Skarsgård’s Baron Brings a “Frightening Presence”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Stellan Skarsgård finally spoke out about his role in the upcoming Dune movie. Like many of his peers, the opportunity to collaborate with director Denis Villeneuve was one of the major draws to come onboard this project.

The thing about it, and why I’m looking forward to this film as well, is because it’s Denis Villeneuve. Whatever he does, he creates an atmosphere that is dense, that you can touch, and you’re just sucked into it. You’re never bored—even if he does long, slow takes. The atmosphere builds up, and you’re in his universe. I think it will be the same with this one. He’s lovely to work with, and a beautiful man.

Stellan Skarsgård

In Dune, the seasoned actor takes the role of the villain Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The cruel, yet highly cunning head of House Harkonnen is the orchestrator of a plot to eliminate the Atreides, his long-time rivals. While the character will not have a large amount of screen time (at least in the first movie), Skarsgård emphasized that those appearances have major impact.

I did eight or ten days on the movie, so my character doesn’t show up for too much, but his presence will be felt. He’s such a frightening presence where even if he doesn’t say anything, I think you’ll be afraid of him. And I’m extremely fat. I had eight hours in the makeup chair every day. And in some scenes, I look very tall because I levitate. You’re going to have a lot of fun with it.

Photo of Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
Baron Harkonnen. Photo: Dune: le Mook.

This is not the first time that Baron Harkonnen has appeared onscreen and—especially in David Lynch’s Dune (1984) film—some of those portrayals were over the top, making it harder to take the character seriously. In earlier interviews, Villeneuve clarified that this wouldn’t be the case for this adaptation. Rather, his approach underscores the villain’s intelligence and strength.

I didn’t want the Baron to be a buffoon or caricature, I wanted him to have the feeling of strength, a strategist. I wanted the Baron to be seductive, someone who has a certain kind of sensuality to him. Most important, I wanted the Baron to have a deep intelligence.

Denis Villeneuve, speaking to Entertainment Weekly

Although we haven’t yet seen footage or photographs of the Baron in full view, the McFarlane Toys 12-inch deluxe action figure may give an idea of what to expect of his stature. Towering above all others in that series, he’s described as being clad in a “double armor suit” (potentially for instances where he’s in the field) and comes with a stand, to represent usage of anti-gravity “suspensors” to hover above the ground.

Action figure of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, from McFarlane Toys Dune product line.
McFarlane Toys action figure.

The official description of the figure reflects what we know of the character:

Evil personified, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is a gluttonous force of malevolence, determined to feed his addiction to brutality. A gravity–defying monster of a man, gliding through the air like a phantom of cruelty, the all-consuming figurehead of House Harkonnen rules through fear, determined to take back the throne of galactic power and reclaim the spice-rich sands of Dune from House Atreides by deadly means.

As with other recent discussions with the Dune cast and crew, the subject of the movie’s simultaneous release (for the U.S.) in theaters and on HBO Max was brought up, with the interviewer expressing hope that “as many people as possible get to see the film on the big screen.” Skarsgård’s response was noteworthy, especially in light of rumors that the studios may be reconsidering the hybrid release.

Oh, definitely. I think they made a deal with AT&T—which owns Time Warner, which owns HBO, which owns my phone—that they cut a four-week deal where it’ll be just for the theaters, but I’m not sure. That could change.

Given the uncertain wording, this may mean that discussions were still ongoing, as of the last time he was in the loop. It’s also possible that he’s thinking about the earlier international release dates.

As of now, the Dune movie is expected to screen first in international territories, starting September 15, where it will get a theatrical-exclusive run. The Unites States’ premiere will follow in October, with a day-and-date release in theaters and on HBO Max.

The full interview with Stellan Skarsgård goes into his work on his other upcoming projects, including Star Wars: Andor, his thoughts on the film industry, and how he’s been spending his time during the pandemic.

Sources: The Daily Beast via Marlow Stern (April 14, 2021), Entertainment Weekly via Christian Holub (September 9, 2020)