In an industry that is notable for actor-director duos like DiCaprio and Scorsese, Tarantino and Jackson, and Spielberg and Hanks, Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst are the rare female duo that Hollywood needs.
Coppola and Dunst have known each other for 20 years, and have worked on four films together. They first met when Kirsten was chosen for a lead role in Coppola’s directorial debut for The Virgin Suicides.
Much of Hollywood is filtered and distributed through the male gaze, but as reported by Variety, Coppola “tells stories from the perspective of her heroines,” providing the spotlight that women’s voices, stories, and minds need. In films like Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides, viewers encounter dreamy cinematography, deep-rooted bonds between women, and moments of true movie magic afforded by actresses like Dunst herself.
Dunst recalls Coppola’s strong influence on her as a young girl. The two met when she was only 16 years old. Coppola once complimented Dunst on a feature of hers, a moment which Dunst never forgot. “She said to me, ‘I love your teeth, don’t ever fix your teeth.’ I remember doing a Spider-Man movie later, and one of the producer’s was like, ‘I need to take you to the dentist!’ They even fixed my teeth on the poster. But I just knew I was never doing that. Sofia is the chicest, coolest girl, and she thinks my teeth are great.”
Dunst adds that, in regards to compliments like this one, “she gave me confidence in little things that I wouldn’t necessarily have had.”
Female directors are still a very small group within Hollywood. “It’s always harder for women,” Dunst says. “Everyone has to work ten times harder.”
On Sofia Coppola film sets, however, there is no shortage of women pulling the necessary strings. On The Beguiled, Coppola’s most recent film in which Dunst stars, there are more women than men on the set, both behind and in front of the camera.
“The nice thing about Sofia is she not only makes films about women from the female perspective,” says her production designer, Anne Ross. “She hires an enormous number of women on her crew. So many department heads were women.”
On pay inequity for women’s roles in films, Dunst comments on her experience with her role as Mary Jane Watson in the original Spider-Man trilogy. She was and still is a fan of her franchise’s version. “I wanted to be in that movie so badly,” Dunst says. “I loved it, and I wish we could have made a fourth.”
But in terms of her standings in comparison to the male actors on set, Dunst says, “because I was young, I thought, ‘Oh wow, I’m getting paid a lot of money for the Spider-Man movies.’ But definitely the men were getting paid more. So yes, I experienced that.”
Coppola and Dunst, being good friends, are candid with each other. As such, Dunst is honest about her limitations with the director.
Variety reports that when Coppola suggested that Dunst lose some weight for her role in The Beguiled, Dunst told her that she couldn’t do that. “It’s so much harder when you’re 35 and hate working out,” she said.
The shoot’s location is in southern Louisiana, close to where Beyoncé’s Lemonade was filmed. Dunst said “I’m eating fried chicken and McDonald’s before work. So I’m like, ‘We have no options! I’m sorry I can’t lose weight for this role.’” Coppola was very understanding and offered no push back to the actress’ words.
Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst stand on a twenty-year foundation of beloved pictures made together, female characters championed together, and mutual respect afforded one another. Hollywood’s pool of female directors may be shallow and the industry may still remain a friendlier place to male actors in terms of ageism and pay, but perhaps duos like Coppola and Dunst can be one of the first that begins to change that.
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