Stellan Skarsgård on Becoming ‘Dune: Part Two’’s Big Space Bad Guy: “It’s Like Any Corporate Leader”

What was the substance in the Baron’s oil jacuzzi actually made of?

I didn’t dare to ask what was in it because I thought, “Ugh, there’s probably something really poisonous…” It was water, and it was gelatine, I think, and on the surface there was some black oil. But it was quite pleasant to be in, because the water helped lift my body, so I actually had to be weighed down to stay in it. And it was perfectly temperate. It was warm. It was nice.

What was it like to be on that staggering Colosseum set?

[Denis Villeneuve] uses as much real sets as possible. But that set was of course not in one piece. There’s thousands of digital extras. But I had the tower with my seat in, and it’s a very fascistic aesthetic behind it. What you feel is that… Fuck, yeah, I understood Mussolini. This fascistic kind of decor makes you feel greater, makes you feel bigger, makes you feel stronger. And it did.

Fascistic is certainly an apt word for the Harkonnens.

And if you look at the first part, it’s not only the Harkonnens, it’s also the Atreides. Their troops at the beginning of the first one, it’s like a Nuremberg Rally.

We talk about heroes and villains, but it seems to me to be the point—with the Harkonnens, and the Atreides—that there’s more nuance than that. There are complexities. There are grey areas. No one’s evil, no one’s good.

It’s a sort of lazy, but natural question, because it comes from the American average action film— they had the Hays Code until the 1960s, ’70s. It was not only about sex, they also had about morals. And good had to be defined properly, and evil [had] to be defined properly. And nothing should be shaded by anything. And a lot of Americans have grown up with that. And they still [do].

Are you an actor who tries to understand and empathize with the character you’re playing, or do you find that unhelpful?

No, I have to understand him as much as he understands himself. I understand Harkonnen because he doesn’t have empathy. I mean, in that sense, he’s a monster. But he has rationality behind his actions; he’s a realpolitik [thinker]. It’s like any corporate leader.

When did you first meet Austin?

I think he was wearing full makeup—[I thought,] that’s a Harkonnen. That’s a Harkonnen for you. I [had] such a good rapport with him. He’s such a nice guy, and he’s such a loyal actor. He’s loyal to the scene, or to the film, or whatever. Playing with him was easy, and you could enjoy his performance at the same time, because it was very enjoyable. Especially his… joy of being nasty. He was like a snake.

He’s incredibly evil.

He out-eviled me.

He sounded to me like he was trying to evoke your voice.

Well, he did. The first time I met him, he showed me his—my voice. He’d studied it in several films.

What did you think of the voice?

Ah, it was like seeing myself.

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