For a certain generation of filmgoers, we measure our lives in Kirsten Dunst, whether that be her adolescent turn in “Interview with a Vampire,” her teenage peppiness in “Bring It On,” or her dour and depressed adult state of “Melancholia.” Dunst has grown before our eyes, not just as a person but as an actress, and it’s why her role as Krystal Stubbs on Showtime’s “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” is so different. Dunst isn’t just speaking for a generation of tired women seeking an outlet; she’s also showing off why she’s always been one of our most unsung leading ladies.
But for an actress who blew audiences away with her role in FX’s “Fargo” in 2015, this role was different, starting with the struggles to get it made. The series was initially set to be directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and after Lanithmos departed the series switched networks. Dunst said that there was a point where she planned to walk away from the show. “There was one time when I was like ‘I think I’m done, guys.’ I had just had a baby. And they [creators Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky] came over to the house and they pitched me the season,” Dunst told IndieWire. It’s a moment that left the actress with chills and gave her the motivation to stay with the project.
The birth of her first child in May 2018 also informed her portrayal of Krystal. “I knew I could put all that experience into playing her,” Dunst said. But almost immediately jumping into a new show after having a child came with its own problems. “I remember two weeks into [filming] crying to my mother-in-law saying, ‘I don’t think I can do this. It’s just so much.'” The demands of not just prepping for the role — “spray tans on Sundays” — coupled with actually filming the episodes kept her committed to the project for six straight months.
In-between filming she would sit in her trailer and bond with her son, not unlike Krystal does with her daughter, Destinee. And yet Dunst wants to make it clear that she isn’t a wonder woman. She says it was certainly tough to strike a balance but “every working mom does that.” A fact even more relatable considering that, like many parents, Dunst is currently quarantined with an active two-year-old. She says it’s been “an emotional rollercoaster” the last few months as current events have changed how Dunst and husband Jesse Plemmons celebrated both her and her son’s birthday.
In a way, Krystal Stubbs is the ultimate role for an actress who’s come to define so much about growing up. Nearly all of her performances have been that of women on the verge — either of madness or greatness — and how outside influences threaten to tear her apart. “I could put a lot of my rage into Krystal,” Dunst said. “She’s so instinctual in the way she acts. Her behavior is all over the place because she just doesn’t care. I liked that I didn’t have to hide any of those feelings.” Krystal’s frustrations are multi-tiered, not just aimed at cult-like pyramid scheme conman Obie Garbeau (Ted Levine), but also a world that keeps women struggling and beholden to male favors. It’s a role that feels deeply rooted in the feminist works of Dunst’s longtime collaboration with Sofia Coppola.
“I put in everything I had,” Dunst said. “People relate better to the character they’re watching. You want to see actors show all the ugliness and everything that they have inside of them. That’s what makes a character you want to watch and fight for.” And it’s what certainly comes through within Krystal. As a single mother whose dimwitted husband has bet their entire life on a multi-level pyramid scheme, Krystal has to navigate a world filled with true believers, and that causes her to both play their game and work outside of it.
Krystal’s goal transforms into infiltrating the organization known as FAM by preaching their benefits. Her speechifying draws comparisons to the likes of Burt Lancaster in “Elmer Gantry.” But for the interrelationship between Krystal and the FAM family, Dunst drew on the relationship between country music superstar Dolly Parton and collaborator/Svengali Porter Wagoner. “Here’s this firecracker lady who’s an amazing singer and she’s under the shadow of this man,” she said. “Their relationship was so complicated and how she got out of it; she kind of had to charm her way out to get ahead. She couldn’t just rely on her talent and and be treated equally.” Dunst called it a “big, sad message” that does have commonalities to the show. “If she was a man she’d be succeeding in this.”
That quote is particularly apropos to a legion of Dunst fans who maintain the actress should have far more awards than she does. Dunst herself took to the airwaves last August to voice why she’s never been nominated for an Oscar or won a Golden Globe (though she’s been nominated three times). In the interview with Sirius XM’s Larry Flick, Dunst said, “Maybe they just think I’m the girl from ‘Bring It On.'” When asked about the previous interview, Dunst says it’s just “luck of the draw” — that you’re either in a series or movie people rally behind or you aren’t.
Her biggest peeve, more than anything, is that the chasing of awards becomes a goal. “It’s annoying that they make you care about it. I’d be fine if there was none of this,” she said. She’s made movies that she’s proud of, and she’s certainly proud of the work she’s done regardless of awards recognition. On top of that, Dunst also remains critical of the attention paid to aesthetics, especially on red carpets. “When I was younger [on the red carpet] I’d be like ‘We’re all here together taking a picture for our movie. It’s so exciting.’ Now, I’m like ‘Oh, God, I’m gonna get criticized for every little piece of my hair, makeup, and outfit,” she said.
It brings up questions of body shaming, particularly a 2017 interview with Variety wherein Dunst discusses refusing to lose weight anymore for roles. In “On Becoming a God,” Krystal works at a local water park teaching water aerobics and rocks the hell out of a bathing suit. But Dunst was reticent: “Listen, did I want to jump around in a bathing suit after I just had a baby? Hell no!” That being said, Dunst said series costume designer Stacey Battat worked with her to find the perfect bathing suit (and bedazzled it) and at the end of the day the actress felt great about her body.
With her IDGAF spirit, Kirsten Dunst remains an actress doing truly original work and “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” is a key piece of that. An Emmy nomination would validate what fans have been saying for decades. Maybe it will also get us the adaptation of Shelley Duvall’s 1982 series “Faerie Tale Theatre” that Dunst and Sofia Coppola pitched a few years back. We can dream.
“On Becoming a God in Central Florida” is available on Showtime.