Dune 2 star Stellan Skarsgård says it's always easier playing a villain - "don't show any empathy and then you end up with a psychopath"

dune 2
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

How do you get into the headspace of a cruel villain, particularly one who is the chief architect of many, many, many deaths? That's the question actor Stellan Skarsgård was posed with upon taking on the role of Baron Harkonnen in director Denis Villeneuve's 2021 adaptation of sci-fi author Frank Herbert's beloved novel Dune. And it's something he was faced with again in this year's sequel Dune: Part Two, where he returns as the antagonist.

This time round the Baron is even more desperate to cling onto his power and the planet Arrakis, as Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides seeks revenge alongside the Fremen. Thankfully for Skarsgård though he enjoys playing bad guys, admitting in an interview with GamesRadar+ that in fact it's "very easy to play". He explained: "You're not showing any redeeming qualities in the Baron, you don't have time for that. You just want people to hate him! The worst is very easy to play as you just don’t show empathy, love, or any warmth. And then, you end up with a psychopath. But also a lot of the sets are built and not CGI, so you feel it. The fascistic architecture of Baron Harkonnen’s sets, it goes through everybody, but it’s especially there. You feel empowered by it."

As Skarsgård mentions there, the sets we see the Baron on do have "fascistic architecture", helping emphasize what a cold, ruthless leader he is. And it's not just him - the whole of the House of Harkonnen has a villainous streak. For the actor, he thinks that's partly because of the society that the family are living in, one which he thinks reflects historical times: "The brutality could be in the society. I mean, it was a brutal time. It's that kind of society that they live in, like Henry VIII. He was brutal. But he was a man of his time. And they're all men of their time. But unfortunately, this is a timely story. It could take place in the 1400s but it could also take place today or tomorrow. We don’t seem to learn very much as humans, just repeat the same mistakes."

Dune: Part Two releases in theaters worldwide on March 1. For more on the movie check out the rest of our coverage:

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.