One of the leading actors of her generation, Kirsten Dunst made her name in teen films without succumbing to entrapment in the teen film world, while demonstrating her talent and charisma in projects ranging from kiddie comedies to high school romances to towering summer blockbusters.
Born in Point Pleasant, NJ, on April 30, 1982, Dunst first appeared in front of a camera at the age of three, when she became a Ford model and commercial actor. She continued to model and do commercials until 1989, when she made her film debut in Woody Allen's New York Stories. Her uncredited role led to a part as Tom Hanks' daughter in the infamously troubled 1990 adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Three years later, Dunst got her first big break when director Neil Jordan chose her over 5,000 hopefuls for the role of Claudia, the child vampire in his 1994 adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. Dunst made a big impact on audiences and critics alike with her portrayal of a woman trapped eternally in the body of an 11-year-old, kissing co-star Brad Pitt, and gorging herself on human and animal blood. That same year, Dunst also appeared alongside Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon in Gillian Armstrong's adaptation of Little Women; the combined success of these two movies propelled Dunst to the top of the child-actor hierarchy, in terms of both bankability and exposure.
Dunst followed up with a lead role in the Robin Williams action-fantasy Jumanji (1995), and lent her voice to a few animated features, including Disney's Anastasia (1997). She also had a brief but memorable turn as a refugee from a war-torn country in Barry Levinson's highly praised satire Wag the Dog (1997).
1999 marked a turning point in Dunst's career, as she began appearing in films that cast her as a young woman instead of a precocious child. She starred as a small-town beauty queen contestant in the satirical comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous and as one of two teenage girls (the other played by Michelle Williams) who unwittingly uncover the Watergate scandal in Dick, another satirical comedy. Dunst further lived up to her title as one of Teen People's 21 Hottest Stars Under 21 with her leading role as the sexually rebellious Lux in Sofia Coppola's acclaimed adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel The Virgin Suicides (1999). Her work in the film proved to be a critical breakthrough for Dunst, whom critics praised for her portrayal of the conflicted, headstrong character.
Dunst subsequently did her bit for the high school comedy-romance genre, starring as a cheerleader in Bring It On (2000), and as another teen queen in Get Over It (2001); she also forsake makeup and a hairdresser for her role as the archetypal poor little rich girl in crazy/beautiful (2001), a teen romantic drama.
Subsequently cast as the actress Marion Davies in Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow, Dunst got her first shot at playing a grown woman. She garnered praise for her work in the period drama, but any notice she received was quickly eclipsed by the maelstrom of publicity surrounding her starring role as Mary Jane Watson, true love of Peter Parker in Sam Raimi's big-budget adaptation of Spider-Man. Playing opposite Tobey Maguire as the web-spinning superhero, Dunst spent a lot of the movie running around as a damsel in distress, but there was nothing distressing about the 110-million dollars the film grossed in its opening weekend, breaking new box-office records and catapulting both Dunst and Maguire into the rarefied realm of full-fledged movie stars. She stuck with the franchise as it became a trilogy.
Even though Spider-Man gave her a great deal of box office clout, while Dunst gradually transitioned into making more independent-minded films. While appearing in films like Mona Lisa Smile and Elizabethtown, Dunst also earned accolades for appearances in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Marie Antoinette, and Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Her career received another boost when she played the lead in season 2 of Fargo on FX, which earned her rave reviews, and she would later marry her Fargo co-star, Jesse Plemons.