- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

The eighth-graders at Kirsten Dunst's school had seriously high standards. To join the elite social circle of the in crowd took more than modeling for a top agency, as Miss Dunst did. And her classmates were little impressed with Miss Dunst's thriving movie career. Even her lip lock with Brad Pitt in "Interview With the Vampire" failed to score points with the campus aristocracy.

Being an actress made Miss Dunst a national celebrity, but it did nothing to help her feel like a part of the school. So to fit in, she did what all the other pretty blonde girls at school did. She became a cheerleader, and she loved it.

Five years later, the pompom waving paid off during the crunch time right before Miss Dunst started filming "Bring It On."

She stars in the new dramatic comedy as the captain of a high-school cheer squad that is so good, it competes against other schools in nationally televised cheerleading competitions. Back in eighth grade, Miss Dunst never got the chance to strut her stuff in elaborate routines broadcast on ESPN, but her training did come in handy.

"All the other girls got three weeks of rehearsal, and I only had one week," Miss Dunst recalls at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Two months after her high school graduation, the 18-year-old is touring on the promotional circuit for her new film.

"I had to jam in all the stunts, all the dancing, everything, just in that one week. It was stressful, but it was so much fun because I love to dance."

Miss Dunst felt perfectly comfortable in her tricky role, which blended underdog drama with romantic elements and a light comedic touch. It was the far trickier jumping, dancing and yelling that made her sweat. Instead of flubbing a key line, her greatest fear was that real cheerleaders would nitpick the action scenes.

In "Bring It On," cheerleading is more than just the cool thing to do, it is a sport. Some of the most impressive routines feature the guys on Miss Dunst's team launching the girls high into the air, flipping them onto a teammate's shoulders.

"The athleticism of these people is really amazing," Miss Dunst declares. "It's really nerve-racking because you think of falling all the time. And these girls, they pop up, they fall, and they get right back up again. It would be pathetic if cheerleaders didn't like the movie. But all the cheerleaders who saw it at preview screenings were cheering for us. So I'm so happy that they liked it and they felt we did them justice.

"There has never been a cheerleader movie before, let alone one that's not about stupid girls running around or getting killed in horror movies. These girls and guys work hard. That's what I think is different about this movie. And it also has girls in short skirts, so guys will like that, too. It doesn't hurt, having pretty girls run around in short skirts," Miss Dunst says laughing.

Now she is wearing her hair short for the first time in memory. The new 'do is for the love story she is currently filming, called "At Seventeen."

She plays a tough but suicidal girl from an affluent neighborhood, a character very different from the real down-to-earth Miss Dunst. It is a demanding part, and the new haircut helps her feel less feminine and find the right mood.

"You get so emotionally drained doing some movies, coming home from the set. You just want to zonk out and not learn another four-page scene for the next day," explains Miss Dunst. "It's very tiring. But it's good because I want a challenging movie. And at certain times in your life, it's just good to get stuff out, you know what I mean? You can use characters to do that."

Miss Dunst has hardly slowed down to enjoy her first summer of freedom since receiving her diploma. Because she already loves her work and her grand plans to someday write and direct feature films are steadily becoming reality, Miss Dunst has decided to put her college plans on the back burner.

"I may want to go down the road in life, but as long as I keep reading and I have a thirst for knowledge, I'll be OK," Miss Dunst concludes. "It really hasn't hit me yet. As soon as it's September and I'm working and I don't have to worry about tutors on the set or any of that, then it'll really hit me. Then I'll really be happy."

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