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“I got an e-mail that said, ‘Lars is obsessed with you for this part, you’re Skyping with him tomorrow.’ He was very shy and sweet, and then it was like — O.K., done,” recalls Kirsten Dunst over sorbet and strawberries, describing how she came to play Justine, the central character in “Melancholia,” Lars von Trier’s astonishing end-of-the-world flick.

In person, Dunst is stunningly unpretentious. (When a taxi driver wonders why a paparazzo is bothering the fragile blond woman he has just picked up, she points to her face and jokes, “Hello? ‘Spider-Man’?”) At least on the surface, she has nothing in common with the magical, moody Justine, a character she describes as a “romantic depressive, maybe even from another planet.” Whoever Justine is, this haunting film (it gave one viewer, me, nightmares for weeks afterward) is hardly a joy ride. But Dunst insists the workplace atmosphere was anything but gloomy. “The family on the set was so wonderful,” she says, especially the two Charlottes — Gainsbourg, who plays her sister, and a riveting Rampling as her mother. “For such an unfunny subject, it was so much fun. And hanging out with Lars — he is the funniest, but it takes a second to get used to his sense of humor.”

Oh, yes, Lars and his sense of humor. When Dunst is asked gingerly about Von Trier’s infamous comments at a press conference in Cannes — you know, the one where he declared, “I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi” (it went downhill from there), she dives right in. “I was embarrassed and angry with him because I care about him, and he felt so bad. I wanted us to celebrate together and it was just so stupid!” She says she is profoundly grateful that “ultimately the jury decided not to judge the film by the press conference.” As it turned out, they voted her best actress.

“It was pretty incredible to win, and I was so grateful and happy,” she reflects. “I felt grounded in my nerves, if that makes sense. You know how people say awards don’t mean anything? Hello! I think the energy around them makes everyone cuckoo.” By the time she won, almost all of her team had departed Cannes, leaving her clad in Chanel couture, “crying to my mom on the phone.”

Asked how, in her case, an actress prepares, she doesn’t for a moment revert to the pretentious twaddle that sometimes comes out of the pretty mouths of her contemporaries. “It’s such a private thing — ‘my process’ — I can just say that the work that I do is like therapy between me and the character. Really, I’d rather talk about fashion.”

Today, Dunst is clad in a striped A.P.C. shirt and a Balenciaga skirt she bought the day before at Barneys (“I didn’t shop for a long time — people bother you”), an attempt, she says, to inject a little more maturity into her wardrobe. “I’m currently cleaning out my closet of childish dresses. I want to start dressing like I’m 30. Some of the things I have are like, I can’t wear this anymore, it’s not cute.”

Dunst says she is “not a big shopper of trends.” She loves vintage but usually confines those forays to her frequent trips to L.A., where her family lives, because “New York vintage is too expensive!” What did she think of the 1960s-inspired ensembles she wears here for T? Dunst shrugs. “I like it when I do a photo shoot and it’s a fantasy of something. I knew the concept and I’m easy, you can dress me up.”

Perhaps this flexibility is the result of making so many different kinds of films, some with more seductive wardrobes than others. Dunst still longs for the 1920s costumes she wore in “The Cat’s Meow,” when she played William Randolph Hearst’s actress-mistress Marion Davies. “There was a white dress that I would have loved to have kept,” she says. She harbors an affection for black-and-white movies. “People look better in black and white — it’s so much more powerful.”

Playing the game of what director — alive or dead — she fantasizes about working with, Dunst cites a real master of chiaroscuro: “I would have loved to have been in a Hitchcock movie.” And it takes no great leap to imagine how that fellow, with his notorious penchant for blondes, would have responded to Dunst’s allure. But it isn’t only deceased guys who interest her; she also longs to work with Quentin Tarantino and maybe do another horror movie, and she is having a great time on “Bachelorette,” her current project, which she describes as “an R-rated girl’s all-night comedy,” also starring Isla Fisher and directed by the playwright Leslye Headland. “I get to play a bitch!” Dunst says with a laugh, fairly licking her lips at the delicious prospect. “I never get to play a bitch!”

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