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Dune spinoff series shuts down, loses its director and star

Dune: The Sisterhood is going through yet another setback after Denis Villeneuve’s departure

Rebecca Ferguson, in sandy robes, sits in front of a wall carved with lines of alien text. Her face is also scrawled with alien text, and her eyes are glowing blue in Dune. Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Tasha Robinson leads Polygon’s movie coverage. She’s covered film, TV, books, and more for 20 years, including at The A.V. Club, The Dissolve, and The Verge.

Dune: The Sisterhood is facing a lot of bumps on its road to TV screens. HBO Max’s spinoff prequel series — originally designed by Dune movie director Denis Villeneuve as a prequel to his 2021 film — is on production hiatus, according to a Deadline report. Villeneuve announced the series in 2019, at which point he was planning to direct the pilot, but he departed the series in 2022 to focus on shooting the second half of his Dune movie project. He was replaced by Chernobyl’s Johan Renck. Now Renck has also left the project, along with Shirley Henderson, a prolific actor particularly known in fandom as Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter movies and the wee Anzellan mechanic Babu Frik in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (She was terrific in Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, too.)

Dune: The Sisterhood is meant to fill in the backstory of the Bene Gesserit, the secretive Dune order that manipulates destiny and genetics throughout Frank Herbert’s Dune books. Villeneuve’s Dune only gives viewers a glimpse into their workings, through Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson), the mother of protagonist Paul Atreides, and their interactions with a forceful figure referred to as the Reverend Mother, played by Charlotte Rampling. The series’ cast includes Emily Watson, Mark Strong, and Indira Varma.

An HBO Max spokesperson told Deadline that Renck is “moving on to pursue other projects,” and that the show, which was already in production, is on hold while the production company looks for another director, which could take months. It’s yet another setback for a show that’s had a few major ones already. Previously, Dune co-writer Jon Spaihts was set as the series showrunner, but he stepped down in 2019 to focus on writing the Dune movie sequel. Series creator Diane Ademu-John, who wrote the pilot script, parted ways with the show in 2022. All these shifts come as Warner Bros. is going through a significant wave of cost-cutting and reorganizing under new CEO David Zaslav, leading HBO Max to cancel or drop expensive series like Westworld, and offload many of those series to other streaming services.

Polygon has reached out to HBO Max for comment and will update when the company responds.