From creators Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky, Showtime’s dark comedy series On Becoming a God in Central Florida is set in a small town in 1992 and follows Krystal Stubbs (the superb-on-every-level Kirsten Dunst, who’s also an executive producer), a minimum-wage water park employee that finds herself in the position of being a single mother and who must also keep a cultish multi-billion dollar pyramid scheme going, for her own survival. With her husband (Alexander Skarsgard) gone, Krystal must lie and con her way up the ranks of Founders American Merchandise (FAM), in order to make a better life for herself and pull her family out of the ruin that she was dragged into.
While at the Showtime portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with show star Kirsten Dunst (who gives a performance that will surely be remembered for the Best of TV year-end round-ups) about the appeal of this project, going all-in for a character like Krystal, the long journey (and three networks) in getting On Becoming a God in Central Florida to audiences, how a company like FAM is similar to Instagram, wearing braces for the role, working with a small child, doing the water park scenes, what she grew to appreciate about her character, and that crazy performance with the marionettes.
Collider: I love this show! This seems like one of those projects and characters that you have to go all in for because there’s just no half-way with her. Was that the fun of it? Could you tell that, from the page, when they present this to you?
KIRSTEN DUNST: Yeah, that’s why I did it. Krystal is out of control, in the best way. I knew that this would be a role that I would have so much fun with. She’s a lot. She’s tiring to play because she’s so high energy. Having just had a baby, that was a little rough. It’s tiring. On week two, I was crying to my mother-in-law. I was like, “I can’t do this! It’s too hard!”
Could you tell that she would still be likable, among all of the craziness, and that you’d still want to root for her?
DUNST: Well, she’s trying to make it all work for her daughter, so you root for her, just on the basis of the fact that she’s desperate and she’ll do anything. Her actions, you excuse because you realize that she’s just trying to do the best she can.
You hear about scam companies that are like this, but it’s really interesting to explore that, in this way.
DUNST: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s almost like Instagram, where you get all of these followers, and the more followers you get, the more money you make because you get paid advertisements, and the more paid advertisements, the more money the top is making. And your followers are buying the products that you’re advertising. That’s basically all it is. It’s just roping people in to buy things, while the top is making the most money off the whole thing. With this situation, a lot of it is based on these motivational tapes and the hope to have a better life. That’s what’s really getting people.
You’ve been in this business a long time and I’m sure you’ve read a lot of scripts, and you’ve played so many different kinds of characters. Are you surprised when something this standout and totally different comes your way?
DUNST: Well, listen, it took a long time for me to do something, so I definitely wait for things that really get me going, like this. When I read this pilot, I was like, “Oh, this is amazing!” And then, I stuck with it for over three years. I had a baby and we changed networks twice. This, with Showtime, is the third time. It went through a lot of things where even I, at one point, was like, “Should I do this?” It was hard to keep going, but then, every time, I was like, “This is too good.”
With all of the back and forth, did you wonder if this would ever actually happen?
DUNST: I knew it was gonna happen because the material was so good. I just didn’t know when. After the YouTube thing, we basically got one of the best networks, ever, so we really lucked out, but also, our product was good. It doesn’t happen, ever, that a place like Showtime wasn’t there, from the beginning and produced it. The fact that it got bought, after all of that, says a lot about this show. It was best-case scenario. If we get a Season 2, though, we need more days to shoot, for sure. It was like 48 pages in seven days. That’s a lot of work. It’s not like a doctor show, where you’re just in the hospital, all the time. We were all over the place. And then, I got spray tans, every Sunday, and my nails done, all the time. Krystal is a lot of maintenance.
What was it like to also have the braces, and were you thrilled to get rid of them?
DUNST: They just clipped in and out, pretty easily. I would have liked to have had them longer because I loved the braces. That was a big moment for Krystal and her transformation, when she got those off. Also, she couldn’t afford them and the maintenance of them anymore, so she had to take them off. They were a little nauseating because just having something foreign in your mouth all the time makes you nauseous.
How was it to also get to wear the clothes, and have the hair and make-up?
DUNST: I had my girlfriend do it, who works with Sofia [Coppola] a lot. Her name is Stacey Battat, and I had a friend on set, which was really nice for me. We wanted to make it clear that Krystal doesn’t have a bunch of clothes, so I repeated outfits, or we mixed and matched. Also, the ‘90s are so trendy right now, so we wanted to be sure that we stayed away from the trends that are popular now, like no scrunchies, and anything that’s like cool now, we stayed away from.
What was it like to work with a small child, and to always have the baby there?
DUNST: I think it was easier, having had a child, because I knew what to do. That was important to me because I hate when you’re watching Episode 3, and you’re like, “Where’s her baby?” Sometimes we’d have the monitor, but there was always something in the room to let you know the baby’s around because you can get lazy. It’s harder with kids. You have to make sure they’re only there for a certain amount of hours, so it’s more constricting. It’s easy to write them out of shows, or show them less than less. Every time I read an episode, I was like, “Where’s the baby? We’ve gotta put the baby in there.” She doesn’t have a nanny. That’s why she’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna put a daycare in the water park.
With everything going on in this show, you also work at a water park. What’s it like to do those scenes?
DUNST: When it wasn’t freezing, it was better. It became winter in New Orleans, so it started to get a little cold, being in a bathing suit and jumping around, but it was fun. I had someone off camera teach me some fun aerobics things, and then I would just do them. TV moves so quickly. You don’t really have like time on the weekends, and no one wants to learn a new dance on the weekend. You just want to sleep, after you’ve worked hard, or you’re with your child, so I’ve just learned everything I was doing, the day of.
With the current Spider-Man franchise, and the latest movie in that series recently out, do you have any impressions or thoughts on the new MJ?
DUNST: I don’t watch any of them. I have a kid. I don’t watch any movies. I haven’t seen them. I have no idea what’s going on in the movie world, except that I want to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’m sure when my little boy gets older, I’ll definitely be back in that world, watching Spider-Man.
Does it feel like such a different part of your life, especially because it was before this current craze?
DUNST: I know, it’s like we started this trend. Well, no, there was Batman, and those things. There’s the Avengers now. There are so many, and they’re making tons of money, so they keep making them. It’s like superhero movies or kids’ movies are really the only thing that make any money.
Were there things you grew to appreciate about Krystal, the longer you played her?
DUNST: I just love the fact that she does not give a shit, except for her daughter. She just doesn’t have the time or the energy to care about these things that are happening. She just has to get through it, which was fun to play.
I love that when she does decide to approach something, she really throws herself into it.
DUNST: Yeah, I think that’s her beauty pageant side. That’s her beauty pageant-ness coming out. That’s what I always saw it as. She was getting empowered. By the end of the show, you see that she gets empowered by this stuff. She’s gonna get a little power crazy.
How challenging was it to do the performance with the marionettes?
DUNST: That was really tiring. That’s very hard to do, by the way. It was a quick idea, like a week before. It was gonna be a snake dance, and I was just like, “I’m not comfortable. I can’t dance with a snake. There’s no way a real snake is going on my shoulders. There’s no way. You’ve gotta make a rubber snake, or something.” And everyone said that would look bad, so then the puppet dance came to be, which is so much better than a snake dance. I just wanna make weird television.
On Becoming a God in Central Florida airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.