Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) feels the energy © 2011 Magnolia Pictures

In Lars von Trier’s new movie Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst portrays Justine, who suffers from clinical depression. She has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and is attempting to have a good time at their wedding reception held at the mansion her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland) own. But overshadowing the celebration is the ominous prediction that the planet Melancholia is on a collision course with earth. As her marriage literally falls apart at the reception, she and her family must face the impending catastrophe alone.

The genesis of this movie came out of Lars’ own treatment for depression, so did he become your source material in terms of understanding where to go and how someone dealing with this would deal with the end of the world?

Melancholia - Alexander Skarsga?rd, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Michael (Alexander Skarsga?rd), Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) © 2011 Magnolia Pictures

Lars was very vulnerable to me about his own depression, he opened up to me about that and I remember he said to me, ‘I want you to make a sound like a animal in pain,’ when we were in the scene in the bathroom, so he had his specific things I’m sure he experienced. But ultimately I have to perform it and I have to know Justine better than him.

The mood can’t be that heavy all the time on the set, can it?

When we were shooting the mood was what it needed to be for the scene, but in between, at lunch, Lars is a very funny man and he was in a very good space when we were making our movie, as opposed to previous films that he’s made.

When we were shooting those big wedding scenes I had to be focused but [the other actors] were all laughing and having a good old time together. It was a good balance.

You and Charlotte were wonderful together, did you talk about any kind of back story for these characters, because you grew up together. Did you know what your melancholy was based on? I wondered if Justine’s melancholy was based on her always knowing that this disaster was coming?

Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst, Cameron Spurr and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Justine (Kirsten Dunst), Leo (Cameron Spurr) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) © 2011 Magnolia Pictures

I definitely think Justine has a psychic feeling and I always envisioned the planet as her home planet, that she came from there.

Charlotte and I met in Cannes before we filmed the movie and we went swimming with her kids. She’s a very easy woman to fall in love with, she’s a wonderful singer and actress, we got a long very easily right away. Lars would have us improvise, we didn’t really rehearse any of the scenes.

I rehearsed my one scene with Kiefer, but he just wanted to sense the dynamic and then leave it alone. Lars is not someone who overdoes it in terms of rehearsal, he doesn’t really like answering questions.

Charlotte’s  pretty quiet and shy too, so everyone has their own energies pulsing, but it created a good chemistry in the film.

Were you comfortable doing the nude scenes in this?

I knew if I was going to do a Lars Von Tries movie I’m not going to get away with not being naked. The women in his films, the performances are unique and if I’m going to get naked, doing it in a Lars Von Tries’ film is not a bad choice.

It looked beautiful, not to say that it still doesn’t make me cringe a little bit, just because it’s uncomfortable, it’s your body, it’s on screen, but I also know I’m young, when I’m older I’m going to look back and be very happy about that.

How do you deal with the special effects of what’s going to be in the finished product, but it’s not there when you’re shooting, like the planet Melancholia?

Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) © 2011 Magnolia Pictures

We didn’t know what it was going to be like. [Lars would] be like, ‘You’re going find the planet, it’s going to be right over there somewhere. Just look up in that direction.’ But we didn’t rehearse, so the first scene where we were in the front of the house we were all looking in different directions.

I didn’t know what it was going to look like, but I’m also used to acting with nothing, so that’s not really a problem for me.

You have the option to do studio films, but you seem to be drawn to smaller movies.

I respect my audience and hopefully I’ve grown a fan base now where they know I’m going to try not to put crap out there. I want to tell good stories, I want to work with good filmmakers, you never know when it’s going to be a good film or not a good film, but at least I’d like to try and do films that move people and take risks.

I like doing big studio films too, I just haven’t found one that I feel like I’d have fun doing. They’re more simple characters when it’s a bigger film, usually. I also want to have longevity in this business and work with directors that I respect, so I’m trying to stay on that path right now.

You won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for this, are you hoping for an Oscar nomination?

I would love that, that would be so fun, yeah. I’m not going to be greedy, I did win in Cannes, that’s pretty incredible but it would be nice to be nominated one day.

Is there something in the air about the dread of the end of the world?

We’re definitely not treating our earth that well, but there are also all those predictions. It was supposed to happen last year, and then it was last month and now it’s next year. I just think that maybe there’s a consciousness in the air that has shifted people’s perspectives.

I don’t think the world is going to end, but I think there’s definitely a need for an upheaval of how we’ve been treating the planet. I think people are starting to get sick of it.

Want to find out what the best advice Kirsten has ever received? Click below on the bar to listen to her answer.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.