Kirsten Dunst on playing drunk, kids and her first Oscar nod

Kirsten Dunst stars in Netflix's "The Power of the Dog."
(Nino Munoz/Netflix)

Like most mothers of small children, Kirsten Dunst was multitasking when she learned that she, as well as her other half, Jesse Plemons, had each received supporting Oscar nominations for their performances in Jane Campion’s western thriller, “The Power of the Dog.” As 3-year-old Ennis watched cartoons, Dunst cradled 9-month-old James in one arm while holding her phone in the other hand as she streamed the announcements.

Then came her category, followed by the congratulatory calls, some happy shouting, some weeping, then finally calling Plemons on set where he was shooting an HBO Max limited series, “Love and Death.”

“You were nominated!” she told him.

“OK, I’ve got to go to rehearsal,” he replied.

“I think he was shellshocked,” says Dunst now, laughing.

Hard to believe as it may be, this is Dunst’s first Oscar nod, and heightening the luster of that honor was that “Power” received 12 total nominations, including for director, making Campion the first female filmmaker in Academy Award history to be twice-nominated in that category.


“It’s so nice that all of us got it together for the same film,” says Dunst, during a back porch video call from Austin, Texas. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s so special.”

Reportedly you and Benedict Cumberbatch — who plays the tormentor brother-in-law to your rancher wife, Rose — agreed not to speak when on set. Looking back, do you think it helped?

I think that was good for him. All the pleasantries that normally happen in the mornings or afternoons were gone. We [didn’t] have much interaction. But there were definitely days where I passed him and I’d forget and go [starts to wave hello, then abruptly jerks her hand down]. On the weekends, we’d see each other, hang out with our sons or go to dinner. I think whatever helps anyone get the best performance they can, I’m like, “You do you.”

Most of Rose’s scenes were indoors, but exteriors were scheduled first. What was that like for you?

I’d work one day then have five days off. For an actor, that makes it hard to get into a zone. And every time I did come to work, it was always me running out of the house screaming or me meeting the Native Americans and crying. It was always intense. I also remember feeling the pressure of, “I’m in a Jane Campion movie. I can’t screw this up.” And there were times where she’d keep the camera rolling and go, “OK, now we’re going to try it more drunk.”

Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon in "The Power of the Dog."
(Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

How did you get to “more drunk”?

I come up with imagery that helps me. Like instead of playing drunk, I’d pretend that I could see fireflies all around Kodi [Smit-McPhee, who plays Rose’s son]. So your eyes start looking like you’re trying to find something.

You’ve been hitting your mark since you were 6. Share a useful acting tip offered along the way.

In “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” Allison Janney told me to spin around in a circle a bunch before a scene where I had to seem out of it because it would help me feel off balance. I’ve used that ever since. It’s the best! No one wants to be worried about the physical part. It’s fun to do little things sometimes.

Jesse Plemons as George Burbank and Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon in "Power of the Dog."
(Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)

You and … what do I call Jesse? Your partner? Your fiancé since 2017?


We call each other husband and wife. But we have to get married at this point. It’s ridiculous. We just haven’t planned a wedding. There was COVID, then we had another child. I didn’t want to be pregnant, get married, have a party and not be able to have fun with everybody.

Got it. You and Jesse were both child actors. Do you speak the same work language?

Yes. We mostly give each other ideas if we have them. If I had to laugh, he’d do something funny off camera so I’d genuinely laugh. If it’s my coverage, I’ll ask him after a take, “What else should I try?” We consult with each other a lot, and I’m sure Jane thought it was funny.

In most of your scenes, though, you’re alone.

I love when you get to see characters in private moments. Like Gena Rowlands singing to herself in “Faces.” You’re really seeing her crack, but she’s by herself. You learn so much more about a character through that than any words. Whenever someone is alone or in a bathtub, I like playing that stuff.

Kirsten Dunst stars in Netflix's "The Power of the Dog.".
Kirsten Dunst stars in Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog.”
(Nino Munoz/Netflix)

What’s the best post-nomination message you received?

A direct message voice recording from Sarah Paulson. She’s so kind and funny. It’s just the way she speaks about this business. Also, she’s the best curser on planet Earth. I’ve listened to it with Jesse about five times. I wish I could play it for you. But I can’t breach her privacy. [Wistful pause] But I want to. [Laughs] It’s mostly F-bombs. She really made my day.

You’ll soon start filming “Civil War,” directed by Alex Garland. Thoughts?

Being at home with your children is, to me, the hardest job in the world. Jesse says I’m a great mother, so that’s all I care about. But it’s so exhausting. It feels like “Groundhog Day”: You’re in a robe all day, and you never have time to do anything for yourself. I’m so excited [to go back to work]. I can’t wait for someone to be, like, “Would you like some coffee?”