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Villeneuve enjoyed a hometown hero’s welcome when he attended the Montreal premiere of Dune: Part Two.Illustration by Ashley Floréal

Denis Villeneuve excels at making feel-bad epics – biblically-sized films such as Sicario and Blade Runner 2049 that don’t so much hint at disaster as they gleefully ride waves of existential doom – but the director himself is never without a sense of polite Canadian glee. Whether talking about environmental apocalypse or intergalactic jihad, Villeneuve is most likely to be sporting a sly smile and radiating contagious enthusiasm.

The 56-year-old filmmaker has good reason to be happy, too. On Wednesday, Villeneuve enjoyed a hometown hero’s welcome when he attended the Montreal premiere of Dune: Part Two, the evening marking the culmination of a journey as epic in scope and improbable in concept as the heady Frank Herbert novel that the film is based on.

The day after the event, Villeneuve spoke with The Globe and Mail about his unprecedented Hollywood run, whether he really hates dialogue and his prophecies for the future of Dune.

A few years back when we spoke during the release of Blade Runner 2049, you had come off doing five movies in six years and said that you needed a break. Since then, you’ve made two huge movies – inarguably the biggest of your career, and many others’ careers put together – over just three years. How are you feeling about your stamina now?

Yeah, I did those two movies back to back and I did not pause, so my stamina is gone. [Laughs] I need a pause, I need to take a little break. And that’s my plan, which is why when people are asking me what’s next, I don’t want to answer. I don’t want to know.

Do you regret the decision to film parts one and two of Dune back to back?

Oh no, it was perfect. I needed to get Part Two out of the system. Part Two is not a sequel – it is the second half of the story, and we needed to bring that story to the world as soon as possible, so people still feel the connection. But I made a deal with myself after this to have a break.

The nature of filming two productions back to back is interesting, though. Is it just picking up where you left off? How easy is it to get back into that headspace?

We didn’t have to get back into the headspace because we didn’t leave. My crew and I didn’t leave Arrakis. We made the movie, then did the marketing, and went into the awards campaign. But the morning after the Academy Awards, we were back in full prep, figuring how to bring life to this monster.

When that first monster was released in the fall of 2021, it was a different world. Theatres were open in fits and starts, and Part One was also made available on streaming the same day it opened in theatres. How gratifying is it that Part Two can be given the full theatrical treatment with no asterisk?

It’s therapeutic – a balm on the wound that Part One’s release was. I’m grateful that everybody is working hard and putting energy into this release to make it what Dune was intended to be, which is a theatrical event.

We also talked during Blade Runner 2049 about how the secrecy of that project was a challenge – having to ensure you kept from potential moviegoers who was or wasn’t a robot. With Dune, the book has been out there for decades. How much of a relief was that for you as a filmmaker?

The story has been out there for more than 60 years, yes. But I still feel that in a perfect world, I would love that people see almost nothing of a film before watching it. We know there’s a marketing campaign that deploys lots of elements to attract attention, but I love the secrecy. I love going into a theatre not knowing what I’m going to watch. That feeling of discovery and disorientation is fantastic. So in some ways, even though people know the story, they don’t know how we will tell that story, the choices we made. And I tried to protect the secrecy of that.

The line you have to walk with Part Two is tricky. You want audiences to enjoy the thrill of war against Paul’s brutal enemy, the Harkonnens. But you also need to acknowledge the terrible future that Paul is leading the Fremen into with this intergalactic war, which he prophesizes will kill billions. How did you handle that balance as a filmmaker – to ensure that audiences stop to think about Paul’s choices, while also experiencing the cathartic excitement of combat?

I made sure that in the screenplay I’ll have a character that will give us a perspective of Paul that we didn’t have in the book – that will deliver the idea that Paul is not the right figure, that he’s the anti-hero who in some ways is betraying the Fremen identity. And that is Chani [played by Zendaya]. I worked a lot on her agenda, her goals, her needs, in order to have the audience understand that what’s happening at the end of this movie, it’s no happy ending.

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Villeneuve attends the Dune: Part Two Seoul Premiere on Feb. 22, in Seoul, South Korea.Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

You’re going to take a break, but do you see yourself being able to walk away from the world of Dune after adapting the next book in the series, Dune: Messiah?

There are a lot of other stories that I’d love to tell. A filmmaker with a lot of wisdom once told me one should never talk about a series of movies before you know how you’ll be as a filmmaker once you finish one of them. When you start a movie, you have needs, impulses, desires, dreams. And when you finish that movie, most of those things have been changed.

So I need to see once I will have done Messiah whether I’m ready to go back to Arrakis. But saying this, the next book, Children of Dune, is not easy to adapt. The books become more and more esoteric. I always envisioned a cinematic version of Dune and Dune: Messiah was possible. After that, I need to think.

In a recent interview you said that, “movies have been corrupted by television,” and that you “hate dialogue.” What are your thoughts, then, about the forthcoming Dune: Prophecy series set to debut on the streamer Max, based on the world of your films?

You say things in interviews and you’re passionate and laughing at the same time, and when you remove the laughing it takes on different proportions. I don’t hate dialogue. I just think, essentially, those are the tools of theatre. I feel that cinema at its beginning was an art form exclusively based on the language of image. I don’t want to use dialogue as a crutch. Some days I’m reading screenplays that are overtalkative. As a filmmaker, I think that statement came from the fact that when I’m reading screenplays, I’m not excited when it’s three or four pages of dialogue. That’s less cinematic.

About the miniseries, I’m absolutely disconnected from it. I have no connection. I’m curious. But Dune doesn’t belong to me. It’s exciting to see someone else take to that world, and I’m looking forward to watching it.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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