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Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny & Wagner Moura Call Civil War a Cautionary Tale

Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny & Wagner Moura Call Civil War a Cautionary Tale

Civil War takes place in a dystopian near-future where the President of the United States (Nick Offerman) refuses to relinquish power in his third term. His authoritarian gambit fractures the country as regions align to topple the federal government. Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, and Wagner Moura star as journalists documenting the bloody conflict. The American dream is shattered when neighbors become bitter enemies in a vicious power struggle.

Dunst and Moura view Civil War as a “cautionary tale” in our divisive political climate. “It’s a film about how polarization can be a very dangerous thing,” says Moura. The experience taught him “to listen to people that think differently politically.”

A pivotal scene that “shifts the film into high gear” has Dunst’s real-life husband, Jesse Plemons, portraying an unhinged soldier who questions the journalists’ citizenship. Dunst states, “It’s not a role that he wanted to play. I kind of asked him to play it for us because he’s such a brilliant actor.” Moura comments further, “That scene was particularly difficult for me personally. What kind of American are you? That question was really a hard one for me. So, I’m an American citizen too, but I speak with an accent. I didn’t grow up in this country.”

Writer/director Alex Garland has publicly stated that Civil War will be his last directorial feature. Dunst lauds him as “brilliant” and that Garland’s “done something that I’ve never seen before.” She humorously adds “don’t they all say that” about retiring. Please watch our video interview above and read below for our complete interview with Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, and Wagner Moura.

Alex Garland’s Cautionary Tale Has a Particularly Troubling Scene

Civil War

Civil War


Release Date
April 26, 2024

A24, DNA Films

MovieWeb: You’ve made a harrowing, gut-punch film. I’m going to start with a hard question. Given where we are in this country with the election and past insurrection, has Alex made a prophetic or a cautionary film?

Kirsten Dunst: I think a cautionary tale.

Wagner Moura: Cautionary, yeah…it’s a film about how polarization can be a very dangerous thing.

MW: There are a couple of scenes that are just really difficult to see. Civil War talks about war zones, especially if you’re a reporter or somebody innocent. The scene with Jesse Plemons, where you all encounter him in that little town, and he questions where you’re from — how difficult was that to shoot?

Wagner Moura: That scene was particularly difficult for me personally. “What kind of American are you?” That question was really a hard one for me. So, I’m an American citizen too, but I speak with an accent. I didn’t grow up in this country. I always thought, “What would I do, if some day someone asked me something like that? What would be my reaction? And till today, I don’t know. Those two days with Jesse asking me that question over and over again. It was very difficult for me.

Kirsten Dunst: It’s not a role that he wanted to play. I kind of asked him to play it for us because he’s such a brilliant actor. And I knew that that scene was such an important scene, because it shifts the film into high gear after that scene.

Cailee Spaeny: We shot it for two days straight, like Wagner was saying, in the Atlanta sun with very believable performances surrounding us in a dark, intelligent scene that says so much within it. But it gets under your skin. It’s hopefully powerful and effective.


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MW: IMAX audiences are going to be blown out of their chairs. This is something we haven’t seen before. The climax is so beautifully shot. You guys are embedded with the soldiers going through this crazy attack. Talk about filming those scenes. Is it as harrowing when you’re doing these different setups with all the loud explosions going on?

Kirsten Dunst: Yes…

MW: Or was it something that’s more metered that you can handle?

Cailee Spaeny: No, what you’re hearing in that final act is basically the same as what the actors were hearing, and to have that level of noise. Also, we had an incredible military advisor, Ray Mendoza, and three other Navy SEALs. We were surrounded by veterans in that final act. It was incredibly immersive and moving.

Wagner Moura: Films Don’t Have a Message but Civil War Changed His Perspective

MW: Now that you’ve seen the final product and how jarring it is, what do you want audiences to take away as far as something that they can learn from?

Wagner Moura: I don’t believe that films have a message. I think that the great thing about movies in any art form, actually, is that people can have different reads on it. I can tell you what changed for me from after I wrapped this film. I honestly started to really try to listen to people that think differently, politically, from me. That’s been a great exercise in my life. Because I’m finding that there is more common ground than I thought. If our differences are only about how the state should deal with things, I think we should totally try to listen to each other.


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MW: Let me ask more of a levity question. The film is so intense from beginning to end. You are all together pretty much the whole time. What did you do to relax off camera? How were you able to wind it down?

Kirsten Dunst: Well, I just had a baby. He turned one in this film. I had beautiful little souls to hang out with after, which was a very good brain switch for me after the days on this film.

Wagner Moura: Even for me when I went to your place and I saw the kids.

Cailee Spaeny: I know (laughs). We need your energy, as much as I could get to the house and play with the baby.


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MW: What can you say about director Alex Garland? He’s really given us a visionary film.

Kirsten Dunst: He’s a brilliant director. I’ve always thought that, but he’s done something that I’ve never seen before.

Wagner Moura: Yeah, and he says he’s going to retire after this one. I guess this must say something about this film.

Kirsten Dunst: Not retiring from screenwriting, but from directing. Don’t they all say that (laughs)?

Civil War will be released theatrically on April 12th from A24.

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