In Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune, an invaluable spice from the planet Arrakis fuels intergalactic travel and has the ability to open one’s mind to deeper consciousness.
On Earth, Timothée Chalamet’s earnest press blitz in support of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has a comparably powerful effect. The actor is so clearly thrilled to be part of the ambitious blockbuster that just bearing witness to his gushing enthusiasm for the filmmaker can rub off on you like a contact high. It’s intoxicating.
The A.V. Club experienced the exhilarating rush first-hand when we jumped on a Zoom with Chalamet and Villeneuve just hours before Dune’s premiere at the 78th annual Venice International Film Festival. Below, the actor and director speak about their first days on set together, and Villeneuve shares the exact moment where things clicked into place for him—when it was clear that Chalamet was the perfect choice to play his protagonist, Paul Atreides.
Denis Villeneueve: I will tell you the truth: There’s a scene that we shot right at the beginning of the shoot, called the Gom Jabbar scene, where we go through a strange, unconscious, transformative process. And that transformation—when we did the scene—I saw this transformation in Timothée. When I saw that power rising into what he brought to the character, I saw with my own eyes Paul Atreides becoming something else. And, when that happened, Timothée didn’t see me, but I was dancing behind the camera. I was like, “Oh, my god, he was so great. He is so powerful. I’m so deeply happy. Thank you, gods of cinema. I didn’t fuck it up; I cast the right Paul Atreides!”
The A.V. Club: So, Timothée, you didn’t see him dancing at that moment? What are your memories from filming that scene?
Timothée Chalamet: No, I didn’t [see him dancing]. But that is high praise, and that’s coming from one of the—if not the best director in the world. So I’m pinching myself right now, even as you said that. So, a big thank you for saying that.
You know, what a good fortune to be able to start with that scene. So often, as an actor, you shoot out a sequence, which feels like a certain responsibility to know exactly where you are as a character, where you want to go, where you just were. And, thankfully, with Charlotte Rampling, who was playing Reverend Mother Mohiam, we got to—
DV: We were very afraid of Charlotte. [Laughs.] We love her.
TC: [Laughs.] We love her, but, man, she has that power. You feel it. And she had those platform [shoes,] so she was kind of like floating on set.
No, but it was a great start. And I kind of had an idea that it was important to keep in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint—for how much the character demands, how much the schedule is going to demand. And yet, you have those moments like the the Gom Jabbar scene, or the Stilltent scene later on, or—I don’t want to give too much away, but—one of the fights at the end that require that intensity. So, I felt like I was a horse being ridden. [Laughs.] Maybe that’s going to sound... I’m trying to think what the printed headline will be of that.
DV: He’s very self-conscious. [Laughs.] Be careful what you are asking from him.
TC: No, no no. I felt like a workhorse that had its trainer on for the first time. I say that was huge humility. I don’t want anyone to—I know it’s harder to be a workhorse than an actor.
TC: Oh no, where is this going? [Laughs.]
Dune opens in U.S. theaters—and is available to stream on HBO Max—on October 22. For two different takes on Denis Villeneuve’s film, you can check out Leila Latif’s Venice Film Fest dispatch here, or read Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s review here.