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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Dune: Part Two

Just as in the last film, this one starts with an incredible burst of sound, accompanied by some text, that really grabs the audience and lets them know they are in for an incredible experience. Can you talk about that decision?
Denis Villeneuve: When making movies, you try to plan as much as possible in the screenwriting. Even so, there are elements that come to life as you’re shooting. And similarly, in post-production, sometimes unplanned things happen, too. As we were developing various languages for the first one, Hans Zimmer started to do some experiments. Hans had permission to go very close to sound design… as close as he dared! Let’s just say it was a deal with the sound design team. He sometimes went a bit too far [laughing].

And, and as part of that process he developed a language that I absolutely was mesmerized by, but that wasn’t really used in the film. And I came up with the idea to open the film with that kind of… it’s a kind language that was developed from Sardaukar priests. I thought it would be interesting to use it as a kind of prophet, as a way to express some thought right at the beginning of the film… And it was also a nice way to say to everybody in the audience, “shut up!” But jokes aside, it was also a great way to take control over the movie before anything else, before the studio credits, even, which I love. And, for those who are familiar with the books, each chapter always start with a quote or an extract of the princess Irulan’s journal. So I thought it would be an elegant way to start the movie as well.

Casting is one of the most delicate moments of the filmmaking process for me

Let’s talk a little bit about the process of adaptation. You’ve done several adaptations now, and they are just incredible, between Dune, Arrival, and also Blade Runner 2049, in its own way. You make it look easy… and it’s not easy, because people haven’t touched this film [Dune] for decades. You were quoted as saying that when you adapt, you kill. Which is interesting to me, because when I watch your films, I feel like something other than killing is happening. It’s almost more like a reduction, as though you’re bringing the story to its essence. 
DV: But the thing is that when I say that I “kill,” it’s just that it is a violent, transformative process to go from the book – which people love, they are like poems. The books put so much of their strength into the description of the cultures and the rituals and, and of course I could only bring a little bit of it onscreen. So right from the start, I had to make some very bold choices.

One of them was to make this adaptation a Bene Gesserit adaptation. Of course, we looked at the Spacing Guild, the people that make space travel possible. There’s the Mentats, the human computers that are guiding the different families. Both of those groups are almost entirely put aside in my adaptation. I focused exclusively on the Bene Gesserit. It was a way to try to focus on the main theme that was interesting me in the book, which was the use of religion as a political tool.

I think the female characters in this film are just… all of them are impossible to take your eyes off of. They’re just so fascinating. Rebecca Ferguson in general is hard not to watch. She’s just an amazing actress. Can you talk about casting them, and about the decision to bring Chani to the forefront?
DV: Casting is one of the most delicate moments of the filmmaking process for me. It’s a very delicate moment, and you cannot make a mistake with casting… I mean, I’m stating the obvious, but if you get it wrong it can have a catastrophic impact. So I made sure to take my time before shooting part one. First of all, I made all of the casting decisions around Timothée Chalamet. I cast with a hundred percent certainty that he would be perfect for the part of Paul. And then I constructed all of the family, everybody, around him. And Rebecca is one of the first ones that came on board quite quickly, for many reasons.

First of all, I love actors that can make you believe in other worlds, and take you with them into those worlds a bit, like Amy Adams did in Arrival. They can make us believe in aliens, you know? Some actors can bring you into the unknown, and Rebecca is one of them, and she can absolutely do anything in front of the camera. I mean, it’s quite impressive how she was on the set. She’s a force. I can always rely on Rebecca when I need to go somewhere in the story.

And in the book, her character kind of goes into the shadows of Paul. And this time, in the adaptation, I wanted to keep her up front because she’s the most… for me Lady Jessica is one of the most fascinating characters. She’s the main architect of the entire story. And I always thought it’s sort of strange that in the book she disappears, so I wanted to work more with Rebecca. I just love working with her.

I have to ask you about the incredible array and variety of headgear in the film. It’s just unbelievable. You start looking forward to what’s happening next with Bene Gesserit costumes, for example, Florence Pugh’s character. There is an endless variety of interesting face masks! Could you take us inside that process, of deciding to cover up some of the world’s best actors, and what they thought about that?  
DV: Some of the headgear was born in the storyboards. There are some ideas that start there, and other ideas that start as I’m working with Jacqueline [West]. Jacqueline is a fantastic costume designer that is well known for her more historical work. And I wanted a costume designer that would bring some kind of historical consideration to the costuming. I didn’t want “fantasy” costume that would look like it was out of a “fantasy” movie. Dune, when you read the novel, feels like it was written by a historian. That he went into the future and came back with a time machine and filled the book with that kind of historical quality, that kind of gravitas, that kind of seriousness, and so I wanted the costume design to be similarly grounded. I wanted it to have deep roots, and to feel the history of each culture. And Jacqui was absolutely fantastic at doing this. And, yes, we tried to have fun with some of them.