Back in January 2018, director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) told Fandom that his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune would be Star Wars for adults. Now, one of its stars, Rebecca Ferguson, has referred to it as Game of Thrones in space.
Being that Dune came first – originally published in 1965 – and as influential as it is, it’s probably fairer to say that Game of Thrones is more Dune (-lite?) in Westeros than labelling Dune GoT among the stars. But, whatever, does this mean we can expect a lot of sex and scheming in Villeneuve’s film?
Well, Ferguson plays the role of Lady Jessica, concubine to Duke Leto Atreides, and the book franchise (Herbert himself wrote six Dune novels) is known for its graphic sex scenes, betrayals and political intrigue. So, it’s highly likely.
Ferguson spoke to Fandom recently about her character in the film, while promoting her new film, Doctor Sleep, also confirming that she’s finished shooting on the sci-fi epic, due out at the end of 2020. You can watch what she says in the video above.
Lady Jessica Has a Subtle Power
“Something that Denis Villeneuve and the writers have really taken into consideration is [that] this book was written back in the day when women were portrayed differently to what we are expecting nowadays — which we call gender equality,” says Ferguson. “And it’s something that they have taken into consideration making this script. Even though [Lady Jessica] is a concubine to the king, she’s also his bodyguard, his mentor, she can read thought and emotion and she’s the best fighter there is. So there’s a subtle power that she needs to teach her son, [Paul Atreides], played by Timothée Chalamet. It’s a complex story, it’s hard to discuss in one sentence.”
It’s interesting to note that Ferguson and Villeneuve, alongside his fellow scribes Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Postman, A Star Is Born) and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange), have approached Lady Jessica — and the story’s other women characters — with a view to bringing them in line with what they feel audiences want today.
Make of that what you will. But it’s especially intriguing when you consider that Jessica has always been one of the most interesting characters in the book, and a woman who represents strength and what has always been wrong with gender inequality.
Companion Piece to The Handmaid’s Tale?
In a state of affairs not entirely removed from The Handmaid’s Tale, the serialized TV adaptation of which has recently aired its third season, Jessica is part of the Bene Gesserit breeding programme in the novel, and assigned to Duke Leto Atreides (played by Oscar Isaac in the film) as his breeding partner. While he also takes a wife.
That’s a powerful statement right there – back then, for sure, and perhaps even more so now, what with woke culture taking its grip. Indeed, much as is the case with Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, too. Though, in Dune, the objectives and perspective of the Bene Gesserit differ from those of the folks behind Gilead in Atwood’s novel.
Ferguson’s comments only serve to stoke more fascination around Villeneuve’s vision of a story that has so far failed to produce a universally praised screen adaptation. Surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s proposed version never came to pass, while David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation was a critical and commercial flop on release (though it’s a bit more appreciated today). The 2000 miniseries, Frank Herbert’s Dune, meanwhile, was met with a lukewarm reception when it premiered.
Revisiting Rose the Hat
During Fandom’s chat with Ferguson, the actor also tackled some fan questions about Mike Flanagan’s upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.
In the film, Ferguson plays a character named Rose the Hat, the leader of a gang that preys on people with the gift of the Shining.
Fandom followers Rose’s Rube (@RoseWhiteQueen) and Zac (@speedingahead) both wanted to know what Ferguson’s favourite thing about Rose the Hat is, as well as her favourite moment in the film.
“I think for me, I love the ‘terrifying’ [aspect of Rose]. For me, it’s kind of beauty-alluring, and also terrifying. I think one of my favourite scenes is one of the first ones [in the film] when she sits singing and basically doing what she’s best at, which is luring and enticing people to her for an outcome which isn’t great for them but wonderful for me!”
Ferguson also said she’d like to see more of Rose’s backstory explored.
“I think that’s the next one,” she says. “Stephen King writes incredible character details. There’s so much meat to get from each character that you can then portray and bring to life, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this film. And because there’s so much history to her character, there’s so much fruit there.”
Ferguson makes a charismatic and enticing, yet terrifying, Rose and given her comments, she looks likely to bring her own brand of complexity to the role of Jessica in Dune. Roll on 2020.
Doctor Sleep hits screens in the UK on October 31, Australia on November 7 and the US on November 8. Dune is slated for a December 2020 release.