‘Marie Antoinette’ Reunion: Kirsten Dunst and Jamie Dornan on Overcoming Nerves and Turning 22 on Set

Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”) and Jamie Dornan (“Belfast”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon Studios. For more, click here.

Since their first meeting, Jamie Dornan and Kirsten Dunst have followed similar trajectories. They initially played off one another in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film “Marie Antoinette” — his eligible Swedish count set off sparks with her teen queen of France. After each starred in blockbuster trilogies (“Spider-Man” for Dunst and “Fifty Shades” for Dornan), they moved on to more challenging indie work.

This past year, both actors played parents struggling with circumstance: In Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” Dunst portrays Rose, a lonely alcoholic whose marriage into a 1920s Montana ranch family destabilizes her. And in Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical “Belfast,” Dornan is also trying to escape his surroundings. As Pa, a character based on the director’s father, he attempts to protect his family from the 1969 troubles in Northern Ireland.

KIRSTEN DUNST: Jamie and I worked together on your first acting gig, right?

JAMIE DORNAN: Yeah. I remember thinking it might be my last. I remember thinking I really don’t know what I’m doing here, and it was, Jesus, 17 years ago.

DUNST: That’s crazy. We both have two children — or you have three?

DORNAN: I have three, but I remember we both had our birthday. We were both 22 when we started. Yours was quite a big event. Mine was much of a lesser
occasion. That was a pretty good first gig. I know you started pretty strong as a
young actor, and much younger.

DUNST: But I was nervous too, Jamie.

DORNAN: Yeah?

DUNST: And all our stuff was like making out, and I’m not comfortable with that. It’s never comfortable, ever. I think my first time I even showed my breasts was with Sofia. She never used the take, and I don’t even think you were there. I felt overwhelmed too.

DORNAN: God, that’s crazy to know. I mean, you handled it well. I thought you were in control of everything. I remember we had to improvise, and Sofia did this thing of how we didn’t really meet until we met in the scene. Isn’t that right?

DUNST: Oh yeah, which is sometimes a little bit more awkward. But I knew you were in a band at the time. And you were a model.

DORNAN: I was a bit like, “This is a cool opportunity. I’ll do that.” I wasn’t one of those kids who was like, I want to be an actor when I grow up. I was just following what my gut was telling me to do.

DUNST: I feel like each movie is kind of its own planet. I really like a more natural way of acting rather than a presentational way of acting.

DORNAN: Sure.

DUNST: But both can be good.

DORNAN: I’ve always been drawn to very naturalistic performances. I want to talk to you about “The Power of the Dog.” I love that you have that stillness. Jane Campion — I mean, she’s a bit of an enigma to me. Did you find that reputation she had harder to access, or was she open from the beginning with you?

DUNST: Jane wanted to get down to what really makes me tick as Rose — her vulnerabilities and what she related to in Rose in her own life. She had a nanny that was gaslighting her, bullying her, would not feed her certain things. So
immediately, she was vulnerable about her own struggles.

And surprisingly, Jane is a very good actress. Whenever we were in rehearsal, she acted so well. And sometimes behind the camera, when I wasn’t on screen I’d watch her, and she’d mouth the lines — almost like a little stage mother-y. It’s so sweet, though; she’s so into it. I’m sure she writes her script a little like that. She must.

DORNAN: Right. How did you go about constructing Rose in your mind?

DUNST: We had a month before we started shooting, and I didn’t play the piano. So that was a really big hurdle for me to get through. I learned two pieces. When I finally put my hands together and started to learn it like that, I literally looked up and thanked God. I think I cried a little bit. Because it’s so hard to learn an instrument, especially when you have a child. I’d put my kid to bed and then just get to the piano and drive everybody nuts with the same lick over and over again.

DORNAN: Are you quite good about leaving it all on set and just getting home and being yourself?

DUNST: These things seep in, no matter what. I felt like I was more insecure playing Rose than I have been in a very long time about the work I had done for the day.

In “Belfast,” you play Kenneth Branagh’s father. I’m sure there’s some kind of pressure in that — to do his father justice. Was that a weird thing for you?

DORNAN: We had this brilliant introductory discussion. He was making me feel that I was the only person he wanted to be portraying his father. And we’re talking about his life story. I had so many questions for him in the beginning about his father and how he really would have responded in these scenarios, trying to get a sense of his dad beyond the page. It’s not like he wouldn’t answer them, but he was very much like: “I want you to do your own thing with it.”

That’s massive to be given that confidence, rather than trying to be this idealized version of who his father was. So it ended up being easy, because I’ve never felt such freedom on a set. I’ve never felt so confident on a film set before.

DUNST: I remember on “Melancholia,” I had the best time. It was the coziest set and so free. And I was playing someone who was depressed. And we were all in the zone together. And I feel like in Europe — we shot in Sweden — people are just more free. I think I like that European mentality when it comes to filmmaking. It seems like anything goes.

DORNAN: I remember on “Marie Antoinette” there being red wine at lunch.

DUNST: I did that one day. I remember, because I knew it would make me tired to have a glass of wine at lunch. I’d be like, “Zonk!” — with the hair. When I was younger on “Interview With the Vampire,” they had wine too. It’d be freezing in Paris. Everyone would pack into these lunch buses and have this gorgeous meal in the middle of the night.

We had to stop and then restart in New Zealand to make “The Power of the Dog.” When did you make the film? Fully in the pandemic?

DORNAN: We were the first production in the U.K. to start shooting in the pandemic. It was two weeks rehearsal and then 25 shooting days. It came at this sweet spot in the U.K. where they had this easing of restrictions in the summer. But we were all in this bubble.

Ken did this great thing where we sat around a table the first day of rehearsals, and it was all the grown-ups — basically myself, Caitríona Balfe, Dame Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds. I’d never met Dame Judi Dench. And of course, we’re all wearing masks, but Judi comes in wearing a tiger mask, like a roaring tiger. It was so great.

DUNST: Oh, my God. The oldest person who should probably be wearing protective gear is like, “I have the fun mask.”

DORNAN: As Ciarán Hinds says, “She’s just a rebel.” And we’re all there in our very medical-looking blue masks.