Interview – Austin Butler & Stellan Skarsgård talk Dune: Part Two

Dune Part 2 sees the return of Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Denis Villeneuve’s epic space drama. Paul must unite with Chani (Zendaya) and the Fremen to avenge the death of his family and prevent a prophesied disaster from destroying the lives of everything he holds dear.

Stellan Skarsgård returns as the villainous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and is joined by Elvis star Austin Butler as his ruthless nephew Feyd-Rautha. We spoke with Skarsgård and Butler about bringing these dark characters to life.


Austin, how do you find the humanity in a character like Feyd-Rautha, or do you need to play someone as dark as him?
Whenever I think of any quote-unquote villainous character in real life, I don’t think that they see themselves as the villain. And so for that, it was spending a lot of time imagining the brutality of life that I would have grown up into and the role models I would have had, the Baron being one of them, and the vicious nature that you have to go through the world in order to survive and in order to thrive. For me, it was just trying to understand what it would be like growing up in that environment.


What about you, Stellan? Where do you go to find the Baron’s darkness?
Like Austin said, they don’t think that they are doing evil. They’re Machiavellian. It’s a tough world they live in. They think that the only way to survive in this world is by treating people like assholes and killing people. They’re not more cruel than Henry VIII was, so it’s very Renaissance in that way.


Stellan, we spoke during the press for the first Dune, and you mentioned that because Denis’s vision was so huge, it was almost hard to visualise what the film would look like. This time, did you just trust that Denis could pull it off, and did that change your perception going into this one?
I didn’t know the material on the first one. I read the book but wasn’t familiar with it from the beginning. I knew, of course, that Denis would make something fantastic. He proved himself very well on the first one, so I’m just so excited for the second one. I haven’t seen it yet, though.


Austin, in the planned but never made Alejandro Jodorowsky version of Dune, Mick Jagger was supposed to be play Feyd-Rautha. In David Lynch’s version, Sting played the part. What do you think the connection is between the character and musicians?
The connection between the musicians and Feyd-Rautha is very interesting. I hadn’t thought about it much beforehand, but the showmanship in the arena, the physicality of Feyd-Rautha and the sense of grandeur and desire to lead, align with some of the characteristics of a musician in a way.


Stellan, you spent hours in the makeup chair for Dune 1. Was it a similar experience with this outing?
No, I didn’t have to spend that long in makeup. In the first film, I was naked sometimes, and I spent eight hours in the makeup chair, but I was not naked in this one. I didn’t change physically; we didn’t do any makeup changes from the poison. It’s not like in Lynch’s film, where he’s distorted with pus running over his face. He can’t survive without his new machine; that’s the only difference we made because we didn’t want to put too much makeup on.


Austin, what did you think after your first table reading of the script?
I had long conversations with Denis before we went down the road and, of course, I had seen the first film and saw what Stellan had done. I knew that that was the world that I would be fitting into. The first film was brilliant, and the whole Harkonnen world that Stellan led was magnificent. The first time that I was able to see the transformation, it helped me to leave this world behind and enter into the Harkonnen world in a way that was very inspiring and exciting.


Do you see the Baron as a role model for Feyd-Rautha?
As far as role models go, as Feyd-Rautha, I think it’s looking at who has the most power, and that is the Baron. That’s the person that I’m spending the most time around, but I also look back at what childhood would have been between Feyd-Rautha and his mother and the lack of love and the feeling of needing to survive by that brutality. That was the inspiration for me.


Stellan, you have played so many roles at this point in your career. Is there anything that you still really want to play?
I’m waiting for death to come and relieve me, but ’til then, I’d like to do some more work, but I don’t have any special specific dreams about projects. You say you want to do Hamlet, well, fuck do it. You can stand in a corner of the street and do it. Nobody can stop you. You can play anything. Nobody can stop you. But the project is with the director, the material, and the actors; that is what I’m looking for. And I can’t even imagine what would be next.


Denis Villeneuve creates these incredible blockbusters, but his way of working is more indie and arthouse. What is it like being part of a new way of approaching blockbusters?
SS: This is a dream come true. This is a blockbuster and an art film at the same time. I wish that Lars von Trier films were seen as blockbusters, too. But they’re not. We got to face that. They have a limited appeal to people. I’m very happy about it, but I can’t expect this to be [normal]. I have to go back to do European films to be able to do some arthouse movies.


AB: I feel very fortunate that in these past few years, the films that I’ve been able to work on, whether it’s Dune or Elvis or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, these films have a clear artistic vision and then have been successful enough that they’ve allowed the studio to want to make more films like that. We’re at a very interesting time where the mid-range film doesn’t exist in the same way. Because of streamers, most of the films that used to be independent are now being released into cinemas in a different way. It’s exciting to be a part of films with very clear artistic visions and with these auteur directors that are getting to do exactly what they want to do, and then people are going to the cinema to watch them. That’s very exciting. I feel very grateful for that.


Austin, you have some pretty intense fight scenes from the clip we saw of the film before the interview. What was the preparation like for them?
I started six months before heading to Budapest to start prepping kali and escrima, which are Filipino stick fighting. I knew I would be using two knives, so to have the dexterity and the ability to use two weapons in that way, I worked a lot with Roger Ewan and his entire incredible stunt team. From there, we started to adapt more of the brutality of how the Harkonnens might fight. There were times where it was almost like a train coming where it was not going to be stopped as opposed to elegance. Then [it was] finding the dynamics of where there might be subtle movements but then big brutal, vicious movements as well, and so it’s finding his particular style. A lot of that was just rehearsing fights over and over and saying what if we try something different? Denis and I talked very early on, and he said I want you to be physically imposing, so I started gaining as much weight as I could, and that also helped me to feel heavier going into those fights.


Interview by Cara O’Doherty

DUNE: PART TWO is in Irish cinemas from March 1st