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Kirsten Dunst has gone from child vampire to Spider-Man's love interest and now doomed French queen Marie Antoinette, whose rise in the aristocracy could mirror the actress's own climb to Hollywood stardom.
Dunst's new movie, Marie Antoinette, debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday, and the 24-year-old told Reuters that playing the 18th-century teenage monarch was among the most intense work of her career.
The movie revolves around the title character, putting the pressure squarely on Dunst to put in a strong performance. Playing the queen was made even more difficult because of director Sofia Coppola's style of telling stories, as much with pictures as with words.
Yet Dunst said she had one factor in her favor.
"I can understand the psychology behind it all," she said of Marie Antoinette's rise to queen of France, "trying to find yourself while you're being watched by other people and asked how you're finding yourself."
The movie focuses on young Marie Antoinette, an archduchess of Austria who, at age 14, was sent to France to marry the dauphin who eventually became King Louis XVI.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette famously met their demise at the wrong end of the guillotine during the French Revolution, but the movie excludes their deaths and focuses on Marie growing into adulthood amid the arrogant aristocracy at Versailles.
Dunst was a child when she began acting, and her early roles ranged from big-budget thrillers like 1994's Interview With the Vampire to art-house films like Sophia Coppola's teenage drama The Virgin Suicides in 1999.
Three years later, her role in Spider-Man catapulted the actress to stardom when the film became a box-office smash with global ticket sales of $822 million.
Marie Antoinette marks the reunion of Dunst and Coppola, and working with the director was a key reason Dunst said she took the part.
"She lets you express anything you are feeling and doesn't judge," Dunst said. "She struggles to find your identity."
But Coppola often uses images more than words to convey a character's thoughts and emotions. In effect, the director takes away one tool the actress would use to play the part, and that made Dunst's job all the more difficult.
"It's hard to put into words, but it was a different kind of acting. It was the most alone I've felt," Dunst said.
Initially, Marie Antoinette was expected to be a serious historical accounting of the young queen's days at Versailles. It was shot at the massive French chateau outside Paris, and it used the opulent rooms and manicured lawns for sets. The stars, who include Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI, dress in fabulous costumes that mirror the finest clothing of the day.
But Coppola has added a pop culture sensibility to the film with a soundtrack full of 1980s tunes from the likes of Bow Wow Wow. The movie often exudes a lighthearted sense that runs counter to the seriousness of the demise of the French monarchy and the beginning of the country's revolution.
At May's Cannes film festival, where it premiered, Marie Antoinette shocked some audiences and was met with boos.
Since then, however, the tide has turned, and the movie is now meeting with much critical praise. For one, New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott wrote: "What to do for pleasure? Go see this movie, for starters."
"This is a beautiful piece of art and a brave film, and the fact it cannot be ignored and is controversial only makes it more of a film that means something," Dunst said. (Reuters)