Zendaya was late to the party on Arrakis, her character Chani only popping up in earnest in the final act of Dennis Villeneuve’s celebrated epic, but she’s excited to make up for lost time. Deadline’s new cover story goes deep on where Dune Part Two stands right now: the stakes of having one worm-sized success down, and another one left to go.
While the Dune sequel will be an ensemble, perhaps no one person will be as crucial to the movie’s success as Zendaya, who plays Chani. She’s a love interest to Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atredies, but that hardly begins to describe her role. While Chani plays a small role in Dune Part One, Zendaya explains how she was able to acclimate quickly to a cast that was mostly fully formed by her arrival.
“I met everybody fully in the stillsuits. So that was a very cool way to be introduced to everyone, pretty much in their character,” she tells Deadline. She also credits director Denis Villeneuve, who is “great at giving you structure, but then also giving you freedom within that structure.”
And as for Part Two, she has simple reasons for being excited. “I can be there for longer, which is cool,” she jokes, following the understatement with genuine promise. Zendaya says the break between films will allow her to grow with her character in a way she may shooting nearly back-to-back-to-back Spider-Man films. “What was cool for me having not been around for much of the first shoot was getting to see the movie from a completely fresh perspective, because I hadn’t seen the sets and the scenes for most of the movie. And watching it felt like just the beginning of this story.”
Even if we didn’t get much of Zendaya in the first film, Chalamet says her character is already fully formed and alive. A sequel would just give her more room to breathe that sweet spice.
“She is Chani, and it’s incredible to witness,” the actor says. “From the get-go, she was that character, and it was inspiring to see. I love the shot in the movie of Chani pulling the mask down for the first time; it feels properly momentous. But even on the day, it was like, Holy sh*t, Chani has arrived. There’s the book, and there have been other adaptations, but not only was the relationship between us alive in Jordan, and not only does it live on the screen now, it was there just at the first chemistry read. It felt obvious.”
The Deadline story breaks down some of the larger decisions both Villeneuve and producer Mary Parent made regarding the project, including shooting each part separately and the decision to simultaneously release the movie on streaming and in theaters. As Villeneuve said in conversation with Christopher Nolan earlier this year (recorded for the Director’s Guild podcast), shooting both movies back-to-back was his hope … but it also would have been a huge mistake. Warner Bros. ultimtaely didn’t go for it — the director’s previous film, Blade Runner 2042 didn’t perform at the box office well enough to inspire confidence to do a movie and a sequel in one blow — but Villeneuve was thankful they pushed him to take his time with one movie.
“I would have died,” Villeneuve admitted, saying one movie was enough of a physical and mental drain. “I’m so happy that we didn’t. I would not have had the stamina to do that. Frankly, the truth is that I’m grateful that it happened this way.”
And to Deadline, Villeneuve says the choice to do Part One would also serve his vision for the eventual release of Part Two. These are big movies that deserve a big screen.
“There’s something about the power of the big screen and the sound system that you cannot find at home. It becomes almost spiritual, because with an audience suddenly you become one together, which is something humans need. I think we are not meant to be isolated. We are meant to share together. And cinema really is one of the last places that can happen,” he says.
The unprecedented nature of the pandemic made for a “delicate” situation that the director came to respect. Streaming is “not the ideal way to see the movie, and the movie was not meant to be seen on a TV screen.” But, as Parent notes, “we had already sat on the movie for a year, so thinking about sitting on it for another year was very stressful.”
The biggest stress now comes from “getting all these people assembled” for Part Two, these people being Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa to name a few. It’s a problem that stems from shooting each part separately, which was a problem that came from what parent describes as a lack of resources.
“We’re not a Marvel movie and we didn’t have a Marvel budget,” she says, saying that “at $165 million we’re on the smaller side of a big movie.” For context, the production cost on a recent Marvel picture, Eternals, was pinned at around $200 million.
But now that Dune was proven itself as a hit, its sequel will hew closer to the Villeneuve’s choices. For starters, that means a 45-day exclusive theatrical release window. “For me, it was a non-negotiable condition,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in October, although he stressed that streaming is a “fantastic way of revisiting movies or discovering movies from the past that are not accessible in theaters anymore.”
Although it will be a challenge to “stay in the same spirit as Part One, while still trying to bring something new to it, cinematically,” Villeneuve seems psyched to get back to his desert, his Arrakis, his Dune. “Dune: Part Two is a baby that has just been conceived. We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. Shooting is expected to begin in fall 2022.