With a little over six months left before the movie premieres, the publicity engine for Dune: Part Two has shifted into gear. On Tuesday, members of the press watched its teaser trailer at CinemaCon (not yet publicly released). Then today, Vanity Fair posted exclusive first look images and offered further insight—interviewing director Denis Villeneuve and stars Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya—into what audiences can expect to experience in theaters come November.
Enjoy these 12 stunning stills, featuring new looks for the movie’s leads and unveiling of Florence Pugh as Prince Irulan Corrino, Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, and Léa Seydoux as Lady Margot Fenring.
Paul and Chani Navigate Love and War
Timothée Chalamet returns as the central figure of Dune, Paul Atreides, continuing his epic journey that brings both physiological and psychological changes. And this time around, Zendaya will be playing a much more prominent role in the narrative. Villeneuve describes her character, Chani, as follows:
Zendaya is a fierce warrior. [Her character] has a very strong opinion about her world, about the politics of this world, about the religions and all the impact of colonization on their culture, but there’s something about that young man that cracks her heart. And Timothée did a beautiful job to bring that sincerity onscreen
Denis Villeneuve, speaking to Vanity Fair
This week the director described Dune: Part Two as an “epic war movie”, however explained here that he sought not to let all of the big-screen spectacle overshadow Paul and Chani’s romantic relationship.
I wanted to make a very human movie, very close to the characters, despite the scope. I kept saying to my crew, “The most important thing is that spark, that relationship between both of these characters.” If we don’t capture that, if we don’t have that onscreen, there’s no movie. The epicenter of the story is this relationship.
Zendaya elaborated on how it’s this relationship that makes the main characters accessible. In her performance as Chani she went back to the essence of human love—including its occasional awkwardness—and how those feelings would apply to their extraordinary situation.
It was funny trying to figure out in this futuristic space talk, like, how do they flirt? What does that look like for a space warrior and the young duke of a planet? How do they show that they like each other? What does that even sound like? We were definitely trying to navigate that, which was funny because all of us were stumped. I think it’s just as foreign to us as it probably is to the characters.
Awkward and uncomfortable—there’s all those things. I was like, Does Chani get awkward? Does that happen to her? Does she know what that feels like?
I think something we can all relate to is just love. These characters literally live on another planet, right? They’re aliens. It was interesting finding these tender moments in such turmoil and chaos. These characters are just young people forced into really, really intense circumstances.
Chalamet talked about Paul finding an anchor in Chani, as the former undergoes an essentially fantastical transformation into a messianic leader of the Fremen people.
The universe of Dune is a complex world of geopolitics and with tons of ecological and technological metaphors that hold up today. But at the center, there’s this relationship where Chani sort of becomes a moral compass. Even to say that out loud feels kind of huge, and she’s really the humanizing, grounding force to that.
The Bene Gesserit Long Game
Dune: Part One offered just an elementary introduction to the Bene Gesserit, who wield such great influence throughout the known universe. The second movie will revisit that mystical order and adds two of its key sisters.
First there’s Florence Pugh playing Princess Irulan, eldest daughter of the Imperium’s ruler, Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. The latter, increasingly facing challenges to his power, will be portrayed by Christopher Walken—who remains absent in the movie’s marketing thus far. In the Dune novel (and its previous adaptations), Irulan is the narrator and historian who later writes of the legendary events transpiring on Arrakis.
[Princess Irulan’s] stake could not be higher because she’s afraid that her father could lose the throne, could lose everything.
When I met Florence, I was struck by her assurance, how grounded she is as a young woman, how direct, how unapologetic. She has something inherently royal about her. I will definitely believe that Florence could become, in the future, a prime minister.
The second Bene Gesserit newcomer will be portrayed by Léa Seydoux. Lady Margot only played a small part in the book, however Villeneuve teases there be more in store for her in his movie adaptation of Dune.
Margot Fenring is a Bene Gesserit sister, but will be a secret agent in the movie. It was very playful to work with Léa [Seydoux]. It’s a character full of surprises.
When asked whether the character is on the side of good or evil, the director explained that it’s not that clear-cut when it comes to the Sisterhood.
The main goal of the Bene Gesserit is to make sure that humanity will move in the right direction…They don’t think about what’s good or what is evil. That’s not very important for them.
What is important is to bring humanity to its full potential and to try to create a being that will bring humanity to enlightenment. It’s their full agenda, which takes place over thousands of years of planning and controlling. They are the true masters of this world. Their biggest weapon is time. They see the world in centuries.
And of course Rebecca Ferguson returns—following a standout performance in Dune: Part One—in her leading role as Lady Jessica. The character has been deeply impacted by the fall of House Atreides and loss of her beloved Duke Leto. We’ll be seeing her in a darker headspace during this second movie.
She lost everything. She is a survivor like her son Paul, and she has to strategize how to accomplish her ambition. It’s a really beautiful and nicely complex character.
Lady Jessica fully believes in the prophecy surrounding Paul—that he is the Kwisatz Haderach the Bene Gesserit have been seeking after for millennia—and is actively driving towards its fulfillment. Villeneuve teased the significance of her new facial tattoos:
Those tattoos are linked with the prophecy. We see that there’s a darkness, a very specific darkness in her eyes. Lady Jessica is one of the masterminds of Dune. She’s trying to play her own agenda. The meaning of that look would be unveiled in Part Two.
During the interview, Zendaya noted how this causes a certain level of discord between Chani and Lady Jessica. The former is concerned about Bene Gesserit manipulation and how the order’s plans may affect the Fremen.
There’s some tension. Without giving anything away, there’s an awareness of the negative impact that Lady Jessica, as a Bene Gesserit, has inflicted upon her people. So there’s definitely an animosity there, and an apprehension.
Following his critically-acclaimed performance in Elvis last year, anticipation runs high for Austin Butler’s role as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see his full appearance—Villeneuve is holding that for a later date—however this shadowed image indicates a sinister presence. Here we see a true killer, bald-headed and dual wielding blades (one white and one black), likely ready to fight in the arena.
The director did offer several insights regarding the character of Feyd:
Austin Butler brought to the screen something that would be a cross between a psychotic, sociopath serial killer and Mick Jagger.
He’s someone Machiavellian, much more cruel, much more strategic, and is more narcissistic.
While Rabban likewise exemplifies Harkonnen traits of blood-thirst and cruelty—as portrayed convincingly by Dave Bautista in the first movie—he lacks in the intelligence department. Therefore it’s not him but Feyd, as the younger brother, who is actually heir apparent to House Harkonnen.
Rabban wants to please. He wants to please the baron. He wants to shine in front of his uncle, but there’s something touching about Rabban because he’s a bad strategist. He’s not very intelligent. Rabban finds himself, at the end of Part One, in the position where he doesn’t have the brain to be able to manage and control all these operations. Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is a very clever, very charismatic figure, and much more brilliant.
Stellan Skarsgård returns as the monstrous ruler of House Harkonnen. Having (seemingly) eliminated House Atreides, the Baron has set his sights on the higher powers of the Imperium… However, he has clearly not emerged unscathed from the poison tooth incident in Dune: Part One.
He is a physically weaker character that has to use some devices to help him to stay alive as he keeps growing. I always saw the Baron as some kind of hippopotamus that, because of his weight, is more comfortable in liquid. He feels more relaxed in those baths, and as we see him in that picture, he’s smoking spice.
With Dune: Part Two exploring more of the Fremen and their culture, Javier Bardem’s Stilgar will have significantly more time on screen. The film will explore his relationship with Paul, a bond that develops beyond mentorship.
Stilgar, like all the characters, is playing some chess game. He believes that Paul could be that prophetic figure, and he slowly keeps Paul under his wing and becomes a beautiful, surrogate father figure.
Javier Bardem brought something very colorful and a lot of life to a character that could have been also just very severe. That charisma explodes in Part Two. For Stilgar, the more Paul is embedded in his culture, and the more Paul evolves as a Fremen, the more he feels that they are walking in the right way.
Speaking of epic war scenes to anticipate, Villeneuve teased the story’s final confrontation:
Gurney Halleck survived and has come back to avenge his friends. For people who know Dune, there will be a massive battle at the end of Part Two.
During the interview, Villeneuve again emphasized that Dune: Part Two is not a sequel. The story picks up directly from where the first movie ended. When it comes to the returning characters, that ensures key events are not left to happen off-screen.
It’s important—it’s not a sequel, it’s a second part. There’s a difference. I wanted the movie to really open just where we left the characters. There’s no time jump. I wanted dramatic continuity with [Dune: Part One].
Realizing a Childhood Dream
For Villeneuve, bringing Dune to life on the big screen has been a lifelong journey fueled by passion.
Boy, it has been the most very fulfilling experience so far, and very profound for me.
However, even considering all of the movie’s successes—including its six Oscar wins—the director often reflects on what he could have done differently to improve Dune: Part One.
You have to accept your failures as an artist. It’s a task that was almost impossible, for me to be absolutely faithful to what those childhood dreams were. But what brings a lot of peace in my heart is that I brought a lot of them to the screen, a lot of them are close to what I had imagined.
When asked about the current status of post-production for Dune: Part Two, Villeneve’s response was curt and indicates that there’s still plenty of hard work remaining.
I’m deep into sound design and the visual effects, and it’s a race against time.
I’ll be very blunt, okay? It’s very difficult for me to start to talk about a movie when I’m doing it. It’s like asking a hockey player to describe how he will score as he is skating toward the net.
Vanity Fair’s feature will be published in their May 2023 issue and is available to read now on their website. If you’re not a subscriber, they do allow visitors to view an article for free.