BULLETT: When we last spoke almost a year ago, you pretty much refused to tell me anything about this movie.
KIRSTEN DUNST: I was afraid to! If someone told Lars that I’d said something, he’s the type of person who would probably be like, “I can’t believe you said that about me!” I was nervous about letting anything out because I didn’t want to be on anyone’s bad side during press.
In light of what’s happened, I really don’t think you need to worry about what you’re saying. [Laughter.] Lars has the tendency to write pieces of himself into his stories, and he shares your character’s struggle with depression. Did it ever feel as if you were playing a version of him?
He was never like, “You’re playing me so do this.” But he did write the story, and it is about his experience. I didn’t know how specific to his life the events were in the script, but in Cannes his wife said that watching me in certain scenes absolutely broke her. There were certain parts that she’d actually experienced and seeing me go through it in the movie, she said, “That was Lars.” I knew he suffered from depression, but I didn’t know to what extent. When I first met him, he was shaking like crazy.
Did you first meet him on set?
No, I met him at his production company in Copenhagen, where he also has a little bungalow house. He drove me around on his golf cart, and then we had dinner at a really quiet restaurant. The tapping that his shaking hands made was insane. It was so loud.
Was he nervous?
I think he was just… how can I say this? It was the symptom of a medication, I think.
Last I heard, you were trying to convince Lars, since he doesn’t fly, to travel to America by boat—with an attached helicopter in case it sinks.
He was considering it!
No he was not! [Laughter.] Alex and Charlotte said there was no way he would ever do that.
I feel like I can work on him though! He would love Big Sur so much. He loves nature. He took [the cast of Melancholia] on a nature walk to get to know us. I remember being so jet-lagged during mine—it was just the two of us—and he made me eat these berries on the trail, and I was like, Oh my god! We rode around in his Winnebago. He only rides in a Winnebago.
That’s impressive! Charlotte was saying that he almost never shares the backseat with other passengers.
Well, he let me share with him! But I sat in the front seat next to the driver while he sat in the back on this weird bed. It’s literally as if he’s sitting on a bed with a seatbelt on—his legs aren’t bent at the knees. It’s pretty hysterical. He can make himself look pretty fucking silly sometimes.
But it seems like he’s in on the joke.
Oh, he has to be. Otherwise he wouldn’t be who he is. One night, while I was having dinner during production on the movie, his assistant came up to me and was like, “Lars really needs to talk to you.” It sounded really heavy, and I thought, you know, that he needed to tell me something serious. It ended up being because he wanted me to play video games with him! It was some shooting game—I don’t even play video games! I was so terrible at it.
Did he orchestrate any weird scenarios to have you bond with Alex and Charlotte?
Alex and me had to improvise arranging imaginary flowers. At that point, pretty much the only thing I’d said to him was, “You’re my favorite vampire on True Blood!” We did that for 10 minutes, and that was it. That was my rehearsal with Alex. My rehearsal with Charlotte was this exercise where she played my nurse and I was her patient.
There’s a scene in the film in which your character is so despondent—so totally despairing—that she can’t even move. How did you get into that headspace?
I don’t know. It’s a certain way that people behave when they’re depressed—like they’re children. They don’t have the motivation to do anything, like in the bathtub scene when Charlotte tries to bathe me because I can’t even wash myself. And I resent her so much for trying to take care of me. That scene is uncomfortable for me to watch.
It must be tough for your family to watch, too, if only because of the nudity.
They wouldn’t know, because they haven’t seen it yet! My brother missed the screening last night because he thought it was at 8 o’clock, even though nowhere on the invite did it say anything about 8 o’clock. He was like [in a dopey voice], “I guess I’ll just pay for a ticket at the Sunshine.”