Knocking 'em Dead

updated 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

AT 12, SHE HAS HUNG WITH SOME of the greatest hunks of her time. Now Kirsten Dunst, who plays the scheming young bloodsucker Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, is ready to dish—and sometimes even dis—her dreamy costars. Tom Cruise, she says, got her tickets to a sold-out Janet Jackson concert. Antonio Banderas is "so loving—he'd always come in in the morning and give me a big hug." And then there's Brad Pitt, whom she found "hang-loose and fun"—until they sorta, almost, kinda had a kissing scene. "I had to lean down and touch my lips to his," says the actress. "It was gross 'cause his lips were so dry."

If Dunst doesn't seem starstruck it's because she has been working with A-list actors for years. She played Tom Hanks's daughter in 1990's The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's kid in 1989's New York Stories. She has also appeared on TV's Saturday Night Live, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Sisters. Cruise says he was amazed by her ability when he saw her audition. "There seems to be the experience of a 35-year-old actress in the body of this little girl," says Cruise. "We're all in awe of her maturity as an actress."

Even her mother can't fully explain it. "Kirsten was born and seemed to know what she was going to do," says Inez Dunst, a former art gallery owner in the family's hometown on the Jersey Shore. Dunst was 3 when her mother and father, Klaus, a medical services executive, began taking her to auditions. She soon landed a job on a cereal commercial, which led to her signing with Ford Modeling. "I always knew that I really wanted to do this," Dunst says. "I couldn't stand not working. I would cry. Honestly, I'd be really mad when commercials didn't take two or three days."

Vampire, which has become a hit, taking in $38.7 million its first weekend, took five months to film, at several far-flung locations, from New Orleans to Paris, and provided more than its share of challenges. There were so many night scenes that the cast had to keep vampire hours, sleeping during the day and working from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. "That was tough," says Dunst, who also spent 3 hours a day with her tutor. Another problem: the corsets in her 18th-century period costumes. "They were so tight that every time I ate or drank something I could feel it going down," she says. "I wouldn't want to eat 'cause it felt so weird."

Even weirder, at least to some people, might be the idea of casting a seventh-grader in a movie that drips with blood and hints at homoerotic interaction among the main male characters. Yet Dunst insists that the movie's subject matter was never a problem. Before she accepted the part, she and her mother went over the script and discussed all of the R-rated elements. "Kirsten understood the fantasy of it," says her mother. Once shooting began late last year, special-effects expert Stan Winston took Dunst around and said, "Here are the dead people, here's my mechanical rat." "It wasn't really scary, because you see all the fake stuff," she says. "It was like, 'Cut! Take out your teeth.' "

After Dunst completed Vampire in Paris last February, she headed back to her so-called normal life. She, her mother and brother Christian, 7, live in an apartment in the San Fernando Valley, while her father's job keeps him in New Jersey. Dunst goes to private school and in her spare time plays with her Barbies. "I love making up stories with them," she says. "I think it's fun. I don't care if no one else does. That's their problem."

As for the Ken dolls of the world, Dunst is biding her time. "I'm not into boys," she says, though she respects her contemporary Elijah Wood, the 13-year-old star of The War. "I like him," she says. "He has nice eyes." Mention Macaulay Culkin, 14, however, and Dunst says nothing. What she does do is stick her finger in her mouth and pretend to gag.

Clearly it's the movies themselves, and not the movie stars, that most interest her. Next month, Dunst will be back on the screen with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder in Little Women. "I want to be an actress for practically all of my life," says Dunst. Practically? Yes, she does have other dreams. "I want two children," says Dunst, "and a house overlooking Sunset Boulevard."

DAN SANTOW
LEAH FELDON-MITCHELL in Los Angeles

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