Jane Campion and Kirsten Dunst admired one another before they’d ever met, but it was Campion who made the first move.
She was enamored of Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” and wrote Dunst a letter. There were talks of adapting an Alice Munro story, but it would be years until they’d get the chance to work together. The film is “ The Power of the Dog,” an intimate family drama set against the epic vistas of 1925 Montana.
The film may get Dunst her first Oscar nomination for her heartbreaking performance as Rose, a fragile single mother whose new brother-in-law (Benedict Cumberbatch) seems determined to destroy her.
The AP spoke to Campion and Dunst about their story, the film (in select theaters Wednesday; on Netflix Dec. 1) and Dunst’s code word for awards. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Your admiration for Dunst goes beyond “The Virgin Suicides,” too.
CAMPION: “Melancholia” to me was some of the finest female acting I’ve ever seen.
DUNST: Jane, you’ve never said that to me. I’m going to cry.
CAMPION: It was so damn beautiful and the character that she created was so fragile. I just fell in love with her and her sort of other worldly knowing about the end of the world and the depression that she seemed to be burdened with. Kirsten’s right up there for me. She’s my Gena Rowlands, and I mean it. And we were born on the same day.
DUNST: Oh yeah, we’re both April 30th gals. And Lars Von Trier.
AP: I read that Elisabeth Moss was attached as Rose first, but there were scheduling issues.
CAMPION: I can’t think of anybody else actually doing it now. It was sad at the time, but I did have Kirsten in my mind from a lifetime of watching your work. Everybody said Jesse (Plemons) would be a great George. And then Kirsten put his arm off his back and he was in it.
DUNST: Jesse got the script first and I was like, “You’re doing this movie.” I was a good side package for the Jesse.
(ED NOTE: Plemons and Dunst are engaged and have two children)
CAMPION: There was a moment where we didn’t know if our schedules would work either.
DUNST: I had lunch with (Showtime) and I pretty much cried and begged for them to let me do the film. That’s why I wore a wig in the movie, because I was supposed to go back to do a season two of (“On Becoming a God in Central Florida”). Then I got pregnant and I didn’t want to work pregnant during COVID.
CAMPION: I think the wig was good, though, because seeing your hair now, it’s too nice.
DUNST: It made me a little dowdy.
CAMPION: (Kirsten’s) got such a beautiful womanly, feminine quality and kindness that I think is the essence of Rose. It’s so important to our story. If we don’t love Rose and worry about what’s happening to her then there isn’t any tension.
DUNST: I’m bad at talking about what I do. I’m not good at putting words to how I’m going to approach something. It’s not so intellectual.
CAMPION: I trust that. In fact, I like that better. I remember once watching behind the camera and she had to come out with a load of wash and start putting it on a line and look out at her son. I just couldn’t believe how intrigued I was by her just doing this thing.
AP: An Oscar is long overdue, but does it mean something to you Kirsten?
DUNST: It’s just nice to get to know Jane in a different way than playing Rose because playing Rose was not the most fun. To pick your brain about other things is fun for me. Actually, the role I’m playing next, I thought, there’s something about you that I like for it. I was like, I’ve got to pay attention to Jane because there might be something there for me.
CAMPION: My anthropology should be useful to you. I’m so curious about people.
DUNST: You’re very present. She took a picture with an iPhone of Jesse putting his hand on my shoulder and it was one of the most beautiful iPhone photos I’d ever seen. The way you look at the world? I often think I just want to switch for just even an hour just to see what it’s like.
CAMPION: You always know what’s good. Her and her friends. What did you say, that it was a good shrimp or something?
DUNST: Oh yeah, when we first saw the film I said, “This will get a lot of shrimps,” which is a code word me and my girlfriends have because it’s corny to talk about awards. So we call them shrimps instead.
AP: Wait, where did this start?
DUNST: My friends Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte. You go, “This movie’s pretty shrimpy,” or like, “We deserve some shrimps for this.” It’s fun.
AP: Well Jane, is it exciting to be back in the shrimp conversation again? (Campion won the Oscar for writing “The Piano”).
CAMPION: I think the shrimp conversation is designed to go up and down and everywhere and whatever. I don’t feel it’s a helpful thing to involve yourself in it. I feel like we’re living the life right now where I am with Kirsten and we’re enjoying the moment. But of course I am thrilled that people are experiencing it in a strong way and that they have an appetite for complex material.
I started with the hope of having an animated short play three minutes in front of a film at a film festival. Most guys would say, ‘Oh, I want to win the Academy Award or I want to be a feature maker.’ I never said that because it was beyond my comprehension. The goals just went up a little bit each time.
DUNST: My goal was to be on a television show. And then I got “Interview with the Vampire.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ldbahr
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