Kirsten Dunst on the secret she shared with Kodi Smit-McPhee while making The Power of the Dog
After years of strong work in movies such as The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kirsten Dunst is finally an Oscar nominee for her vulnerable turn as an alcoholic frontier wife in Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog. Dunst, always a fun conversationalist, sat down with EW's The Awardist (via Zoom) to discuss working on the set of Campion's Western. Particularly, she touched on her unique prep with costar Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays her on-screen son.
"When I first met Kodi," Dunst says, "I had this idea to have a secret with him, so that we had a little creepiness together, a little bit of weird: 'What's going on with this mother and son?'"
Inventing backstory is often the work of actors, explains Dunst, even if it's not verbalized on set. "They have this secret together, like some past that binds them, a tragedy, whatever it is, that you feel that tension between them," she adds. "There's a secret. Because when you meet them, you see they're functioning at this inn, they run this inn together."
And what was the secret? (Check out now if you want to remain spoiler-free.) Smiling, Dunst spills it: "I guess I could say what the secret was. In the book, my character's husband hangs himself and he just really fell into alcoholism. That's why Rose is very against drinking. So, Kodi and I thought, Okay, well maybe we have this secret where [Kodi's character] just let him do it…that he might have let him do what he did."
Dunst freely admits that her invention isn't in the book, nor did she tell director Campion until long after the shoot wrapped. "Nobody knew," she says. "Jane didn't know it. Until recently, she's like, 'That didn't happen in the book.' I was like, 'No, it didn't!'"
Click through to hear more about Dunst's creative process, including her anecdotes about scaring the horses, and working with real-life husband Jesse Plemons (also an Oscar-nominee). Watch the full conversation above. The Power of the Dog is available for streaming on Netflix.
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