In the new film adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel Dune, acclaimed actor Timothée Chalamet plays the central character of Paul Atreides, the teenage heir of a powerful space-faring family who becomes both the leader of an oppressed people and possibly a galactic messiah foretold in an ancient prophecy.
It’s a hefty amount of character development to carry even for an actor like Chalamet, who at the age of 24 has already racked up an impressive array of credits in movies like Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, Beautiful Boy, The King, and Little Women.
But director Denis Villeneuve says that he knew fairly quickly that Chalamet was his man. “Timothée, we all know, is by far one of the best actors of his generation,” Villeneuve explained. “And the thing is that I needed someone with that kind of huge talent who could sustain the movie on his shoulders, with all those skills.”
Villeneuve continued, “Timothée has many qualities about him. There’s a lot of deep, deep, deep intelligence in the eyes, and he has an old soul. That was something I immediately realized when we talked with Timothée. Yet he looks so young on camera, for someone that seems to have a lot of experience.”
The director added that Chalamet also had the necessary gravitas to credibly evolve into both Muad ‘Dib (the leader of Arrakis’ desert people, the Fremen) and the Kwisatz Haderach, the messiah prophesized by the enigmatic religious order known as the Bene Gesserit.
“There’s something very romantic about his presence in front of the camera,” Villeneuve said. “He has also an insane charisma that is found in old Hollywood stars from the ’20s, that kind of old silent movie charisma that is very rare. We have to remember that Paul Atreides will lead a world later, so I needed that kind of rock star charisma.”
For Chalamet himself, he said he often felt more like a supporting player instead of a lead in a cast that also features Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, and many others. But he also remarked that being on the set in Jordan and not too far past his teen years himself helped get him into the right frame of mind to play Paul.
“When you’re shooting in the desert in Jordan, the spirituality of the location — and I’ll ruin it with my words, so I won’t even try — but you’re really in it,” said Chalamet. “So yeah, you feel the environment specifically for the role of Paul. And playing a teenager as a young man myself, being 23, 24…when you’re young, the world functions as a mirror. You’re just confirming everything about yourself off what is provided to you or said about you. When you’re the Kwisatz Haderach, it’s maybe overwhelming.”
Can Paul Atreides lead a people and can Timothée Chalamet lead an epic motion picture? We’ll find out the answers to both when Dune opens in theaters on December 18.