Dune director Denis Villeneuve: "It was, by far, the toughest thing I've done"

Dune exclusive image from Total Film magazine
(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Denis Villeneuve has become one of Hollywood's premier directors, impressing audiences with crime drama Sicario, then becoming a mainstream name with his sci-fi epics Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Next up, the grandest science-fiction story of them all: an adaptation on Frank Herbert's Dune.

"It was," the director stresses to Total Film in a new interview, "by far, the toughest thing I've done."

Villeneuve has been dreaming of his Dune movie since he was a teenager. "There are deep pleasures when there are images that you're able to achieve that are close to what you had in mind as a teenager; then it's orgasmic," he says. "But the failures are very difficult, because you disappoint the teenager in yourself. As Hans Zimmer [who has scored Dune] pointed out, it's very dangerous to try to reach one of your oldest dreams."

The very idea of adapting Dune was an "inaccessible, out-of-reach dream" that Villeneuve carried throughout his career as a filmmaker. One of his earliest feature films, 2010's acclaimed drama Incendies, was shot in the deserts of Wadi Rum, Jordan, the very same alien landscapes he would return to almost a decade later for Dune. "I remember taking mental notes at the time: 'If ever I do the movie, I'm coming back here and there. That's where Paul sits...'" he recalls. "But it was a massive fantasy."

Villeneuve is the first to admit that he could not have done Dune justice a decade ago. Only by making 'stepping- stone' movies Arrival – where he learnt to tell 'interior' stories on a large canvas – and Blade Runner 2049 – a crash-course in futuristic world-building – did he feel equipped to bring a book of Dune's scale and complexity, one long considered 'unadaptable', to the screen. 

"I have some kind of a self-destructive device inside me to take projects that are out of my reach," he acknowledges. But in those moments of uncertainty he would turn to a mantra from a book that shaped his adolescence: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear."

Dune is scheduled to open in US cinemas and on HBO Max on October 22. It will open in UK cinemas on October 21. For much more on the film, including interviews with all of the starry cast, pick up a copy of the new issue of Total Film when it hits shelves on Friday 20 August. Check out the new cover below, as well as the cover of the special supplement that comes with the issue. 

Total Film's Dune issue and special supplement

(Image credit: Total Film/Warner Bros)

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Jordan Farley

I'm the News Editor at Total Film magazine, running the opening pages of every issue where you can read exclusive interviews and see first-look images from the biggest films. I was previously the Community Editor at sci-fi, fantasy and horror movie bible SFX. You'll find my name on news, reviews, and interviews covering every type of movie, from the latest French arthouse release to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. My work has also featured in Official PlayStation Magazine and Edge. Outside of my day job, I'm a FromSoft fanatic (proudest achievement: beating Malenia solo) and a TV connoisseur (translation: I'll watch anything).