Austin Butler's Dune: Part Two Villain Sounds Like a Total Maniac


Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited adaptation of the sci-fi series Dune crash landed into theaters and living rooms in October 2021, and the crowd went wild. Wild! In his review for Esquire, Chris Nashawaty even went so far as to call the film “the best sci-fi movie of the decade.” Ticket sales at the box office were equally enthusiastic.

That all surely came as a relief to the director as well as to Warner Brothers, who decided to throw a chance (read: piles of money) at Frank Herbert’s beloved novel despite its reputation as notoriously difficult to adapt. (Plenty of other directors have tried and failed. David Lynch’s 1984 version was widely considered a disaster, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt in the ‘70s didn’t even make it into theaters. Years of production woes and a ballooning budget forced studio execs to pull the plug.)

What seems to have spared Villeneuve’s Dune from the poor outcomes of previous attempts was his crucial decision to break the massive story into two parts. That left the first film ending on a cliffhanger, but a sequel is officially en route, eyeing a November 3, 2023 release. (It was previously set for November 17, 2023, though Warner Bros. snagged the new date after Marvel's Blade delayed its release.) And the wheels of production are already turning. The shoot began in Budapest (where parts of the first installment were shot) this summer, and now, they've moved onto the United Arab Emirates. Timothée Chalamet shared a sneak peek from the production, Instagramming an image of his back facing the camera, clad in a long black coat with a skeletal outline. Is this a Paul Atreides costume, or just another one of Chalamet's high-fashion looks? It's hard to say, but one's thing's for sure: we're going back to Arrakis.


So where does the story go from here?

In Part Two, viewers can expect Villeneuve's plot to favor the second half of Herbert's Dune, which tracks Paul's rise to power among the Fremen and his eventual rebellion against Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Paul's journey to becoming the fabled "Kwisatz Haderach" will test his character and imperil his life. Meanwhile, the Atreides family expands: Paul and Chani become romantically entwined, as his clairvoyant visions predicted, and Lady Jessica gives birth to a daughter, Alia, with outstanding Bene Gesserit abilities. We won't spoil all the delicious twists and turns, but rest assured that the outline provided by the back half of the novel lends itself to a thrilling, more plot-driven story. “It’s going to be another beautiful journey in the desert again,” Villeneuve teases. “It’s the journey where Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica, make contact with the Fremen culture and meet with the Fremen. It’s Paul’s journey against the enemy. It’s a movie that will be more cinematic.”

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Now that filming is underway, cast members are beginning to speak about the process. On the red carpet for Bones And All, when Chalamet was asked about revisiting old works, he commented on revisiting Dune: Part One in the midst of making Dune: Part Two. "It’s fascinating. It’s something you don’t get to do with movies. Revisit," the actor said. "Actually though, I’m feeling that with Dune. Speaking about how cycles match life. I was younger when I did it the first time and was kind of blindsided by how big that movie was. And now, as Paul Atreides becomes more sure on his heels, I feel more sure on my heels, too." Sounds like we can look forward to a more confident and self-assured Paul Atreides. It's no big surprise—when Paul made his first kill at the end of Part One, it signified his transition from boyhood to manhood. With Part Two set to demand more from Paul as a warrior and a leader, as well as draw on his power of prescience, the character (and Chalamet, it sounds like) will have to grow.

But Part Two isn't just the Paul Atreides Show—as expected, the cast has expanded. After a long wait and an awful lot of rumors, Villeneuve tapped a handful of heavy-hitters to round out the story. Christopher Walken joins the cast as Shaddam IV, Emperor of the Known Universe, while Florence Pugh joins as his daughter, Princess Irulan, who later becomes Paul's wife (making this Pugh and Chalamet's second time playing on-screen spouses, following 2019's Little Women). With filming now underway, Pugh was spotted on set in Italy costumed as Princess Irulan. The low quality photo doesn't give us much to go on, but it does show Pugh in some sort of gold circlet, clad in a linen shift. Could this be Princess Irulan in casual attire at the palace, or could she be dressed for Bene Gesserit training? Chalamet raved about Pugh, telling Variety, “Florence is really special. She’s an incredible actor. She was incredible in Dune—seriously incredible. She brought a gravitas to the role."


Meanwhile, two more cast members round out the newbie pool: Souheila Yacoub will play Shishakli, a squad leader of Paul's fearsome Fedaykin, while Léa Seydoux will play Lady Margot Fenring, the Bene Gesserit wife of Count Hasimir Fenring. Lady Margot and her husband (who remains uncasted) plot against the Harkonnens and refuse to act against the Atreides family.

The biggest casting decision is arguably Austin Butler—that's right, Elvis himself—as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, Paul's foil and bitter rival, who becomes the biggest antagonist on Paul's quest for absolute power. Villeneuve has said that Feyd-Rautha will "definitely be a very, very important character" in Part Two. Speaking with Backstage, Butler teased a complex take on the villain. "It’s that thing of the bad guy in the world doesn’t feel like he’s the bad guy," the actor said. "He feels like he’s the hero of his own story. And that can be a hard thing with certain characters; with others, it’s easier, but you have to not judge the character, and you have to find a way to feel the motivation towards anyone of your actions. So, we had a lot of conversations and crafted that together." Butler also revealed that he spent months training with Navy Seals to physically prepare for the role, so no doubt he's more than ready for Paul and Feyd-Rautha's climactic knife fight.


But it's not just Feyd-Rautha taking a starring turn—in fact, all of the Harkonnens are set to take on a bigger role in Part Two, as Paul squares off against both Feyd-Rautha and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Meanwhile, Alia and the Baron become mystically intertwined, and surprising linkages between House Harkonnen and House Atreides are revealed.

"In the second one, I want to have more flexibility, and it will be possible to go a little bit deeper into some of these details,” Villeneuve said. “It’s like a chess game. Some new characters will be introduced in the second part. A decision I made very early on was that this first part would be more about Paul Atreides and the Bene Gesserit, and his experience of being in contact for the first time with a different culture. Second part, there will be much more Harkonnen stuff.”

In Dune: Part Two, Paul will finally meet his destiny.

Part Two will also feature a bigger role for Chani, which will be welcome news for Zendaya fans. After Chani was heavily featured in trailers and Zendaya walked red carpets as Timothée Chalamet's co-lead, some fans were shocked when she only factored into the film for seven minutes. Part Two won't have that problem. When asked what she's most excited about with the sequel, Zendaya joked to Deadline, "Well, I can be there for longer, which is cool." She went on to tease an expanded role in Part Two, saying, "I want to grow with the characters I play, and with the people that I get to learn from. Anybody who has read the books knows there’s so much more to explore and deal with. What was cool for me, having not been around for much of the first shoot, was getting to see the movie from a completely fresh perspective, because I hadn’t seen the sets and the scenes for most of the movie. Watching it felt like just the beginning of this story."

Villeneuve backed up Zendaya's hints about Part Two, telling Variety, “For Zendaya, I will say Part One was a promise. I know that we saw a glimpse of her in Part One, but in Part Two, she’ll have a prominent part. We will follow Timothée [Chalamet] and Zendaya on their adventures in the desert. The thing that excited me most about going back to Arrakis is to spend time with those characters again.”


Chalamet, clearly the hype man for the ladies of Dune: Part Two, gushed about Zendaya, telling Variety, “She hasn’t wrapped yet, and it’s amazing. She’s bringing exactly what she brought to the first one—which was incredible—but in greater abundance. And she’s really become a sister. I’m so grateful to count her as a partner and a sister and a friend." Zendaya is clearly having a blast; in an Instagram story, she posted a shot of the desert, captioned, "Sending love from Arrakis."

We can expect most of the supporting cast of Part One—that is, those who survived the midnight massacre of House Atreides—to return for Part Two, such as Josh Brolin's Gurney Halleck who, as fans of the book know, escapes and joins a band of spice smugglers, later reuniting with Paul. Brolin confirmed as much, telling Collider, "I am a part of Dune: Part Two, to the ridiculous extent of when somebody mentioned to me that it wasn't on IMDb, I actually went out of my way to call Liz [Brolin's publicist] and say, 'Can you please put that on IMDb?' Because it's a proud moment for me, man.'" Anyone who hasn't read the book might have been surprised by Gurney's abrupt disappearance from the film; when we last see him, he's charging into battle against the Harkonnens. "When I watched it, I was like, 'Where did I go?'” Brolin joked in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.


But what are devoted readers going to make of how Villeneuve adapts the back half of the book? Javier Bardem, who plays Fremen leader Stilgar, teased some surprises in a speech at the Cannes Film Festival. "I’ve read the new draft," he said, "and I think they’ve done an amazing job of putting together the pieces in a way that is going to surprise people. They won’t be surprised [by what happens], obviously, because they’ve read the book, but they’ll be surprised by the way they put it together. I was very moved by it. It’s a movie that is full, and you can feel the weight of it, and at the same time, [you can enjoy] the spectacularity of it. [I can’t wait] to go back to the desert with those people, and I’m so happy to go back with Denis, who is one of the greatest directors ever."

What could "they'll be surprised by the way they put it together" mean? A time-jumping narrative structure? Flashback encounters with characters who are dead and gone? This is just a hunch, but we suspect the Dune-iverse isn't ready to say goodbye to Space Daddy Oscar Isaac just yet. Isaac's Duke Leto Atreides is dead and gone, but it's possible he could return in flashbacks, or in Paul's prophetic visions. Isaac teased as much in a recent interview, saying, "Dad’s dead, baby, dad’s dead. It’s a bummer. Maybe in some flashbacks or some force ghosts, but that’s not that one. They don’t do force ghosts."As for Jason Momoa, whose Duncan Idaho died valiantly while defending Paul and Lady Jessica, it's possible he'll return, though not exactly as you remember him. Spiceheads know that in Dune: Messiah, Duncan Idaho is returned to life as a ghola, or a resurrected clone, with no memories of his former life. Duncan's ghola is gifted to Paul, only to later die again, and subsequently be rebirthed multiple times. It's a never-ending cycle and a long-running literary in-joke, so if Villeneuve's Dune franchise leads to multiple sequels, Momoa could be sticking around for a long time.


Dune editor Joe Walker teased as much, saying in an interview, "What's really interesting about Frank Herbert's book is that some characters do come back, but not necessarily in the same form that they took originally. Those who know the book know that Duncan Idaho, for example, reappears, so it's not over until the last lady sings." Sure, Duncan doesn't return until Dune: Messiah, but what's to stop Villeneuve from speeding up the timeline? After all, Part Two could probably use some of Momoa's levity and charisma to balance out all the holy wars.

By the same token, what's to stop Villeneuve from reaching back even further in his casting, all the way to David Lynch's ill-fated Dune? In an interview, cinema's first Paul Atreides, Kyle MacLachlan, commented on the possibility of making a cameo in Dune: Part Two. "I think it's totally up to Denis and whatever he wants to do," MacLachlan told "I watched his film, it was great, I enjoyed it. Had a tremendous sense of nostalgia, to be honest, watching some of the sequences and remembering stuff that I did with our cast in 1983. So it was a trip down memory lane for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and who knows? Who knows what he's got up his sleeve?" Perhaps MacLachlan could sneak in as a Fremen local or a member of the Emperor's court. Could we dream even bigger and get a multiverse of multiple Paul Atreides, à la the three Spider-Mans in Spider-Man: No Way Home? Only time will tell.


Also returning for Part Two is Hans Zimmer, the legendary composer who brought such a distinctive sound to Part One. With Part Two entering production, Zimmer is already hard at work. "I know the structure of the score over Part One and Part Two because I see it as one," Zimmer told Inverse. "And, in my head, I've sort of written the shape of Part Two already. I just sent Denis a text yesterday saying I have all these crazy ideas for the next one. There is a solid way of breaching out in the story musically that nobody has really thought about. But I should tell the crazy ideas to Denis first."

Villeneuve is already cooking up some crazy ideas of his own. Remember how, at the end of Part One, we saw a sandrider in the distance, riding a giant sandworm through the desert? That was just a preview of coming attractions. The director promises that he intends to film one of the book's most iconic scenes, when Paul has to master the art of wormriding in order to become the leader of the Fremen. "It’s going to be one of the most exciting and challenging scenes that I will have to do as a director," Villeneuve told GamesRadar.

He continued: "I know exactly how to do it. The way we approach [sandworm riding] in the first part, it’s just like an evocation. We see them riding in the distance. But the potential of worm-riding is huge. Already, with Timothe?e, we have done a test for him, as we were [shooting] the first movie. There are shots that I didn’t put in the movie. But it’s so exciting." A lot rides on this scene, but if Villeneuve can get it right, the payoff is bound to be immense. "That’s going to be one of the beautiful challenges of my life," he told Variety. "And I know if I do it right, that will be the scene.”


Chalamet isn't the only person gunning to ride a sandworm—after all, Paul will need a teacher. Bardem is eager to sink his maker hooks into one of Dune's most iconic creations. "[Denis Villeneuve] told me he's going to try to make that happen," Bardem told IGN. "That does happen in the book, by the way. Stilgar teaches Paul how to take the desert power, which is to domesticate those huge animals in order to use their force, their strength, and their huge size against the Harkonnens. Hopefully, that will happen."

Which is all to say, Villeneuve has his work cut out for him—and in a perfect world, he won't be stopped at just one more movie. "I always envisioned three movies," he told Entertainment Weekly. "It's not that I want to do a franchise, but this is Dune, and Dune is a huge story. In order to honor it, I think you would need at least three movies. That would be the dream. To follow Paul Atreides and his full arc would be nice. Herbert wrote six books, and the more he was writing, the more it was getting psychedelic. So I don't know how some of them could be adapted. One thing at a time. If I ever have the chance to do Dune: Part Two and Dune Messiah, I'm blessed."

Dune: Part Two is happening and director Denis Villeneuve wants more, in the form of even a third film.

In Dune: Messiah, Herbert's second book in the series, Paul's story comes to a close, while Herbert's thorny thematic questions about power, destiny, and messiahs come into sharper focus. While Dune traces Paul's rise to power, Dune: Messiah traces his fall. But don't expect to see Dune: Messiah in theaters anytime soon. “I want to make Part Two as fast as possible, then I will wait a few years—until Timothée Chalamet gets a bit older—to do the final installment,” Villeneuve revealed to Vanity Fair. “I’ve lived with Dune for most of my life. Being patient is part of the journey.”

Villeneuve has a long road ahead of him (as spiceheads might say, his road leads into the desert). With only Dune: Part Two on lock, we'll refrain from getting too excited about the possibility of seeing Dune: Messiah on screen. Watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.

FromEsquire US

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Adrienne Westenfeld
Assistant Editor
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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