In a new interview with Radio Times, Kirsten Dunst reveals that she and co-star Benedict Cumberbatch intentionally avoided each other on the set of Power of the Dog.
The actors were recently filming in New Zealand under the direction of Jane Campion (The Piano, Bright Star), who has adapted Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about ranch owner Phil Burbank (portrayed by Cumberbatch) and his brother George (Jesse Plemons). Set in Montana in the 1920s, the novel revolves around Phil’s abusive behavior towards Dunst’s character and George’s wife Rose and towards her son Phil (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Their repulsion on set was mutual, however. In an interview with NME, Cumberbatch said “I didn’t speak to her on-set. She was the same.” That’s not because of anything between the actors, however, but because Cumberbatch spent months crafting himself into the character of Phil, going so far as to learn to play the banjo (admittedly poorly).
“I didn’t want to be really mean to Kirsten,” the actor admits, “but I needed to stay in character.” That meant not responding to his actual name and learning how to be a cowboy. Roping, hide-treating, and hay-stacking, he even gifted Campion a horseshoe he crafted at a local ironmonger before filming.
And as if that was not enough, Cumberbatch learned how to roll a cigarette with one hand and shared in an interview with Esquire how he caught nicotine poisoning three times during filming from smoking the filterless rollies: “ When you have to smoke a lot, it genuinely is horrible.”
Cumberbatch’s intensity drove Dunst away. “He’s so sweet,” she tells Radio Times, “And he’s so British. Polite British, you know? I was like, ‘I can’t talk to you!”
As Dunst recounts the isolation: “We didn’t talk at all during the filming unless we were out to dinner on a weekend, all together, or playing with our kids.”
Power of the Dog premiers on Netflix on Dec. 1.