Entering the Discourse is a thrice-weekly column where we dig into who is saying what about new releases and upcoming projects. Today, we hear from Dune director Denis Villeneuve and actor Timothée Chalamet about working together and adapting this epic tale for the screen.
Frank Herbert’s novel Dune is a sprawling sci-fi epic about sandworms, space witches, and the ravaging powers of capitalism. And yet, for director Denis Villeneuve, the hardest part of directing his 2021 film adaptation was apparently working with Timothée Chalamet’s luscious locks.
At a press conference as part of the Venice International Film Festival, Villeneuve joked that Chalamet’s hair was “alive.” He explains:
“The biggest challenge, doing Dune, was by far to deal and master with Timothée’s hair… I had to direct Timothée, and I had to direct his haircut.”
Seriously, though, despite that humorous hurdle, Villeneuve was ultimately moved to tears by Chalamet’s performance as Paul Atreides, the hero of Dune.
In the movie, Paul is a young boy who must leave his homeworld to settle on the desert planet Arrakis with his father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), and mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). This place is the only source of “spice,” a substance that can prolong human life and provide superhuman strength. But a betrayal leaves Paul and his mother alone on the planet to fend for themselves amongst the giant sandworms.
In an interview with ET Canada, the filmmaker says of the performance:
“He’s [a] kind of exorcist in front of the camera where you feel that there’s a force behind him that suddenly comes to the surface. I was dancing behind the camera. I think I had tears in my eyes.”
A Dream Role for Timothée Chalamet
For Chalamet, this role was a dream come true. In fact, he tried to meet Villeneuve to get cast. In an interview with Deadline, the actor says that when the filmmaker got involved with the project:
“I set up a Google alert, and that’s when I got the book.”
But Chalamet barely knew anything about the source material. He says:
“In total honesty, I think my understanding of Dune at that point was from a graphic novel I’d seen at Midtown Comics when I was shopping for Yu-Gi-Oh! cards when I was about 10.”
But that didn’t stop the actor from pursuing his dream project. From there, he tried to orchestrate quick meetings at events and premieres starting in 2017. After almost a year, it finally happened. He says:
“I was about halfway through the book when I got the call that he was going to be the president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. And I was in London prepping The King. He asked me if I could come out there. So I quickly busted through the second half of the book as best I could. So, like, the first half of my copy is properly annotated and full of my thoughts. And then the second half I just raced through. And then I had that meeting with him, and it was such a joy.”
Chalamet Loved Working with Zendaya
One of Timothée Chalamet’s favorite parts of working on Dune was acting alongside Zendaya, who plays Chani, Paul’s love interest and a native Fremen who lives on the sand planet Arrakis. Chalamet says of working with the actress:
“When Zendaya came, it was a total breath of fresh air. And she’s one of my favorite parts of the movie…Zendaya was incredible in this movie; the moment she pulls the mask down, it felt properly showstopping and powerful. I was hiding behind the camera, counting my lucky stars, because I was there in month two of the shoot. And here was a total powerhouse just coming in for the first time.”
The entire ensemble cast was a joy to work with, Chalamet admits. He says:
“There are moments of glee, like seeing Jason Momoa running at you at a hundred miles an hour. Or just getting to shoot the shit with Josh Brolin, or getting to do a scene with Oscar Isaac. I felt so supported, whether it was Rebecca Ferguson or Charlotte Rampling.”
Hoping for Dune Part Two
Timothée Chalamet teases that we’ll get more Zendaya as Chani if the second Dune film is greenlit.
“I don’t know if there’s a script yet, but just based on the book, along with Lady Jessica, they have a lot to do together, let’s put it like that.”
Denis Villeneuve split the book in two and intended to make two movies. But Warner Bros. only allowed him to shoot the first one. Still, he’s holding out hope that he’ll be able to make the sequel.
The filmmaker tells Variety:
“As I was doing the first part, I really put all my passion into it, in case it would be the only one. But I’m optimistic.”
Part One of Dune debuts in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22nd.