Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming, two-part adaptation of Dune kicked into gear in the last couple of months. In that time, we’ve been flooded with a number of casting stories, showing off a film that’s shaping up to have a really impressive group of actors. That’s excellent news, given that the film will depend on them to convey its famously complicated story of a feudal struggle in the distant future.
The cast that we could get for this film is really something. Oscar Isaac is in negotiations to portray Duke Leto Atredies, the leader of the Atreides house that rules the desert planet Arrakis, while Rebecca Ferguson will play his concubine, Lady Jessica. They’re the parents of Paul Atreides (to be played by Timothée Chalamet), who flees into the deserts after his house is brutally attacked. Javier Bardem is in talks to play Stilgar, the leader of the nomadic Fremen who take in Paul and later make him their spiritual leader as he leads a rebellion against the Harkonnen family. Zendaya is in talks to play Chani, a Fremen who will eventually become Paul’s concubine — and mother to Leto Atreides II and Ghanima, who play prominent roles in later installments of the series.
The antagonists of Dune are shaping up to be no less compelling. Stellan Skarsgård has signed on to play Baron Harkonnen the leader of the house that covets the film’s titular planet. Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner 2049’s Dave Bautista will play Glossu Rabban Harkonnen, who heads up the brutal occupation of Arrakis after the Atreides family is ousted from power.
That’s an impressive list of talent lined up for the film — as one Twitter user observed, “it’s like #DenisVilleneuve is trying to make sure there’s zero doubt that the entire world needs to [see] his new vision for ‘Dune.’” Whenever it’s been adapted for film, the book has always benefitted from an excellent cast; whether it’s Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart, and Sean Young; Sting on David Lynch’s 1984 film; or performances from actors like William Hurt, Alec Newman, and James McAvoy in the SCIFI Channel adaptations. Had it been made, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt in the 1970s would have boasted an eye-opening cast with figures like Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger desired for roles.
But Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made, and despite their own fanbases, none of the adaptations have ever come close to the same impact that Herbert’s original novels attained among writers, directors, and fans. It’s obviously early to say, but with this cast, Villeneuve’s take on the book is off to a really strong start, bringing together a dream team of a cast that feels like it’s taking on bigger franchises like The Avengers.
Audiences have been trained over the last decade to appreciate adaptations of famously complicated and multi-layered works like Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and in many ways, Dune — with its sprawling network of books authored by Herbert, and later, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson — is the ideal extended universe for a comparable franchise. Having a stellar cast will be doubly important for a work like Dune, because the entire weight of this famously dense and complicated story of a power struggle between families in a feudal galaxy — and the potential of a greater multimedia franchise — will rest on the shoulders of whomever Villeneuve brings in.