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Rocking the Boat with Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst talks about THE CAT'S MEOW's mysterious shipboard murder, fake blood and what happened to her teeth after INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE

By Paul Zimmerman     April 28, 2002

Kirsten Dunst is Marion Davies in THE CAT'S MEOW.
© 2002 Lions Gate Films
For Kirsten Dunst, the hardest part about playing William Randolph Hearst's mistress Marion Davis in the new murder mystery THE CAT'S MEOW wasn't the period clothes, the permed hair or cradling a bloodied murder victim in her arms. It was kissing 58-year-old co-star Edward Herman, who plays the legendary publishing magnate Hearst.

"It's really weird," a wide-eyed Dunst exclaims. "A little uncomfortable. Just the thought of anyone with a daughter your age and you're kissing him. Luckily I didn't have to make out; it was just a brief kiss. But anybody who has a daughter my age I really don't want to be kissing. Not in a weird way like that."

Nicole Oakley (Kristen Dunst) and Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez) fall in love in CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL

Dunst plays Davies, the notorious actress/adulteress/flapper at the center of the intrigue and murder that climaxes THE CAT'S MEOW. The film is about a ship full of people with agendas. Hearst lusts after and covets Davies. Charlie Chaplin (THE AVENGERS' Eddie Izzard) wants her to run off and marry him. Struggling producer Thomas Ince (THE PRINCESS BRIDE's Cary Elwes) wants Hearst to invest in a movie venture he's trying to get off the ground. Famed gossip-columnist-to-be Louella Parsons (BRIDE OF CHUCKY's Jennifer Tilly) wants Hearst to give her a better newspaper job. And so on.

Based on what may or may not have happened on Hearst's private yacht in 1924, THE CAT'S MEOW follows nine passengers who get on board one weekend for fun and frolicking. Two days later one has to be taken off suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Was it Hearst who fired the shot? Was Chaplin involved? And what did Davies witness?

The film marks the big-screen return of legendary 1970s director Peter Bogdanovich (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, PAPER MOON), who hasn't had a hit since the 1980s.

Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, SPIDER-MAN

"Peter was at first a little nervous with me," Dunst says with a sly smile. "He was like, 'You know, you've got to deepen your voice a little bit.' And I was like, 'I know, Peter, I know.' He was very fatherly to me -- it was very cute -- on the whole film. He really came to respect me over the course of the first week. But I think in the beginning he was like, 'You know on PAPER MOON I gave Tatum [O'Neal] line readings,' and I was just like, 'All right, Peter, whatever, you're not going to give me line readings, buddy.' He was a little worried, you know what I mean? And now he's like, 'Oh, Kirsten, she's so great.' Now he can't stop saying enough nice things about me and he's like, 'We have to do another movie together' and 'la-la-la,' and before it was, 'Uh-oh, what's this girl? Is she going to work good?'"

Having played a child vampire, a charm school contestant and a high school cheerleader, Dunst now found herself playing a character six years older than she actually is -- one who had lived a rough and frantic life.

"Marion had a pretty deep voice," Dunst says. "She smoked and drank -- she had a pretty husky voice. [Bogdanovich] just wanted me to deepen my voice in general so I'm a little older because I have a pretty high voice."

And even though Dunst bristles at the thought of her kissing scenes with Herman, she has nothing but praise for the actor who's made his living playing historical characters.

"He is totally a great actor," she says with youthful enthusiasm. "He really nailed Hearst, I think, for sure. He just showed this giddy little boy side to him when he's with Marion, and I think that's true to their relationship."

Kirsten Dunst is Marion Davies in THE CAT'S MEOW.

Dunst's enthusiasm extends from working with the veteran cast to the "flapper" period in general.

"I love the 1920s, the whole era -- the costumes, the hair and makeup," she says, "The whole romantic idea of their parties, it's just so glamorous."

And about a public figure having such a public adulterous romance?

"I feel... I mean..." Dunst starts, stumbles, then chooses her words carefully. "Hearst was definitely not involved with his wife anymore, even though they didn't get a divorce. But I felt very bad for Marion because I'm sure she would have loved to have married him, and it's very sad to live your life like that even though it's just a vow or just a ring. It's very sad for her. I think she was probably in a little denial about that. To be thought of as just a mistress -- it can't feel good inside."

To research this famous but elusive woman, Dunst says she "read a book called THE TIMES WE HAD and I watched movies and a documentary about her, and [I think] she really did love him so much. They had kind of a father-daughter almost dynamic. And she was there for him and he just felt so much joy in her. She was always the life of the party, she always entertained -- she kept him young, I think."

Dunst sings a song during one of the many party scenes and also at the end of the film.

Kirsten Dunst stars as Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN

"For some odd reason when I sing I can really deepen my voice," she remarks. "I don't know how that works. I sang in GET OVER IT, which was a kind of silly comedy. It was a Miramax movie that just kind of came and went. It was kind of funny because it made fun of teen movies in a little bit of a way. It was cute and I sang a lot in that movie."

While Dunst is enjoying unprecedented fame and recognition with the upcoming SPIDER-MAN film, her career has also had some disappointments -- like the ill-fated THE CROW: SALVATION.

"You know what?" she says of the third CROW film in retrospect, "I think that was not a great choice maybe on my part. I thought it was a good role, but some things just don't happen, I guess. It was kind of sad, but what can you do?"

An unflappable vet at the tender age of 19, Dunst has had the public worrying about her every since, at 11, she played a ringlet-coifed bloodsucker opposite Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. She laughs at the notion that the film ever had any ill effects on her upbringing.

"I knew the blood was fake," she says matter-of-factly. "It wasn't like I was having nightmares or anything. And I'm an actress. Actually the reason I did LITTLE WOMEN right after INTERVIEW was I wanted to do a film where people wouldn't think I was some sort of disturbed child."

Looking back on her time in London shooting the latter film she recalls, "We had our beautiful little Regent Hotel which we loved [and] which we turned into our little house, and we had our Christmas tree and I played with my Barbies and would do my tutoring on-set and then I'd go bite people. It was very normal. I was doing my job and my mom wasn't freaked out. Brad and Tom were such nice guys. I was treated like a princess on that set. It was pretty amazing."

But did she keep the fangs she wore for the film? Dunst smiles wide and looks down.

"Yeah. I did. They're framed in a black coffin."


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