Denis Villeneuve On The Crazy Privilege Of Making ‘Dune: Part Two’

As mentioned to Denis Villeneuve ahead, his press tour for the first Dune movie was interesting in that it’s rare we see a movie with almost universal acclaim – including a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Picture – and Villeneuve is basically out there saying, “But just wait for the second movie.”

Here’s the thing: after now having seen that said second movie, good grief he wasn’t kidding. While the first film introduces us to a whole host of interesting characters and concepts and worlds, the second film puts all of those attributes in motion – and adds Austin Butler’s sinister and absolutely demonic Feyd – and delivers one of the most phenomenal sci-fi adventures ever put to screen. Remember, Dune was supposed to be an unfilmable book. And the 1984 movie, though endearing these days, was kind of supposed to prove that. Dune: Part Two very much proves it is a filmable book.

Picking up where the first part leaves off, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) have joined the freman, led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Stilgar believes Paul is their savior and will lead them to victory versus the invaders who are there to take precious spice. Paul doesn’t quite buy that he’s the savior, but agrees to fight alongside Stilgar and Chani (Zendaya) and complete the numerous challenges required of him … which includes mounting and riding a sandworm.

Ahead, Villeneuve explains why, first, he really needs some sleep and why it might be a while before we see the third chapter (an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s second book), Dune: Messiah. He tells us why this second chapter was both challenging and unbelievably fun to make – and goes into great detail about how he made the sandworm riding scene look so spectacular. He explains why Austin Butler can channel pure demonic evil so well as Feyd (with no speedo like Sting wore) and why it was so important to have a scene of Josh Brolin’s Gurney playing the baliset. Also, did I mention that Villeneuve really wants some sleep?

When the first Dune came out, on your press tour I’ve never really seen a director getting almost universal acclaim, and you’re like, “no, no, no. Wait for the second one.”

The thing is, I knew that Part One was like an introduction. Was like an appetizer. And I knew that the Part Two will have all the substance. It was much more emotional movie, with more action. In a way, for a director, it was more exciting for me to do Part Two. There was something about it that it was much more challenging. But it was more playful, and the toys were bigger.

That’s true.

It was much more ambitious and much more complex. But I had a tremendous amount… I had a lot of fun. We started the movie, exhausted. Because we were out on the press tour of Part One. And there was no break in between both movies. But what kept me alive was the excitement of what was coming ahead of me. Actually, I made sure that each word of the screenplay, I would be excited by. And there will be no moment where I will just “do something.” I was making sure that the screenplay was as strong as I wanted. And also, I was excited to go deeper into the character’s relationships. We had barely seen Chani in the first one. I had a glimpse on Stilgar. But, the favorite part of Dune, for me, is the Fremen culture. And I felt that, finally, I had the chance to embrace it, and to go deeper, and to play with it.

It’s out there now that Dune: Part Two doesn’t wrap up the story and ends again on another cliffhanger. Are you glad that’s out there so people aren’t surprised? Because I think a lot of people think this wraps everything up, and it doesn’t.

I was destabilized by the appetite for Dune Messiah. I’m here to talk about Dune: Part II. There’s a part of me who is very happy to be away from the desert.


For now, I’ve had my share of sand and I would love to take a little break from Arrakis before going back, if ever I go back. I will go back if there’s a strong screenplay on the table. It’s a work in progress right now. So, I have nothing to say about Dune Messiah, other than it could be interesting to finish. Totally finalize the poetry, this arc. But I will say that, for me, I tried to complete the story in the two first movies. And to see that, if it stopped there, there was a part of me that I knew I will have spent enough time in Arrakis.

Well, you’ve said before you want to take a break. You just said again you want to take a break. Does taking a break mean from Dune? Or is there another movie like Enemy in you? Do you want to make movies during this break, or do you want an actual break?

I wish I had an actual break. I don’t think I will have a break.


But I think I could have just a little bit… Well, I’m talking about just a few weeks to sleep. I’m just talking about a few weeks of sleeping. And just dreaming. There are many stories that I want to do and I have a lot of projects. And, of course, I love Dune. But it’s like, I think it could be interesting to do a small movie, and then go back to Dune after. Just to give a bit of breathing and to create a little bit of distance. And perspective. And create an appetite also.

Not to mention Blade Runner 2049, too. You had three huge, huge movies in a row.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And no breaks in between. Let’s say that the past ten years I didn’t stop. And I feel I’m blessed as a director, but as a human being, I would love to spend a little bit more time with my family. But I just feel that I want to make sure that the next screenplays I’m working on, I will make no compromise. And I will work on very strong screenplays. And I want to take the time for that. So the answer will be, I will not stop. But I just want to make sure that the screenplays are ready. I will not rush production if I don’t have something solid on the table. That’s the only thing I will say. I will shoot Dune Messiah when it’s like, rock solid.

Well, selfishly, I always want more movies from you. But I do believe you, I can tell from your face. You probably do need some time for you and your family.

[Laughs] That’s with makeup by the way.

Austin Butler in this movie as Feyd is demonic. Where did this come from?

Austin is a very playful actor, very versatile. And I think that we have to put it into perspective that he was just coming out of Elvis at the time. And that’s why, one of the reasons. First of all, I had been absolutely floored by his performance in the movies I’ve seen from him. But, I knew also that he had the strong will to break the mold and to go somewhere he has not been before. And when you have an actor like that, of that talent, that is willing to go too far, to break rules, and to push the limits? It is so rewarding. And I had a lot of fun developing the Feyd-Rautha character with him. And I’m so excited about what he brought to the screen. It’s a very important character in the Dune mythology. If not, one of the most important. And I know that the Dune fans are having high expectations. And I’m very, very excited about our version of Feyd-Rautha. And I’m really looking forward to sharing it with them.

Even the David Lynch Dune movie, people still talk about Sting as that character.

And we didn’t have the jock strap.

No, you did not. Though Dune fans will be happy Gurney plays the baliset? I feel that was important for you to get in there this time. Because I think it got cut in the first movie, right?

Yeah. It’s one of the things that sometimes, when in the editing room, you have to kill darlings for the sake of the movie. And it hurt, but I’m very, I think, severe with the material. And it’s a moment that I really loved in Part One that I had to cut out. And the only way I did this is, I promised myself that I will find a moment to embrace that quality of the character who is Gurney. It’s very important in the book as a musician. And I wanted to make sure that this will be part of Part Two.

The sandworm riding scene, it looks incredible. There’s a fine line between it looks cool and it doesn’t look great. In the 1984 Lynch movie, it looks kind of weird. And I am not putting that movie down, I actually quite like it. But it looks phenomenal here.

I don’t want to compare with what’s been done before. And all due respect with David Lynch, he’s a master.

One hundred percent.

He did the movie at a specific time, where we have to remember that I have the power of computers that they didn’t have at the time. I can do things today that were absolutely impossible.

But I’m wondering, even with the computers, was it still challenging to make it look as great as it does?

It is by far one of the most challenging scenes I have designed in my life. I mean, first of all, to create the technique of the Fremen? That was not really described in the book. I had to come up with a strategy. How to approach a beast like that. How do you approach a sandworm without being crushed by it? How do you jump on a sandworm? What was the Fremen approach to master the beast? And how will we see Paul? Having some intuitive skills, but still being a bit clumsy because this is the first time? How to see the power, and create something edgy. That looks like a motorbike racing. Racing motorbikes or something.


It was that kind of energy I was looking for. And so I designed the sequence. And I designed a strategy, a technical strategy how I would achieve those shots. And after the meeting, I remember the silence. Because it was really ambitious. I wanted a level of realism and a feeling of danger and speed. That really was very important for me. And it required a tremendous amount of time to do that, and a lot of R&D. But I’m very pleased with the result. It’s something that it’s exactly what I had in mind. When I was a kid, I was thinking about worm riding…

Oh yeah?

That’s the way I figured it out. And I’m happy you enjoyed it.

You’ve got about a month of press left. Then maybe you get to sleep. So I know you’re not done yet. But remember when we would hear that Dune was unfilmable? Is there part of you that’s just like, “Man, I fucking pulled this off.”

[Laughs] I think you can say that. Me? I’m still… having no distance with it, it’s like every movie. When you finish a movie, you have the joys and the pain. And I’m digesting all this right now. And that’s why I need to go back and to think about what just happened. And it’s like, you know what? Before I started the Part One, one of the first very very first meetings, I had with one artist. When nobody knew about the project, but very few producers? I met with Hans Zimmer and we had a dinner together. And Hans absolutely adored the book like me. We are both hardcore fans of the book.

He said to me, it’s a beautiful project but isn’t it dangerous, perilous, to approach dreams from your childhood? Are we bound to fail? And I understand what he meant. It’s like to try to bring your childhood dreams, your teenage dreams, to the screen. It’s a lot of joy and a lot of melancholia. And some you win, and some you fail. And it’s like, I’m still digesting all this. And I’m trying to make peace with all that happened. And I’m talking about myself, not the world. And yeah, it will take me awhile to digest all this. One thing I must say finishing is … of course it was a crazy privilege to do that.

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