Michelle Tauber
June 03, 2002 12:00 PM

Okay, maybe blondes have more fun. But Kirsten Dunst is here to say that redheads have more ‘tude. To play Spider-Man sweetie Mary Jane Watson, the actress dyed the front of her hair red and used a wig for the rest. “It looked a little punk-rockish,” she says. “I sent out a tougher, cooler vibe.”

The shock locks may have increased her spunk quotient, but Dunst, 20, doesn’t dream of becoming Spider-Woman. “I wouldn’t want to play a superhero,” she says. “It’s too much work.” Spa Girl, though, suits her just fine. “I prefer relaxation and pampering; I love taking baths,” she says. “I like to not have to be ‘on’ for anybody.”

Finding “off” time these days may be a challenge for Dunst, whose career—thanks to the $300 million success of Spider-Man—is as red-hot as her Spidey hair. The role, along with her recent turn as William Randolph Hearst’s mistress in the indie film The Cat’s Meow, cements her transition from the teen queen of 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous and 2000’s Bring It On to a bona fide leading lady. “She seems to constantly be absorbing information and passionately dives into her jobs,” says Spider-Man costar Willem Dafoe, “which I find rare in young stars. She’s very mature.”

Even if the showbiz gossip mill still sometimes catches her off guard. She and Tobey Maguire fended off reports of a Spider-Man fling, and at the Oscars in March Dunst’s thin frame alarmed some onlookers. “I was so sick,” she says. “That whole week I was throwing up, and I dropped, like, 5 lbs.” When questioned on the red carpet, Dunst was good-naturedly reassuring: “I’m like, ‘I’m usually heavier, so don’t worry—I’ll be fine in about a week.'”

Such an upbeat attitude is characteristic of Dunst, whom friends call Kiki. Growing up in Point Pleasant, N.J., Dunst began modeling at 3 and by 12 had appeared in more than 100 commercials. Although she has worked regularly ever since, Dunst says she has never felt pressured: “I have always loved what I do.”

In 1993 she moved with her parents—mom Inez, 53, a former art-gallery owner, and dad Klaus, 55, a medical-services executive, who are now divorced—and brother Christian, 15, to Los Angeles. A year later she was bussing Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire. Despite the precocious resume, “she’s always been grounded,” says childhood friend Lindsay Schlisserman, 19. “She has a close-knit family. We used to spend every weekend with them at her grandma’s house having pot roast.” Playing dress-up was a favorite pastime. “Kirsten used to wear a costume like the one Ariel wore in Little Mermaid,” Schlisserman recalls, “and we’d go riding our bikes around in our cul-de-sac.”

Not that Dunst has outgrown her girlish impulses. While filming ’01’s Get Over It, “we’d have sleepovers and just go crazy and be stupid,” says actress pal Mila Kunis, 18. Before last year’s MTV Movie Awards, Dunst and her cohost, Saturday Night Live‘s Jimmy Fallon, boogied to her CDs to loosen up. “She said that you should always travel with ABBA’s greatest hits,” he says.

Currently single—she has dated actor Ben Foster, 21, and Jake Hoffman, 21 (Dustin’s son)—Dunst says that for now, “I just like to hang out with friends.” Last year she moved out of the San Fernando house she shared with her mother and brother and now rents her own place nearby. Still adjusting to her Spider-Man fame—and to the pinup status she has attained due to her much bally-hooed wet-T-shirt scene in the film—Dunst shrugs off the attention. “For me, when somebody comes up and says, ‘I really enjoyed your work,’ that means so much,” she says. “It would make me reconsider what I’m doing if people just came up to me and said, ‘Dude, you’re hot.'”

Michelle Tauber

Michael Fleeman and Carrie Bell in Los Angeles

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