Actor KIRSTEN DUNST tells Sasha about the big lie she told her husband, the constant lies that bond her to her son—and why it’s all good.

We’ll also hear from folklorist DR. JEANA JORGENSEN about the cross-cultural history of messing with each other.


Kirsten Dunst: I’m not a good liar, actually at all, even though I’m an actress. I can’t lie. Everything has to feel very real to me. So I don’t actually rely on any trickery to you know…I don’t have that in me.

Sasha Sagan: So when you’re acting, you’re experiencing it like it’s totally real, but when you’re fooling around, that is totally different. Can you speak to that a little more?

Kirsten: In real life, I care too much about the other person. I don’t want to hurt their feelings or scare them too much. And obviously, when you’re acting, you want to experience that and feel those things as authentically as possible. But to do that to someone in real life truly feels a little cruel and psychotic. Feels a little crazy to me.

My son scares me a lot. He’ll hide behind doors and jump out. Sometimes I have to pretend he really got me because otherwise he’s very disappointed. But sometimes he really scares me. There’s something about really getting someone, seeing a reaction. That satisfies him in this way that like…he got me.

Sasha: What you’re saying is really interesting—that the difference between playing a trick on someone and acting is whether the other person in on it. Is that the difference?

Kirsten: I think everyone has levels of intuition that maybe, you know, mine might be a little bit more heightened because of my job. Even when I’m acting with someone who is just going through the motions a little bit more, I feel like I have to figure it out from inside myself, and I come very prepared. I have a set of very real places that I’ve dug up inside myself to use for a particular role. So for me, everything feels like it’s coming from an authentic place so that I feel free in what I’m doing. But I know I can, you know…you can smell bullshit. Even when people watch movies, and they’re drawn to a certain actor or actress or film, it’s because something feels very real and authentic.

Dr. Jeana Jorgensen: In studies of children’s folklore, we tend to see that children are not the naive, innocent little creatures who like to romanticize them as. One of our main hypotheses is that children are living their whole lives under authority from sources that provide them very little agency. All they know is authority, power structure, and hierarchy. Then they transform that and subvert that in their own games.

Sasha: Oh, that’s fascinating. And when they get to play a little joke on their parents, or, you know, jump out and you know, yell, boo and scare them, it’s like, they get a little bit of that power.

Listen to Kirsten Dunst—The Trick