This article contains Dune mythology spoilers.
After some uncertainty as to whether admired French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve would be able to complete his mission to adapt Dune into more than one movie, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. have struck a deal for Dune: Part Two, and there are now three major roles that need to be cast for it: Emperor Shaddam IV, Princess Irulan and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, who will all be key to the next part of the story when it’s released theatrically on October 20, 2023.
Though no casting news has yet been forthcoming, we’ve got a pretty good idea of the kind of actors who could slip into those three roles with ease…
Emperor Shaddam IV
During his relatively short and spectacular career thus far, director Denis Villeneuve has developed a small rotating troupe of actors he likes to work with. One he’s returned to several times is the star of his first Hollywood movie, Prisoners. That 2013 film came out as Jake Gyllenhaal was pivoting away from traditional leading men roles to some of the darkest and most fascinating work of his career, which included that nihilistic noir as well as Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve’s follow-up, the equally bleak Enemy (2013).
Teaming again with Gyllenhaal as the Padishah Emperor of the Imperium and head of House Corrino thus seems apt. Folks tend to forget that the spice melange slows aging and expands a lifespan, which might explain the youthful appearance of Paul’s parents as played by Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson. Gyllenhaal could continue that trend and bring a preening arrogance and sense of entitlement to the most powerful man in the Known Universe. After all, he already embodied peak grievance culture in Enemy and Nightcrawler (2014). Now imagine a whole galaxy having to bend to that neediness! – DC
The soft-spoken Michael Stuhlbarg often opts for troubled or anxious characters who could flip on a dime, and that’s just one of the reasons we think he could be in the running for the plum role of Emperor Shaddam IV in Dune: Part Two. We heard a lot of talk about the dastardly Emperor in the first movie, but one of the major ways that Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation differed from David Lynch’s version of the story was to have the character be spoken about but never seen, leaving the audience to assume he’ll show up with gusto in the sequel as Paul Atreides begins his rise to power.
Like Gyllenhaal, Stuhlbarg has worked with Villeneuve before in 2016’s Arrival and also, crucially, Timothée Chalamet in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, where the two actors shared an unforgettable scene in a masterpiece of cinema that garnered them a string of awards nominations. Though it seems more likely that Dune: Part Two will cast a more A-List actor as the Emperor, don’t write off Stuhlbarg just yet. He may be the sequel’s dark horse. – KH
Princess Irulan is a difficult role to cast because she’ll likely have very little screen time but must communicate a lot in it: a regal sense of superiority, an ethereal otherworldliness, but also a cunning, scholarly intellect. There are several leading actresses who could inhabit that but perhaps because of her recent work on Hulu’s The Great, Elle Fanning springs to my mind as among the best choices.
As with her depiction of Catherine the Great, she can bring an internalized intelligence to the screen in short order while certainly also playing a character who expects she’s worthy of ruling the universe. Additionally, should Villeneuve ever be able to direct an adaptation of Dune Messiah, Fanning could quite easily portray the rising sense of anxiety and cracking fragility that will eventually come to the universe’s great historian. – DC
Twenty-three-year-old Maya Hawke shows no signs of slowing down, and the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke may well be on a path that sees her achieve roles beyond those that either of her parents have managed to snag over their long decades in the industry. Hawke tends to stand out in whatever film or TV show she shows up in, and although she’s best known to most as the sarcastic, ice cream-slinging Robin Buckley in Netflix’s flagship sci-fi series Stranger Things, the fact that Quentin Tarantino is championing her burgeoning career will likely work in her favor as she begins to strategically select meatier roles.
As Princess Irulan, Hawke would bring a brittle, cunning and thoughtful touch to the woman who may be required to marry Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides as he ascends to power in Dune: Part Two. Should the story continue beyond the upcoming sequel and Paul commits to starting a family with his beloved concubine Chani, Hawke’s increasingly desperate and envious Irulan could also sway the audience to grant some sympathy for the character, despite her twisted deeds later in the Dune series. – KH
The hardest of the three major new roles to cast, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is essentially Paul Atreides’ dark doppelgänger; the man he could’ve become if raised under the vile Baron Harkonnen’s tutelage. And given his predilection for indulging in gladiatorial fights where his enslaved foes have been handicapped to lose, one half wishes they could de-age Gladiator’s Joaquin Phoenix for the part.
Alas, that is not to be, and one has to find the anti-Timothée Chalamet for the role. In terms of appearance that wouldn’t seem to immediately suggest Tom Holland. However, the pair have an amusing shared history having gone after the same roles in the past, including Spider-Man, and they’ve both worked opposite Zendaya. Holland would obviously bring in an even larger young fanbase to the sequel, and one can speculate that the actor would enjoy playing a right sneaky bastard after so many years as a happy-go-lucky do-gooder in the public zeitgeist. Portraying a nasty piece of work in a major franchise would be a good way to shake off the pop culture cobwebs for the actor, and give Dune: Part Two an interesting dynamic between two of the more popular leading men under the age of 27. – DC
Many wouldn’t have been able to pick Fred Hechinger out of a line-up before the young actor exploded onto the scene this year. But the combined releases of The Woman in the Window, the Fear Street trilogy and HBO’s The White Lotus have catapulted him into the spotlight, and that’s set to continue in 2022 with the highly anticipated and much-contested Pam & Tommy on Hulu, which charts the relationship between Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) following the release of their infamous sex tape. Hechinger is playing grimy porn king Seth Warshavsky in what’s sure to be a revoltingly memorable role.
Having broken out in Bo Burnham’s acclaimed indie Eighth Grade, Hechinger has an acute softness to him tinged with a certain edge that’s hard to pin down, but that some have described as an “old soul”, and he most reminds us of Michael Pitt in his Funny Games and The Dreamers era. He could be an unexpected but perfect choice for the twisted and arrogant Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Dune: Part Two. Plus, he’s really mastered the old “curly fringe in the eyes” look, so he could go toe-to-toe (or hair-to-hair) with Timothée Chalamet’s Paul in the sequel. – KH