For Rebecca Ferguson, Warner Bros. Sand dunes is an opportunity for the versatile actress to challenge herself. But first, she challenged filmmaker Denis Villeneuve to convince her that Lady Jessica was the character she should dedicate many months of her life to. After a lengthy initial conversation, Ferguson was sold and signed on to play Jessica, a member of the powerful Bene Gesserit force, mother of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and concubine of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). ). Along the way, she bonded with her on-screen son and was able to portray a deep relationship with Isaac’s Leto in just a brief on-screen time together. This won’t be the last time audiences see Jessica: Ferguson has been dreaming about where things will go in the sequel, slated for October 2023.
What is your first memory of meeting Timothée Chalamet?
I remember meeting him in Budapest in the office. He walked in and he jumped off the couch and landed on top of me. There’s an eager excitement in him to take on this role and to be this youthful. It is truly extraordinary, I must say.
The first thing you guys took together was the test, with Charlotte Rampling. That was also the time when the audience saw that Jessica had a confident and public face, but in private, she was quite nervous. Is that duality something you developed with Denis Villeneuve?
I remember feeling her very emotional sometimes. The way Denis wants to describe it is that she has easy access to sadness and sadness and anxiety. I wonder if it takes away the power. I remember having that discussion. Read a lot of articles and comments, some people like it, some don’t. I like the discussion around it. What we aim for is compatibility with her. The pressure they have to go through, the stakes are high. That someone with such power actually feels terror and fear as well and constantly modernizes it somewhat, making her human.
What do you recall about the breakfast scene that made this movie the highlight and introduced the audience to the concept of The Voice?
There are a few shots of the training technique. There’s a scene that I’m pretty sad they cut it out. There are physical training methods where Jessica teaches Paul the art of fighting with knives which he later uses against Jamis [the Freeman warrior played by Babs Olusanmokun]. Another is the meditative state. They were meditating, and she wanted him to put his hand on a candle. What we kept was the breakfast scene. That’s one of my favorites. It sets up an interesting arc for the next story. There’s something outside of us that’s bigger than we are, and the fact that he’s just a rebellious, annoying teenager and I’m allowed to just be a nasty mom. His sloppiness… He actually grabbed that spoon in such a way that I just wanted to pat him on the head and say: “Manners! Sit up straight! ”
You’ve got great costumes that definitely help an actor find their character. Is there a particular thing that you find helpful?
Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan are costume designers. I remember walking in and having a black dress like a sausage, as I called it. It has curtains, a bit like Morticia Addams, and has a hood. It’s the one I have in [Jessica’s first scene]. There’s something so regal, yet so light. It’s almost like the dress because it’s so delicate and royal, but it’s also in the dark. She can step back and disappear. It activates who she is to me, when that dress is put on.
You have several coaches to help you prepare, depending on the requirements of the role. Who did you have on Sand dunes?
I had Gabrielle Rogers who was amazing. She is a lovely mix of acting and dialect and voice. With Sand dunes no dialect, but we talk about resonance and accent. Swedish is my mother tongue. Have intonation that matches the rhythm of what I speak. You will hear it smoldering and I make up words because I think in Swedish and I speak automatically in English. That link is pretty tough sometimes when you’re on set and you want to advertise or entertain, because the rhythm of your words may not make sense the way it should.
Does Denis want you to give it a few different spins each time?
Sure. But beyond that, once you find the rhythm for a character, especially a character like Jessica – who is drawn back, quiet, in the dark… She doesn’t have to be at the forefront. . She is so strong that her words backfire with what she does. There was a calm that enveloped her. I did a lot of meditation and breathing. Between turns, I’m a giant clown, so I walk around like crazy. Which people find really odd sometimes, because I can cry and two seconds later I’m having a good chat.
David J. Peterson oversaw the creation of languages for this. How many sign languages have you learned?
What did we have, five motions? It wasn’t in the script and I thought I said [Denis], “Wouldn’t it be great to bring it in?” It was one of those moments where I realized Denis is a director open to ideas because getting that into this movie again is a big deal. It’s in the book. And he did. He got everyone involved.
Jessica actually shows off both her sign language and voice in that scene with the ornithopter. Was it one of the more difficult scenes to film?
I said, “Hey, Denis, let me come up with some different versions of The Voice.” Doing it twice is enough. He said, “No, no, no. I love you so much, but it sucks. “(Laugh.) I have tried every possible voice form. It’s more of the tension behind it and just saying it, and then they put The Voice on top of it.
The sequel has been greenlit. Do you think about Jessica between movies?
The second one was announced, and all of this commotion. Every time I watch a trailer or watch a movie or see an image, I think, “I wonder what we’re going to look like in the sequel?” I know where we ended up. I know where we’re going. It’s always fun to think about your character and take her on. This research that you do before, the preparatory work, that is the foundation to hope for another good movie.
Denis has a good track record, so I think you’re in good hands.
Not only good hands, but also very welcoming. We talk, we text, we’re really good friends.
Denis is one of the few people who could get a cast like this together. Is he on the short list of directors for you, that would be a quick yes?
He is definitely on my list. I said, “I don’t want to be a princess and queen. I want to do something else. So how are you going to challenge me for this role? “I put a lot of demands on my director because I knew he would put me in his character. It’s not just about running towards something and someone with open arms and just doing anything. It’s really thinking, “I’m spending a lot of my life making a movie. And I have family and I have a lot of other things going on.” It was a worthwhile need and a need that felt like my portfolio needed to expand and I wanted a challenge. I found it quite difficult to challenge myself the whole time. So you need to have great directors, and he really did [challenge me]. He really, really did.
You and Oscar Isaac have transformed the little screen time you have together. What do you remember about working with him?
I read an interview with [Dune editor] Joe Walker. He said one of his favorite scenes is the one where we’re moving and the cow is being packed. He says their relationship is everything in the touch of one hand – when he caresses her neck and she holds his hand. The moment she stood there, watching her life packed into boxes and she knew what was to come. That reassuring hand on her neck, it’s controlling but supportive, and she accepts it, just holding him, that moment is all between them. How do we get the most out of these parents? Because they were the founding pillars for this kid. And we need to love them and we need to believe in them, this couple. I think we got there.
The edited interview is long and clear.
This story first appeared in a December issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.