‘Dune: Part Two’ Exclusive Interview: Denis Villeneuve

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Director Denis Villeneuve on the 'Dune: Part Two' global press tour.

Director Denis Villeneuve on the ‘Dune: Part Two’ global press tour. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Opening in theaters on March 1st is the long-awaited sequel to 2021’s ‘Dune,’ entitled ‘Dune: Part Two,’ which is once again co-written and directed by Denis Villeneuve (‘Blade Runner 2049‘).

In addition to returning cast members Timothée Chalamet (‘Wonka’), Zendaya (‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’), Rebecca Ferguson (‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’), Josh Brolin (‘Avengers: Endgame’), Stellan Skarsgård (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’), Dave Bautista (‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’), and Javier Bardem (‘Skyfall’), the sequel also features Austin Butler (‘Elvis’), Florence Pugh (‘A Good Person‘), Léa Seydoux (‘No Time to Die’) and Christopher Walken (‘Batman Returns’).

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with acclaimed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve about his work on ‘Dune: Part Two,’ the decision to split the book into two movies, pacing challenges, changes he made to the source material, shooting the sandworm scenes, utilizing black and white imagery, and casting Austin Butler and Florence Pugh in their pivotal roles.

Related Article: Movie Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’

Director/Writer/Producer Denis Villeneuve and Timothee Chalamet on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure 'Dune: Part Two,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Director/Writer/Producer Denis Villeneuve and Timothee Chalamet on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Moviefone: To begin with, even after making the decision to split the first book in half and make two different movies, there is a lot of Frank Herbert’s story left to tell. Can you talk about the challenges of finding the right tone and pacing for this sequel, especially with the addition of new characters this time around?

Denis Villeneuve: I think it’s a good question. First, it was important for me that the movie would be kind of autonomous, meaning that someone who has not seen ‘Dune’ could still enjoy ‘Part Two.’ So, we gave enough hints at the beginning of the story to make sure that it was kind of autonomous. Of course, it’s a better journey if you have seen ‘Dune,’ but I tried that. That was one of the first challenges. Then it’s a story that is quite different than the last movie. In ‘Dune,’ we follow a boy that is discovering a world and is getting in contact with a new culture. It’s a boy that will be victim of the events, that will try to survive an attack, but he doesn’t have any control. It’s a much more contemplative, meditative movie. ‘Part Two,’ that boy becomes a man, a leader, a fighter, and he wants to avenge his father. It’s more of an action movie, so it has a different rhythm, a different pacing that I had to find in the screen writing at first. But still, it was very important for me to take the time to put on the screen as much of the Fremen culture as possible. That’s my favorite thing about the book. That is one of the main reasons I insisted making two movies instead of one, because I wanted to have the necessary amount of time to dig a little in the culture to see the rituals, to see the way the people are praying, the way they are eating, the way that they train, the way the people are and their survival techniques in the desert. I’m grateful that I had enough time at the beginning of the film to express that.

Zendaya as Chani and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure 'Dune: Part Two,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Zendaya as Chani and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

MF: Can you talk about some of the changes you made to the source material, particularly expanding the role of the female characters?

DV: Yeah, it’s fundamental. It’s crucial to the success of the movie. The idea here is that it all starts with Frank Herbert being disappointed by the way people perceived the first book. He realized that people thought that the first book was a celebration of a hero, a celebration of Paul Atreides and he wanted to do the opposite. He wanted the first book to be a cautionary tale, a warning against charismatic figures and to correct that, to bring precisions about his intentions, he wrote a tiny book called ‘Dune Messiah’ that is a kind of an epilogue that is like a last chapter of Paul Atreides’ journey. Knowing that fact about Frank Herbert and having read of course ‘Dune Messiah,’ I decided to make my live adaptation. I decided to be more faithful to Frank Herbert than to the book and what I did is I used both the two female characters which are Chani and the mother, Jessica. Both characters in the second part of the book disappear, they go more in the background. They are under the shadow of Paul, and they disappear. I gave both strong lines, a dramatic arc and a precise agenda, making them two eminent characters. That’s one of the big differences. Chani is a very important character. She allows me to have a critical distance with Paul. She allows me to have perspective on Paul’s transformation and from Chani’s perspective. The movie goes in the direction that Frank Herbert wanted his book to.

Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure 'Dune: Part Two,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

MF: Can you talk about casting Austin Butler and Florence Pugh in their pivotal roles?

DV: First, Florence, of course I knew Florence from her work and I’m a big fan of Florence. I thought of her first for it and when I met her, it was clear, after a few minutes of our meeting that I was in front of Princess Irulan. I wanted to create a character that will have inner strength and that will never be perceived as a victim. I wanted an actress that could convey only with the way she’s listening. I wanted someone with a strong presence that the audience could see just in the way she was witnessing events or listening to other characters, that they feel her presence on her own journey, but she’s more of a witness in this story. Of course, if there’s a ‘Dune Messiah’ as we plan, she’ll become one of the prominent characters of that whole series. I’m doing a bit of what I did with Zendaya in the first movie. I introduced Chani in ‘Dune’ and then she becomes one of the main characters in ‘Part Two.’ I do the same with Florence, I just introduced her in ‘Part Two’ and if there’s a ‘Dune Messiah,’ she becomes one of the main characters. For Austin, I was very curious about Austin, having seen him in a few movies, specifically the Quentin Tarantino movie, ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,’ and learning more about this actor that I found quite riveting. Baz Luhrmann shared with me some scenes from ‘Elvis’ and was raving about him. I met with Austin, and I was very impressed by him. I knew that someone who could bring Elvis to the screen the way he did could almost do anything and what he did for that movie is incredibly difficult. So, I knew that he could have all the qualities that I was looking for Feyd-Rautha, but it was a gamble. When I saw him, with all the makeup and in costume, I knew I had made the right choice, but casting, it’s all about very strong intuitions. You do a camera test, but no matter how much we are sold on it, it’s always when you start rolling camera on the first take that you know. With both actors, I was floored, like, “Oh, they nailed it.” They had big shoes to fill because I think those characters are iconic characters in the novel, both Princess Irulan and Feyd-Rautha and they had tremendous pressure on their shoulders. I’m very proud of them.

Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure 'Dune: Part Two,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

MF: Can you talk about the choice to introduce the Harkonnen home world and in particular Feyed-Rautha in black and white?

DV: The idea came from the book. One of the aspects that I love in the book is the idea that, the book is a study of the impact of the ecosystem on human beings, all from the nature of the ecosystem, the human developed religions, techniques, and ways of survival, all their culture, we are the product of our environment and when you want to know about the Fremen, you just look at the desert and it will inform you about the native people. I love this idea and I tried, for Giedi Prime, the home world of Harkonnen, there’s less information in the book and it’s a world that is disconnected from nature. It’s a plastic world. So, I thought that it could be interesting if the light, the sunlight could give us some insight on their psyche. What if instead of revealing colors, the sunlight was killing them and creating a very eerie black and white world, that will give us information about how these people perceive reality, about their political system, about how that primitive brutalist culture and it was in the screenplay. (Cinematographer) Greig (Fraser) was tremendously inspired by that, and we were making tests. I wanted a black and white that would seem alien and coming from another world, a sunlight that we have not seen in cinema. Greig came up with this idea of infrared which I absolutely loved, and we shot the movie that way. The only thing is that when you film this way, there’s no way back. I said, “You have to know that. Okay, we are doing this and there will be no way back. So, we cannot put color after it’s over.” That’s the thing I love about (producer) Mary Parent is that she’s good, she does not operate by fear, and she supported the idea one hundred percent.

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure 'Dune: Part Two,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

MF: Finally, can you talk about executing your vision for the sandworm riding scenes and did the final version end up looking the way you had imagined?

DV: Absolutely. It’s a scene that I didn’t want to make any compromises. I really wanted to bring the images that were in my mind when I was a boy reading the book. I put a lot of pressure on my crew too and we took the time, but it was very challenging. It’s the most difficult scene I’ve ever done technically, but I’m very lucky I was able to find the right tools to first figure out the Fremen technique. How do you jump on the worm actually? Because it’s very basic, the book does not really explain how to do it, so I wanted to find a way that will look plausible. Then once I found the technique, I had to figure out for myself how to bring that to life. I came up with a theory of how to shoot this and that to my great relief it worked out. The thing is that I wanted to shoot everything as much as possible on camera with natural light. So, it meant that it really required a tenuous amount of time, and it required also some technology that we had to design to create different worms. I was very keen to the fact that the studio embraced my ambition.

What is the plot of ‘Dune: Part Two’?

With the planet Arrakis and its valuable spice now firmly in the grip of Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and his depraved minions, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother (Rebecca Ferguson) seek revenge against the Harkonnens for the destruction of the Atreides family. Striking from the hidden depths of the desert alongside the planet’s native people, the Fremen, Paul also begins to realize that he may be the powerful leader foretold in ancient prophecies.

Who is in the cast of ‘Dune: Part Two’?

  • Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides
  • Zendaya as Chani
  • Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica
  • Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck
  • Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
  • Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan
  • Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban Harkonnen
  • Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
  • Léa Seydoux as Lady Margot Fenring
  • Javier Bardem as Stilgar
  • Christopher Walken as Emperor Shaddam IV
Timothee Chalamet and Director/Writer/Producer Denis Villeneuve on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure 'Dune: Part Two,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Timothee Chalamet and Director/Writer/Producer Denis Villeneuve on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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