Rebecca Ferguson sees the power shift coming in the second half of ‘Dune’
When Rebecca Ferguson wrapped production on Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” there was no guarantee a Part 2, which had largely been kept a secret — even from the actress — would even go forward. So, the news that Legendary and Warner Bros. had greenlighted the story’s conclusion after the film’s successful release in October was met with an enthusiastic reaction from the cast and crew.
“I didn’t really understand what had happened,” says Ferguson, who stars as Lady Jessica Atreides in the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel. “It wasn’t until I got a video call from [co-star] Josh Brolin. He was driving in the car while someone was filming him, and he was just screaming into the phone going, ‘Go, go!’ And his joy, I just started laughing, and I thought, ‘Man, it’s going to be amazing getting back together with these people again.’”
Those people include Villeneuve and co-star Jason Momoa, whom she now considers close friends (though it’s not known whether Momoa will return in the second half of the film).
“I think to be honest, it’s just very much down to who you click with,” Ferguson says. “I can do big movies, but I mean, not that Tom isn’t a friend of mine, but I think Tom Cruise is quite busy all the time, so it’s not like we go to dinners every weekend,” she says, referencing her work with Cruise in three “Mission: Impossible” films with another now in production. “My point is that with my work with people, I still have very good relationships, but some people you take with you, don’t you?”
Surprisingly, Ferguson says she and Villeneuve never talked about the continuation of the “Dune” story, “ever.” She first sat down with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker for an hour-and-a-half discussion about the role in 2018. Lady Jessica is the mother of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) — a prophesied savior to the desert planet Arrakis — and a member of the Bene Gesserit, a female sect whose innate powers provide them with great influence in this future space empire. And Ferguson says Villeneuve saw Lady Jessica “as the strongest character in the film.”
“It wasn’t any sort of epiphany. I very rarely have epiphanies with characters, to be honest,” Ferguson says. “They kind of come gradually through scenes and also very much through interactions with other people. How Timothée responded to me as a mother lifts my character or pushes her down or whatever he decides is also how you build a character. But I have to say that [Villeneuve] was very true to the book, because that was his bible, and he highlights and excels in incredibly important elements for this character and for women. I mean, it’s a great character.”
Despite Paul Atreides being at the center of the film, the last face audiences see at the film’s end is Ferguson’s. At that point in the story, both Paul and Lady Jessica have been accepted by the Fremen, the indigenous inhabitants of the desert planet Arrakis. In theory, a new future awaits them.
“We did a couple of different takes, and I will give everything to my Denis, because he’s brilliant. But I do remember that moment,” Ferguson says of that last shot. “And I remember Denis saying, ‘It’s not an easy choice to go after and follow the Fremen.’ This is not a safe and comfortable decision, but the decisions are not made by her now. There’s a shift in power here — between her and her son. And she knows she needs to follow in that sense.
“But we were looking out at the grandiosity of the landscape, and it was so beautiful. The sun was setting, and the imaginative sandworms and the riders, it was just so exquisite that I thought we need to completely go against this. Jessica is so much more than all of this beauty. Her mindset will be a hundred steps ahead. And I gave him a take of that. And it wasn’t until I saw the final cut that I saw he actually used it as the last shot. And it’s a compliment, obviously, but it also made complete sense for me that we would continue after that moment. That that would be the cliffhanger.”
“Dune” is not Ferguson’s first franchise, let alone blockbuster. Her credits include the hit musical “The Greatest Showman” and the last two critically acclaimed “Mission: Impossible” installments. She spent much of the past two years shooting the seventh chapter in that franchise, but don’t ask her to compare the experiences.
“I don’t like comparing; we work differently,” Ferguson says of the two franchises. “What I loved about ‘Dune’ was, Timothée said it so well to me, he said, ‘Well, I come to this from an indie world.’ He’s done smaller, good budget films. This is the first huge film for him to carry. Now, I haven’t carried a huge film. I’ve been second fiddle. I’ve been the female lead in huge films, but I’ve been in this world. So, I think that also creates such a different dynamic for me on set. All of these indie [veterans], Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling. I mean, I could go on and on, but it was a handful of people who I admire from smaller films. And that was very different for me.”
Ferguson won’t be slowing down anytime soon. She’s now shooting the Apple TV series “Wool” and “Mission: Impossible 8” sometime this year before returning to “Dune.” She’s certainly booked and blessed and enjoying it while she can.
“Blessed and booked and also wondering what the f— I’m doing,” Ferguson says. “I sometimes go, ‘Oh, my God.’ But, yeah, I’ve always seen it as when I’m old and I’m lying in bed and can’t move. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen for too long, but this is the memory.”
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