Marie Antoinette: Casting Kirsten Dunst

Cannes Film Fest 2006–Even before Coppola started writing the screenplay for MARIE ANTOINETTE she could only envision one actress in the lead role: Kirsten Dunst, who seemed to possess both the sprite-like spirit and the dazzling, pale complexion for which the French Queen was so famous.

Dunst, who made her debut in Woody Allens NEW YORK STORIES and went on to garner a Golden Globe for Neil Jordans INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, first worked with Coppola in the directors acclaimed debut THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. She has since gone on to roles that range from the popular teen hit BRING IT ON, to the femme fatale of the blockbuster SPIDER-MAN series, to the surreal comedy of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.

Bubbly Blonde

Says Coppola: In everything I read about Marie Antoinette, I pictured Kirsten. She has that same quality of being a bubbly, full-of-life blonde who has a lot more going on than people assume. Kirsten also had that same playful, creative spirit that I sensed in Marie Antoinette. She has that certain mix of charm and depth and, being part German, she also has the perfect skin and look for the role. I knew Kirsten could bring Marie Antoinette to life, as I had imagined her.

Biographer Antonia Fraser was equally excited about the casting. I thought, thats absolutely the right face, she says upon hearing that Dunst would tackle the role. Thats exactly the kind of jewel eye and prettiness that was so alluring. When I saw her in person, I thought she was a perfect physical match. She especially has that gracefulness for which Marie Antoinette was so renowned.

Like Coppola, Dunst found herself riveted by the concept of Marie Antoinette as a vivacious, sweet, yet slightly rebellious teen who found herself in incredible circumstances of both luxury and scrutiny. She immediately drew a link between Marie Antoinette and her modern-day counterpart the late Princess Diana, another young outsider who struggled to find herself amidst a stifling cult of celebrity and royalty.

Parallels of Reel and Real Life

For Dunst, the parallels between Marie Antoinette and her own life as a child actress also resonated. I could really relate to her because I started acting when I was 11 and since then, Ive been constantly surrounded by adults, constantly surrounded by people Im trying to please. Thats why I really understood the situation Marie Antoinette was in leaving her home and coming to this place where there were all these expectations and all these judgments about her.

Dunst continues: When there are so many people paying so much attention to you and wanting so much from you, it can make you feel very isolated and lonely. Youre constantly wondering, Is this person using me or How do people see me It created a kind of sadness in Marie Antoinette that hasnt really been seen before. I think Sofia probably wanted me to play Marie Antoinette because she saw that I had that same sadness and loneliness in me.

Stunted Emotional Evolution

Though the film covers some 19 years of Marie Antoinettes life, and required Dunst to move back in forth in time throughout the shoot, she saw Marie Antoinettes emotional evolution as often stunted by her very unusual circumstances. I think over the years Marie Antoinette developed into a kind of wise child, Dunst observes. She came to Versailles as a teenager but there, she was so isolated, that she remained child-like through much of her life. Her tragedy is that she didnt really come into her own and become an adult until it was too late.

For Dunst, part of the challenge of playing Marie Antoinette was creating a character who doesnt have a solid sense of being a completed person. I had to allow myself as much as I could not to worry about feeling solid, she says. But that is part of what interested me in what Sofia was doing. This isnt a history piece so much as it is the story of a girl who was very human, very real and is very understandable to us today. People dont really act the way you often see them in period films, and Sofia wanted something much more natural, without accents. For me, it was more freeing and I think will help people to better understand what Marie Antoinette went through.

Second collaboration with Coppola

The chance to work again with Coppola was also a major draw for Dunst. Sofias almost like an older sister to me, in a way, she remarks. Whats nice is that we didnt ever really have to over-analyze the scenes or talk about them too much because I pretty much know what she wants most of the time. I look up to her and I admire her but she also makes me feel really confident in what Im doing. I also especially like working with a woman director. It was always a very open and relaxed atmosphere.

To prepare for the role, Dunst immersed herself in some of Marie Antoinettes most famous activities. I took dance lessons, singing lessons, harp lessons, etiquette lessons and more, she notes. I felt like I learned a little bit about the things people did during that period.

Dunst even had to learn the famous Versailles glide the exaggerated movement in which ladies in giant hoop dresses appeared to never touch their feet to the ground.

Dunst faced not only emotional challenges in portraying Marie Antoinettes journey from playful child to tragic Queen but the physical challenges of being transformed into an 18th Century fashion goddess complete with rib-crushing corsets, truly massive hair and extensive makeup, including the lavish rouge circles that were emblematic of the French aristocracy. The daily process was pretty brutal, Dunst admits. There was a constant flow of dry shampoo and hair spray and they were always piling more and more stuff on me. I often needed a break after the hair and makeup sessions because it was so stressful.

When it came to wearing corsets, Dunst was amazed that women put up with it. Its very hard to breathe and get a sense of your body in the clothes from that era, so I tried to get away with wearing as little underneath as I possibly could. I wore corsets in Versailles but once Marie Antoinette goes to Le Petit Trianon, I wanted her to feel freer and to feel the fabric against my skin to convey that change. I always felt like Marie Antoinette must have been like a bird always trying to get out of all these cages around her.

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