Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel Dune has been considered unfilmable for decades. Mostly because it’s a gigantic, complex book with a narrative that rarely plays out in the way you’d expect, and stuffed with remarkable imagery — from deadly sandworms to mutant space navigators. Until 2021, the only feature film version of Dune was surrealist master David Lynch’s infamous adaptation. To this day, Lynch disowns it. Even though it stars Kyle MacLachlan!
Denis Villeneuve — director of Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 — decided to take on the challenge of bringing Dune back to the big screen. The task seems especially daunting since the original nearly tanked Lynch’s career before it truly got started.
On this week’s Galaxy Brains, Jonah Ray and I are joined by one of the stars of the new Dune, David Dastmalchian, to chat about what makes Dune so relevant in 2021 and how this film stacks up with the original 1984 cult classic.
As always, this conversation has been edited to sound less weird.
Dave: You are in a really unique situation in that you’re in this movie and you’ve seen Denis Villeneuve interpret this book, but you also have worked with David Lynch. You were in Twin Peaks and you’ve seen his creative process. And of course, Lynch was the first person to try to adapt these massive tomes, this series of books. What do you think about their unique kind of creative process? Can you compare these two visionary directors to each other in any way?
David: Absolutely, absolutely. There is a lot of similarity between those two artists. At the root of which, the greatest similarity is their heart, their humanity. They’re both incredibly and intensely empathic humans. The other thing that I think is incredibly kindred between the two of them and watching them get to work at up close and personal is the strength and confidence of their vision being something that they know so deeply, it’s like in their DNA, so there’s no question there’s no stuttering in their ability to communicate.
Jonah: So when a department head comes, it’s like Hey, we have this option and this option, and they’re both able to just say, Oh this one.
David: Absolutely. But with so much love and kindness that those department heads and every other actor and other artist helping collaborate feel safe taking big swings and bringing them big options. And they both are kind of alien people. I know Denis much better than I know David. I only spent a few weeks with David, but there’s something otherworldly about both of them, something that is hard to put your finger on other. I’d be sitting behind David Lynch in my cast chair while he was at the monitor and I was in between takes or something. And I would like in my mind say, If you can hear me right now, I feel like you can just give me a sign. And we were in this casino that’s in the middle of the desert and I’m sitting there and I’m just like sending the signal out. And I’m not shitting you guys, he turns around and does this like smiley kind of nod thing to me. And then just back to work and I was like, I knew it.
Dave: So you are stepping into some big shoes in this movie. Brad Dourif plays your character, Piter, in the first film. Did you look back at that performance at all? Did you take any notes there, or were you trepidatious about playing this character that one of the great character actors of all time brought to life in the first movie?
David: Yes, to your second question, I was trepidatious. I was very nervous. I was very intimidated. But then what you have to do as an actor is remember how many people have played Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie? You have to try and tell yourself that because it’s very scary to feel like that. There’s only one. There’s only Brad Dourif’s Piter de Vries.
So I did read the book because I knew that Denis is such a devotee of the book and a loyalist to the book, that the book was going to be great source material for me. I think there’s less Piter in Denis’s version than there was in David’s. I think that it’s a very, very, very different approach to both Piter and the Harkkonens and the whole story, in my opinion, in a really incredible and beautiful way. But I hope if Brad sees this film at some point that he thinks what I did was interesting because he’s one of my acting heroes that I really look up to and admire.
Dave: Brad, if you’re listening to this for the love of God, text David and tell him he did a great job.