with a laugh. "I never thought that movie would be as big as it is." Making it to the top of the pyramid (or the box office) can have its drawbacks, though; with the visibility of Bring It On, Dunst worried she wouldn't be taken seriously: "It's nice to enjoy these things, but your young self always judges you so hard." 

Spider-Man (2002)Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Columbia Pictures

Spider-Man (2002)

Hollywood is now two live-action Spider-Man cycles past Sam Raimi's trilogy from the 2000s, which starred Tobey Maguire as the webslinger and kicked off the current era of superhero cinema. "It seems like a lot of movies I do get remade," Dunst observes. "It's like a running theme for me." It was Maguire who suggested her to play the winsome Mary Jane Watson after he noticed her on a GAP billboard on Sunset Boulevard; she was filming The Cat's Meow in Berlin at the time, and the filmmakers "flew to Germany to audition me. Isn't that crazy?" she marvels. As for those remakes? "I wish they'd put me in another one. Like, old-girl Mary Jane — why not?" says the actress (who is rumored to appear in this month's Spider-Man: No Way Home). "I would do [another superhero movie]. Everybody else is!"

Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Everett Collection

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

"When you get to read a Charlie Kaufman script, it's like reading a great novel," Dunst says. So when she encountered this fractured sci-fi romance, about a couple who undergo a procedure to erase their memories of each other, she campaigned for director Michel Gondry to cast her in a supporting role. Having just made Bring It On and Spider-Man, the actress worried the filmmaker would think she was "too cheerful," but she had conviction that the unconventional romance was much more aligned with her own ideas for her career. "As I was growing up, educating myself more in film, I just felt like it was less me to be the perfect blonde person," she says. "I was migrating towards weirder indie movies."

Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Everett Collection

Marie Antoinette (2006)

When Sofia Coppola asked Dunst to play the decadent French queen in this biopic based on Antonia Fraser's bestselling biography, it was an easy oui. "It wasn't really a decision," the actress says. "Every time we work together again, it always feels like you're riding on her ocean. You always feel like you're on this very private Sofia ship, which is really beautiful." Filmed in the French countryside — and at Versailles itself on Mondays, when it was closed to the public — the lavish production was immersive and intimate, "but I also remember feeling lonely, too, on set," Dunst admits (though she adds it "worked perfectly" for her portrayal of the isolated royal). "It was just a lot of hair. I just felt like I was in hair for hours every day."

MELANCHOLIA (2011)Kirsten Dunst
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Melancholia (2011)

Feeling uninspired by the work she'd been getting, Dunst saw Melancholia as an opportunity: "I had so much in me to give to that role." Cast on the recommendation of Paul Thomas Anderson, Dunst won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance as a troubled young woman at the end of the world in Lars von Trier's poetic rendering of depression. Despite the film's heaviness, "I had the best time. When you're in a good place, it's so much easier to access the darkness inside of yourself. And I was ready to lay it all on the line. So it was perfect — a perfect time."

Kirsten Dunst in Bachelorette
Credit: Jacob Hutchings

Bachelorette (2012)

After Melancholia made her an icon of art-house gloom, Dunst was inundated with offers to play depressed characters. "They see you do one thing and they just want that again," she laments. "I was like, 'I can't! I'm not this person!'" Seeking out a comedy, she found Leslye Headland's sourly hilarious indie, in which she stars as the bitter maid of honor at a bachelorette party gone wrong. It was a small movie with a first-time director, but "I go sometimes with what I need for myself rather than [being] strategic," says Dunst. "I liked the crassness of it." Alongside Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher as fellow bridesmaids, the role presented a doubly rare chance: "You don't often get to work with other great actresses, [or] to play somebody who's in a bitchy mood all the time — which is fun!"

FARGO Episode: "Palindrome"
Credit: Chris Large/FX

Fargo (2015)

A leading role in the second season of Noah Hawley's acclaimed anthology series "obviously worked out for me for a lot of reasons," Dunst says, giggling. She doesn't just mean the Emmy nomination she got; the actress also met her fiancé, Jesse Plemons, on the show, with whom she now has two sons. The pair play a working-class couple who become entangled in a gang war in 1970s Minnesota. "We worked really hard together and we just kind of jived immediately," she says. "That felt so fun and special. It's obviously the most transformative thing that I've done."

ON BECOMING A GOD IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
Credit: Patti Perret/Sony/SHOWTIME

On Becoming a God in Central Florida (2019)

Following the great success — both personal and professional — of Fargo, Dunst returned to prestige TV with Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky's dark comedy series, about a widow who climbs the ladder of the pyramid scheme that ruined her family, intent on destroying the company from the inside. "Working on a television show is so much harder than working on a movie," the star admits. "The kind of preparation I like to do, you have to do for every episode." This time, too, she added a producer credit to her résumé, which added to the workload — though she did develop one foolproof hack: "I would go and look up who's been in talks for Paul Thomas Anderson movies, because they're cast so well," she says. "And then I was like, 'Oh, he'd be good!'"

THE POWER OF THE DOG
Credit: KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX

The Power of the Dog (2021)

With Jane Campion's Western for Netflix, Dunst fulfilled a longtime dream to work with the revered director of The Piano, who hasn't make a feature since 2009's Bright Star. "Her female performances are the kind that, as an actress, inspire your own risks," she says. "That's the kind of acting I want to be a part of." Plemons and Dunst share the screen again, as ranch owner George and his timid bride, Rose; Benedict Cumberbatch plays George's threatening brother Phil, who resents his new sister-in-law. Dunst and Cumberbatch never spoke on the set, allowing the tension between them to mount, and the actress admits that she felt depleted by Rose's sadness and insecurity, which "felt like old feelings of being a young actress." But it wasn't the role itself that she was after, anyway: "It wasn't like I needed [to play Rose] to purge part of myself. I wanted to work with Jane Campion. I would have played Phil!"

A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's December issue, on newsstands now and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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