— by Larry Carroll
BEVERLY HILLS, California — She longed to be taken seriously as an entertainer but became famous for simply being famous.
Misquoted by the tabloids, an invasive public mocked every leaked detail of her pregnancy, a tension-filled marriage and constant rumors that she was cheating. She spent most of her time doing what many teenagers want to do — shopping, partying and sneaking out of the house — but her drunken nights and high-heeled afternoons earned her an inescapable reputation as a spoiled brat.
Are you thinking about Paris? Lindsay? Britney? The Olsen twins? Well, think again — because more than 200 years before any of them, Marie Antoinette was the original "it" girl.
"I didn't act like that when I was a teenage girl," Kirsten Dunst laughed recently, discussing the historical, vivid teen she brings to life in a bizarre new biopic named after the 18th-century legend. "I can understand how you can turn into a very frivolous person, wanting external things that make you happy for an instant. I feel like Marie was a little A.D.D. in that way: 'Oh, that cake tastes good!' 'Oh, there is a dog!' 'Oh, I want a new dress!' "
The newest movie from "Lost in Translation" director Sofia Coppola defies a long-held Hollywood belief that young audiences don't care about historical figures. Utilizing modern music, slick editing and contemporary camera tricks, Coppola collaborated with the "Spider-Man" leading lady while trying to make a 2006 audience understand why the parties were such a blast and the desire to be spoiled was so inescapable.
"She was definitely a celebrity at the time," Coppola said. "People were looking at her and what she was wearing and what she was doing. The pamphlets at the time were like tabloids, making up rumors about her."
Married at 14, Marie was whisked away from her friends and family in Vienna to the very adult world of Hollywood ... er, France. Carrying a toy dog in her hand, she raised eyebrows with a rebellious style of dress and tendency to say outrageous things that made her as out-of-place as Paris Hilton on "The Simple Life." To make matters worse, nobody paid attention to her singing aspirations or efforts to help her adopted country. Instead, they focused on the only real mission she had in life: to get knocked up.
"It must not have felt great," grinned Jason Schwartzman ("Shopgirl"), who plays her rigid teenage husband Louis XVI in the flick. "In 18th-century life, the public was really allowed into [their castle in] Versailles, and you could go and watch Marie Antoinette have dinner, and go watch them get tucked into bed and stuff like that. Their lives were very accessible. It was kind of like 18th-century reality TV, in a weird way."
For seven long years, the world wondered why Marie and Louis hadn't been able to conceive a child. Rumors of her iciness and his impotency buzzed among "fans." In their eighth year of marriage, Marie finally gave birth to a girl — three years later, she gave the king a successor to the throne.
"I'm sure they would take their photo all the time," Schwartzman said, imagining what the tabloids would be like if Marie and Louis were alive today. "I'm sure there would be a photo of Marie Antoinette walking down the street, and it would say 'Baby Bump?' with a little magic marker pointing to it. Or then it would be Louis on a horse, and it would say: 'They ride horses too — just like us!' "
"I'm not the queen of a country, and I don't have the responsibility of people starving. I'm, you know, an actress and I have my life to figure out," Dunst observed, saying that she identified with Marie's struggles somewhat since "Interview With the Vampire" made her famous at age 12. "I can understand feelings of isolation and being watched and critiqued and people having opinions — but you can only be happy with yourself. I have the freedom to figure that out. I don't think that she really was given that chance."
As the years went by, Marie's partying ways began to take over. She never made a sex tape, but that might only be because there were no video cameras around to catch her in bed with the sexy Swedish soldier that she saw on the side. She never got caught drinking at a club that served minors, but she snuck off to costume parties in Paris when she was supposed to be asleep. As the French economy went into the toilet (Louis had a bit of a financial problem since he was supporting some wild new country called America), all the starving masses had available to chew on were pamphlets describing Marie's enormous feasts, gorgeous jewelry and massive collection of footwear.
"I think there was someone before Marie Antoinette that actually said [something like] 'Let them eat cake!' " Dunst said, referring to the famously misquoted phrase that ultimately led to Marie's downfall and beheading.
"I'm sure they would be under a lot of scrutiny, just like [a modern star]," Coppola said. "It's hard to imagine teenagers running a country at such a volatile time."
"Basically, I think this movie reminds me a lot of high school, like how people gossip and spread rumors and distort the truth and are attracted to popularity and to power," Schwartzman added with a grin. "There's a connection to Hollywood too, and the idea of like, when someone is a very famous actress, the entourage that they have around them and the gossip and the invasion of privacy. I think it all is very valid and very similar.
"I'm sure that it couldn't have felt great to have literally every gossip magazine — they didn't have magazines, they had pamphlets then — circulating around the country of you being with different lovers and scandals," he continued. "I'm sure it can't feel good to the ladies of today, how the truth about them gets blown out of proportion. I'm sure it doesn't feel good to any of them."
And in this day and age, Dunst added, you don't even have to be a movie star — or a queen — to be an "it" girl in over her head. "There are some not-famous Marie Antoinettes running around too in Beverly Hills," she laughed. "They are probably all over the place."