Stellan Skarsgård is playing the villain in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movie. Of the many landmark sci-fi novels of the 20th century, Frank Herbert’s 1965 work Dune is both one of the more influential and one that’s proven difficult to adapt. David Lynch attempted the task in 1984, but the resulting movie was a box office bomb that Lynch has distanced himself from over the years since. Dune was later adapted as a TV miniseries for Syfy (then, the Sci-Fi Channel) in the 2000s and the resulting three-part adaptation was generally applauded for its ambition, but – for many Herbert supporters – still left something to be desired.
Enter Villeneuve, an acclaimed filmmaker and admitted Dune fanatic who appears to have found his niche in science-fiction, judging by his efforts on celebrated films like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 (and, to a lesser degree, his doppelgänger thriller Enemy). Legendary picked up the Dune film and TV rights in November 2016 and – literally – recruited Villeneuve to direct the first movie adaptation a month later. The project’s progress slowed down after that, before casting got underway last summer. Villeneuve is now adding actors to his Dune cast on a daily basis, ahead of the project’s expected production start this spring.
According to THR, Skarsgård is the latest addition to the Dune cast and is playing the villainous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Villeneuve’s film. The character – whom Herbert described as being so grotesquely obese that he needs anti-gravity devices to support his weight so he can move around – schemes against the Atreides family in the story, and seeks to regain control of Arrakis: a desert planet that produces spice, the most rare export in the galaxy, and was previously ruled by the Baron’s family, before the Atreides clan took over. Harkonnen is aided in his quest by his vicious nephew “Beast” Rabban (the character Dave Bautista signed on to play earlier this week).
Skarsgård, of course, in no stranger to playing nasty villains, following his memorable roles in films like David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation. The Harkonnen character was played by Kenneth McMillan in Lynch’s adaptation (see the photo above) and is known for being as crafty and power-hungry as he is terrible to, well, look at. He’s a deliciously despicable antagonist, all things considered, and one imagines a great character actor like Skarsgård will infuse him with the right amount of cunning, intelligence, and cruelty.
Without getting too deep into spoilers (for those who haven’t read the original Dune books), it’s worth noting that Skarsgård could reprise the character in future Dune films, should they come to pass. Villeneuve has made it clear he wants to make at least two Dune movies, assuming the first film is successful enough to warrant a followup (or, rather, followups). Harkonnen has appeared in multiple Dune prequel and sequel novels to date – in some form or another – so it’s possible Skarsgård will end up playing the villain onscreen for years to come.
We will let you know when Dune receives an official release date.