LOS ANGELES (AP) — Timothée Chalamet and Austin Butler were really looking forward to their fight.
The actors had been training, separately, with a Kali instructor in Los Angeles to prepare for the climactic showdown between Paul Atreides and Feyd Rautha in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part Two. ” When they finally met in Budapest, they weren’t even technically supposed to do a run through. But they couldn’t hide their excitement.
“We got after it right away,” Chalamet said.
Everyone in the ensemble gets a little starry-eyed talking about that fight. It was a spectacle watching Butler and Chalamet do it all themselves, a few times in near continuous takes for the wide shots.
“It felt like standing in the wings before you walk out on stage or something, that incredible intensity that you feel. And then ‘Action!’ is called. And we just got to work,” Butler said. “That’s the moment of truth where you want to just leave it all on the field.”
But it was also the rare occasion in which most of the cast, including Zendaya,Florence Pugh, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Walken, Charlotte Rampling, Rebecca Ferguson and Javier Bardem, were in the same room together.
Pugh, a newcomer to the world of “Dune” as the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Irulan, described the atmosphere in the room as a “fizzing energy that can only at that point, you hope, create greatness.”
Leaving it on the field wasn't just Butler's goal in the fight. It seemed to be the guiding principle for everyone who got the chance to return to Arrakis for “Part Two,” which opens March 1. The sequel had not been a given and was dependent on the success of “ Part One,” which had its own handicap being released simultaneously on Max (formerly HBOMax) and in theaters.
Chalamet worried that they’d end on an incomplete arc. Other actors, like Zendaya as a Freman fighter (and object of Paul’s affections) Chani and Dave Bautista as Harkonnen thug Beast Rabban, had barely even scratched the surface of their characters in “Part One.”
“That uncertainty was uncomfortable,” said Bautista. “My payoff for the character was in the second film.”
The time in between gave Zendaya and Chalamet breathing room to establish a real friendship with one another, before their characters would have to fall in love in “Part Two” – in the midst of all the heightened stakes.
“What I appreciate about the love story is that it is earned,” Zendaya said. “A real wall has to be broken down.”
But it was a relief to get the official go, even if they knew a lot of sweat and discomfort awaited in order to bring this ambitious and visionary science fiction world to life, with the action upped threefold.
“It’s grueling, but it’s a grueling that I like personally,” said Brolin, returning as Gurney Halleck. “I like challenging my idea of comfort often.”
Some were more daunted by the return, like Skarsgård, knowing that he’d once again have to endure eight hours of sitting completely still to become Baron Harkonnen. The look would include a cooling vest and over 80 pounds (36 kilograms) of rubber suiting that made moving difficult and bathroom breaks impossible.
“I wasn’t that thrilled by it because I thought about those hours in makeup,” Skarsgård said. “But on the other hand, I really love the character, not because he’s psychologically portrayed very elegantly, but because we managed to create a presence… He is used in very few scenes, but he will still hover over the entire film as a dangerous, dangerous thing.”
One thing he wasn’t prepared for was Butler as his character’s “psychotic” nephew Feyd Rautha. Butler came in with the idea to model his voice off Skarsgård’s.
“That’s sort of a funny detail,” Skarsgård said. “But then, God, he was razor sharp. It’s like a snake. It was fantastic to see.”
Butler also transformed to play a character that Villeneuve described as “a cross between a sword master and Mick Jagger.” That took about three hours in hair and makeup, and one at the end of the day to cut him out of the cap.
“It’s a real gift as an actor when you look in the mirror and you don’t see yourself,” Butler said. “I knew I had a lot of latitude to play.”
For Pugh, it was a “dream” to witness the scale of the sets and be part of not only a transformative experience but also “to be around such dedication and such love and passion and such talent.”
Like most of her peers, she said being in that room during the week the fight was a highlight of her career.
“It was impressive,” said Brolin. “(These were guys that) really rehearsed that were truly going at it, that were hurting themselves, that were falling... You're like ‘yes, this is old school.’”
Brolin was particularly impressed with the young cast, none of whom leaned on their celebrity, he said.
Of course, at the heart of “Dune” is Chalamet, an actor who was only 23 years old when he made the first. He’d been nominated for an Oscar and was quickly establishing himself as the next capital M movie star. But it was the first time he’d ever led a production of that scale.
By the time he’d return to start production on “Dune: Part Two,” just a few years later, the difference was striking: Like his character Paul Atreides, he’d also grown up.
“He was like a little kid and he didn’t hide it. He’s like, ‘What is this? What do we do? Oh my God. So big. So many cameras,’” Brolin laughed. “And right now he’s exactly where he should be.”
Chalamet is self-deprecating about this, laughing that he was “but a boy” on the first and in the interim got some furniture. But everyone around him noticed the change.
Bautista was particularly impressed at his dedication to a training and eating schedule to transform himself into a believably powerful fighter (and rider of sandworms).
“I know he trained his butt off because he wanted to look the part,” Bautista said. “He literally goes from being a boy to being a man, like he is commanding in the second film.”
Villeneuve was sure he’d get there, too, but still a little relieved that it worked out as he’d imagined.
“Timothée had learned a lot about filmmaking in between both movies,” Villeneuve said. “In ‘Part One’ it was the first time he was in a movie of that scale, surrounded by a lot of movie starts. But in ‘Part Two’ he was the one leading. And he did a tremendous job of bringing Paul’s tragedy to life.”
“Dune: Part Two” is the kind of “event cinema” that the cast seems genuinely (and not just contractually) excited to be part of and to see on the big screen — a propulsive and action-packed spectacle that will surely satisfy anyone who complained the first was too meditative.
“It’s storytelling. It’s heart. It’s visually stunning. The soundtrack is incredible,” Bautista said. “It’s a special film and they just don’t come along very often.”