ShoWest Actress of the Year: Kirsten Dunst

Child stars have a bad rep for turning into pop/tart tragedies, and so it is nice to report that Dunst at 24 has made the transition from kid to adult with nary a National Enquirer cover line on her resume.

In fact, Dunst started so young in the business (“The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “New York Story”) that she can’t recall seeing a film before she actually started appearing in them. At age 13, when she performed press-junket duties for her first big starrer, “Interview With the Vampire,” the actress already knew the correct tact for tackling the momentous tabloid controversy of the day:

What was it like to kiss Brad Pitt?

Dunst, who entered the reporter-filled suite at the Four Seasons alone without the aid of a PR rep, could not have been more the seasoned pro. “Look, I’m only 13,” she began, “and I don’t know why you guys are making such a big deal out of this.”

In other words, next question, please.

Blessed as the ShoWest Actress of the Year, Dunst returns to the screen in May, reprising her Mary Jane role in “Spider-Man 3″ after an underrated, luminous and nearly mute turn as the titular heroine in last year’s “Marie Antoinette.”

“It was like a silent film to me. We didn’t have much dialogue,” Dunst says of Sofia Coppola’s costume epic. “It was a sensorial acting experience. I focused on the way the fabric felt, the cake tasted, the palace smelled. I’d never acted in that way before. It informed my acting, and looking back, it helped me in my acting in ‘Spider Man 3.’ It gave me a different perspective on all the tools I have as an actress.”

Fans of Mary Jane Watson will be happy to know that the aspiring actress finally lands a Broadway gig in the third installment. Not that director Sam Raimi has given his MJ an uncomplicated comicstrip ride.

“Everything Mary Jane has based her confidence on is taken away from her,” Dunst reveals. “For me, the film is a journey of searching, searching for love and searching for peace within herself and her relationship with Peter (Tobey Maguire) and Harry (James Franco).”

Next up, Dunst returns to the world of biopics, ready to offer back-to-back portrayals of Afghani/Iraqi relief worker Marla Ruzicka and, for something completely different, Deborah Harry.

“She chose me,” Dunst says of the Blondie rocker, “so anyone who disputes that choice can take it up with her.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more