Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson

Understandably, much of the discussion surrounding various iterations of superhero films tends to focus on which actors are cast as said superheroes. Is your favorite Spider-Man Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, or Tom Holland? Do you prefer Christian Bale as Batman, or Robert Pattinson? While the men behind these masked crusaders are obviously important, we'd argue that the leading ladies in these films play an equally important role.

In the case of Spider-Man, we could get into the weeds discussing which iteration of Peter Parker's love interests is the best. Are you all about MJ, played by Kirsten Dunst and Zendaya, or famous redhead Emma Stone going blonde for the role of Gwen Stacy? We're not about pitting women against each other here, so instead, we've decided to focus on only one of these famous Spider-Man-adjacent women.

Regardless of how you feel about her as a character, Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson was the one who started it all, and for at least that much, we owe her some respect. Reactions to Dunst's MJ have been varied. It could be argued that she portrays too much of a "damsel-in-distress" role, but it's also true that she plays a huge part in humanizing Peter Parker. Dunst has only ever had nice things to say about MJ, noting that she has a relatable, girl-next-door quality about her. But there must be more to Mary Jane than meets the eye. How did Dunst and director Sam Raimi go about crafting such a legendary character? Read on to find out.

Director Sam Raimi gave Kirsten Dunst a book to prepare for the famous kiss

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more iconic scene in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy than the famous upside-down kiss in the first film. We probably don't even have to describe it for you, but we will anyway. One rainy night in New York, Mary Jane is being harassed by a group of thugs when Spider-Man suddenly jumps in and saves her. Spider-Man then lowers himself down the building behind Mary Jane, surprising her. Instead of being fearful of this masked vigilante (who she doesn't know is actually Peter Parker), she lowers his mask and kisses him upside-down in the rain.

It's a legendary moment in the film, and director Sam Raimi intended it that way. In fact, he did his best to prepare Dunst for the important scene by giving her some special reading material. Dunst told W Magazine she wasn't aware of how important the kiss was to the film until Raimi gave her "this book of famous kisses," which made her realize "how romantic and special Sam wanted this to be."

Reflecting on the scene with Rolling Stone, Raimi explained "I just wanted to let her know that this was a very special moment for the movie, and I wanted to communicate it in some way that some moments can be remembered for a long, long time if they're done right." Clearly, Raimi was on to something there, as the upside-down kiss has certainly gone down as one of the most beloved superhero kisses of all time.

In practice, the famous kiss wasn't romantic at all

While the famous upside-down-in-the-rain kiss may look stirring and romantic on screen, the scene didn't actually play out that way in practice. By the time they shot the scene, Dunst was aware of how important the scene was to Raimi, but the conditions weren't exactly glamorous.

Speaking with W Magazine, Dunst said "I did not feel like it was a famous kiss because Tobey was ... Water was getting up his nose because of the rain, and then he couldn't breathe in the Spider-Man suit, and then ... And it just felt very late at night. I didn't think about it that way."

Maguire had a similar experience, though he does admit getting to kiss Kirsten Dunst wasn't all bad. After the film premiered, Maguire explained to reporters, including the AP, that "There was rain pouring up or down my nose. I couldn't breathe and I was gasping for breath out of the corner of Kirsten's mouth. Poor girl," he went on to say. "I was giving her mouth to mouth rather than kissing her. But in the midst of that, I was sneaking some pleasure out of it." While it may have been a somewhat grueling experience for the actors involved, we're glad Raimi's determination to get it right paid off in the end. It won Best Kiss at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards.

Dunst and Maguire were secretly dating during the first movie

As it turns out, one real-life Spider-Man romance happened right under Sam Raimi's nose. Stars Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire actually started dating while shooting the first film, unbeknownst to their director. "I actually had some worries about it," Raimi told The Sydney Morning Herald. "They apparently began dating with each other, I think, in the middle of the first movie ... although I didn't know it at the time ... but definitely they eventually broke up before the second movie. I was concerned they wouldn't get the same chemistry back, but it was just me worrying."

"They really like each other, I think, very much," he went on to say. "And that relationship probably just added to their ability to trust each other." When asked if it was easy to do press with Maguire because they have a good relationship, Dunst confirmed Raimi's observation in an interview at the third film's premiere in 2007. "Yes, 'cause we can wink at each other and have a camaraderie that's, you know, stronger over the course of three movies," Dunst explained to a reporter.

Oddly enough, Dunst and Maguire may have been the first real-life Spider-Man couple, but they were not the last. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone dated around the time they shot their Spider-Man films, and Tom Holland is currently dating his own MJ, Zendaya.

Dunst says there was a huge pay disparity between her and Maguire

As Hollywood has (slowly) begun to have a reckoning with the sexism embedded in the industry, discussions about gendered pay disparities between actors have become more common. Speaking with Alexandra Pollard of the Independent, Dunst chimed in with her own experiences of pay disparity. Though the first "Spider-Man" film made $821 million worldwide, Dunst recalls that her payout was minuscule in comparison.

"The pay disparity between me and Spider-Man was very extreme," she told Pollard. "I didn't even think about it. I was just like, 'Oh yeah, Tobey [Maguire] is playing Spider-Man.' But you know who was on the cover of the second Spider-Man poster?" She stopped and pointed at herself. "Spider-Man and ME."

Dunst didn't reveal the specifics of how large the disparity really was, but you can't argue with her contention that Mary Jane is the most important character in the film after Peter Parker himself.

The Spider-Man team wanted Dunst to straighten her teeth

We've all heard stories about actresses being told they need to change their appearance in some way in order to play a part, and it turns out Kirsten Dunst has one of these stories, too. Dunst told The Independent that the "Spider-Man" team tried to convince her to straighten her teeth for the film, something she refused to do. "I was like, 'Mmmmm, no, I like my teeth,'" she said.

Dunst credits much of her confidence at this age to working with Sofia Coppola as a teenager. "The fact that the coolest girl liked how I looked, that's what preserved me," Dunst said of the director. "She made me feel pretty. As a 16-year-old girl, you feel like crap about yourself, right? So to have my first experience of a more 'sexy' role be through her eyes gave me a confidence that helped me deal with a lot of other things." Dunst isn't sure she would have had the confidence to refuse the team's offer were it not for Coppola's formative influence.

Mary Jane's teeth wound up being digitally straightened on the poster for the first "Spider-Man" film, but, as Pollard notes, "Dunst's 'snaggle fangs' lived to see another day."

Sam Raimi wanted Dunst to try doing her own stunts

Stunts are a huge part of most superhero films, and "Spider-Man" is no different, especially because Peter Parker is one of the most limber heroes of all time. As far as Dunst goes, Sam Raimi's trilogy contains countless scenes where Mary Jane falls from great heights, is attacked by the bad guys, or gets carried by Peter as he swings across the city. (And let's not forget the time Mary Jane was caught in Spider-Man's web in "Spider-Man 2.")

So, did Kirsten Dunst do any of these stunts herself? As Dunst tells it, the answer to that question is a resounding "no." In an interview with Vanity Fair, Dunst recalls the time Sam Raimi asked her to try out a couple of stunts in rehearsal. As Dunst tells it, "He took me to the top of a Sony studio, which is very, very, very, high, and they just free-fell –- like I bungee jumped, basically. I was like, you should have shot that, because I'm never doing that again."

We don't blame Dunst for her trepidation –- who wants to be flung off a building for fun, anyway? (Especially when you think about the history of Spider-Man and women being thrown off buildings). Moreover, that's what stunt people are there for -– to do the stunts! Not everyone can be Tom Cruise, and most people probably shouldn't.

Dunst beat out some famous names to secure the role

It's always interesting to think about what a movie could have been like were different actors cast in the lead roles. While we wouldn't change a thing about the casting of "Spider-Man" –- Dunst and Maguire are both pitch-perfect in their roles -– it tells you a lot about what producers had in mind for the film when you consider who else was on the shortlist.

While Dunst's Mary Jane has made an indelible imprint on the culture, she did have to beat out some other formidable actresses to secure the role. On "Watch What Happens Live," Kate Bosworth told Andy Cohen that she actually auditioned for the first "Spider-Man" film but that she "tanked" her audition because she was "really nervous." Bosworth has no hard feelings about losing the role this many years down the line, and said that "[Dunst] was perfect for [it]."

Elizabeth Banks was also in the running to play Mary Jane, but revealed in Vanity Fair that producers said she was "too old" to play the part. (Dunst is eight years her junior). Banks went on to play Betty Brant, the secretary of J. Jonah Jameson, played by J.K. Simmons. Kate Hudson was also offered the part, according to The Times, but turned it down because of her commitment to "The Four Feathers." Way back in 2000, per Entertainment Weekly, Raimi admitted he liked "Twin Peaks" alum Alicia Witt for the role of Mary Jane, but he clearly hadn't met Dunst yet.

Dunst wore a wig in the films

Mary Jane's red hear is an iconic part of her character, so it's only right we look into how Dunst pulled off those amber locks for the part. (Mary Jane is so famous for her red hair that many were shocked to find out that famous redhead was playing Gwen Stacy, not Mary Jane, in the 2012 reboot of the franchise.) As we've come to learn, Dunst, who is a natural blonde, used a combination of wigs and hair dye to embody the iconic look.

The hairstyling process for Mary Jane changed from film to film, Dunst told Allure. "In the first film, they dyed the front of my head and did a half-wig. Then, in the second one, they did a wig, which I thought looked beautiful. And in the third one, we thought, Let's just do it." Though it might have worked for the film, Dunst said she wasn't too fond of rocking such a bright shade on the red carpet. "My hair looks orangey here. I'm so pale — you need more of an olive skin tone to pull off that fiery color," she said of a particular red carpet look.

Here's a fun challenge: the next time you watch Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy, see if you can spot where the natural hair starts and the wig begins.

Peter and Mary Jane do end up together, according to No Way Home

Throughout Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy, Peter and Mary Jane's relationship goes through a lot of ups and downs. There's the problem of Peter's secret identity, there's the time Mary Jane is engaged to another man, there's that weird moment when Peter dates Bryce Dallas Howard's Gwen Stacy, and there's also Peter's struggle to divide his attention between his duty as Spider-Man and his duty to his friends and family.

It's a lot for any relationship to survive, but Raimi seemed to have hope in the strength of their love for one another. In "Spider-Man 3," which is certainly the darkest of the trilogy, Peter must contend with his own dark side was also facing three different villains: Venom, the Sandman, and Harry Osborn's Green Goblin. At the end of the film, Peter is finally able to defeat Venom and save Mary Jane, and we see Peter and Mary Jane in a hopeful embrace just before the credits roll.

Raimi's conclusion to the trilogy suggests that Peter and Mary Jane might have been able to get their happy ending after all, and "Spider-Man: No Way Home" seems to confirm this assumption. "No Way Home" sees Tom Holland's Spider-Man encounter Maguire and Andrew Garfield's versions of the character when a portal to the multiverse is opened up. One scene depicts Maguire and Garfield discussing their relationship statuses. (We already know how that went for Garfield's Spider-Man.) Maguire reveals that he and Mary Jane are still together, even though there were a few bumps in the road along the way. For fans of the original trilogy, it's a stirring update and a nice reminder that things don't always have to be so gloomy in the world of Peter Parker.

Kirsten is open to playing Mary Jane again

There's a famous saying that goes: "you can never go home again." That may be true for some, but Kirsten Dunst isn't opposed to the idea of revisiting the past. Though she received her very first Oscar nomination for starring in Jane Campion's "The Power of the Dog" in 2022, Dunst still looks back fondly on her time in the Spider-Man universe.

In an interview with Deadline, Dunst opened up about the possibility of revisiting Mary Jane in the future. "There's still time," Dunst said. "Listen, no one's asked me about anything, but this multi-universe just keeps going on and on. I feel like that could happen." Dunst joked to Backstage that "I feel like I'm the only one that hasn't joined [the multiverse]. I'm like, 'Please put me in. Put me in the lineup.' I need to pay for my house and kids."

We're proposing it right here and now: why not a multiverse with Kirsten Dunst, Emma Stone, and Zendaya? We're pretty confident Dunst would be on board. Speaking with Variety about the possibility of reprising the role, Dunst said "Why not? I would never say no to something like that."