Timothée Chalamet to Play Paul Atreides in Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’

This could be the role of a lifetime for the 'Call Me By Your Name' actor.
Timothee Chalamet Call Me By Your Name

This could be the role of a lifetime for the ‘Call Me By Your Name’ actor.

Recent Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet is about to play the most demanding character of his career. Yes, it’ll be more momentous than the time he played Elio Perlman, quietly breaking hearts in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. The role will be more noteworthy than Chalamet headlining the upcoming Beautiful Boy as a struggling drug addict opposite cinema veteran Steve Carell. Heck, I said The King, in which he’s set to play Henry V, would be his biggest opportunity yet. This next one arguably tops that.

Call Me By Your Name and Beautiful Boy have the potential to make us cry our eyes out with nothing more than a trailer in sight. Yet they don’t come close to preparing us for the prospect of Chalamet leading the charge in a sci-fi epic that’s embedded so deeply in literary and cinematic history (albeit less flatteringly in the latter). Because taking on the universe of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is beyond challenging, and any actor would be shaking his boots. That said, I have faith that Chalamet is totally up for the task anyway.

According to Deadline, the rising star is in final negotiations to topline Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, the languidly gestating cinematic take on Herbert’s influential sci-fi novels. Chalamet is set to fill the shoes of a young nobleman named Paul Atreides, the central character who becomes a Chosen One with a twist.

The heft reality of examining the “Dune” books includes acknowledging that the entire epic is sprawled across six novels that collectively span thousands of pages. The very first novel, “Dune,” is already unrelenting in its vast, interwoven landscape. The rich world of the novel comprises disparate communities, factions, and settings that the series is so highly praised for.

In “Dune,” sometime in the distant future, humanity is spread out across the galaxy. People reside on planets that are overseen by feudal Houses which operate under imperial rule. These factions fight to control access to the universe’s most valuable resource, Melange or the “Spice,” which can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis. The Spice not only enables space travel but extends the lives of those who ingest it, further providing them with a level of prescience that these interconnected space colonies depend on for survival.

Paul finds himself caught up in the throes of a political war after his family relocates to Arrakis, when the Atreides clan are subjected to an attempted coup at the hands of two other Houses. So, begins Paul’s path towards transforming into a hero in the “Dune” narrative.

Herbert himself has repeatedly stated that the “Dune” series questions the very conceptions of heroism, though. He purposely created a protagonist whose inherent goodness could never be totally shielded from messy and ruthless political realities that test his abilities as the aforementioned Chosen One. According to Herbert, Paul’s characterization rests on “the conflict between absolutes and the necessity of the moment,” which in turn presents a fascinating portrait of human fallibility. The heart of the novels is built upon this struggle to live up to the responsibilities of being in a position of power.

Of course, Game of Thrones makes for the easiest modern-day comparison to Dune due to its own penchant for morally ambiguous characters and a thirst for power. We can definitely rest easy knowing that Villeneuve is planning at least two films in his own Dune adaptation. Much like Game of Thrones has hours upon hours of screen time to flesh out its narrative, a character like Paul really needs more than a single two-hour outing to really come into his own.

And we’re truly lucky that an accomplished actor like Chalamet is getting this opportunity of a lifetime to portray Paul. We called Taron Egerton for the role last year due in part to both his own popularity and adaptable skill set. He did, after all, effortlessly jump from the suaveness of Kingsmen to the derpiness of Eddie the Eagle. But in all fairness, Chalamet hadn’t fully enraptured us back then. Call Me By Your Name was gaining momentum at Sundance but it hadn’t yet made waves elsewhere.

Chalamet has since proven himself to be absolutely mesmerizing as a lead performer. He is quite the chameleon on screen; skinny frame exploding from scene to scene, either bubbling with repressed energy or shouting across a room, willing us to hear him out. Chalamet’s resume has thus far been filled with teenage characters who tend to be irreverent and impulsive. Elio in Call Me By Your Name is a stark exception to that rule. He isn’t a grown-up character by far, but the role definitely was an exercise of internalization, compounded by secrecy and restraint.

Dune would obviously require Chalamet’s dexterity, becoming a vital next step in his career as a full-fledged actor with crossover appeal and the ability to lead multiple movies within the same franchise. It will take him back to some sci-fi roots he’d put down initially in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. This is a film which saw Chalamet interact with an Earth that’s not-quite-livable, although he definitely did not have much screentime to fully explore any ramifications that fact may have had on his character. Dune, on the flip side, will be about Paul’s choices and the way he navigates worlds of uncertainty.

Going back to the source material set out by Herbert is vital for Villeneuve to succeed in his adaptation, but having Chalamet by his side should let him rest a little easier too. Chalamet has the chops to follow up the likes of Kyle MacLachlan and Alec Newman, who played the character in the 1984 movie and 2000 miniseries adaptation, respectively. Moreover, considering Villeneuve’s track record of successful sci-fi — particularly his expert handling of Blade Runner 2049 — he could also have a much better movie to act in despite the mountain of expectations that naturally accompany a project like Dune.

Dune will be an experiment for all parties involved, but that’s exactly the kind of thing a young actor of Chalamet’s caliber needs and should embrace with open arms.

Sheryl Oh: Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)