Outrunning giant sandworms is nothing compared to taming Timothée Chalamet's mutinous mane.
Shooting in the deserts of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, "we'd just get unlucky with the wind sometimes," Chalamet recalls with a laugh. "But I don't think he ever held it against me."
"Dune" is Chalamet's first time leading a big-budget studio movie, after critically acclaimed turns in "Little Women," "Beautiful Boy" and "Call Me By Your Name," the latter of which earned him a best actor Oscar nomination in 2018.
Based on Frank Herbert's influential 1965 novel, "Dune" follows a sensitive space prince named Paul Atreides (Chalamet), whose dad (Oscar Isaac) is caught in a war over the deadly planet Arrakis, which is abundant in a precious resource known as Spice.
Villeneuve ("Arrival") says that Chalamet was his first and only choice to play Paul, who comes into his own as a leader by film's end. Watching the burgeoning movie star at the action-adventure's Venice Film Festival premiere in September only reaffirmed that the director made the right call, as thousands cheered for Chalamet on the red carpet.
"It was like we had witnessed the birth of Beatlemania. It was crazy," Villeneuve says. "Timothée has that kind of charismatic power. And I needed that for the audience to believe this young man will be able to raise and lead an army, and then lead a whole planet."
Chalamet, 25, read Herbert's "Dune" for the first time a few years ago, after learning Villeneuve was attached to the project. He was drawn to the novel's religious and environmental themes, but also Paul's internal struggle, as he contemplates if and how to use his power.
"It's a relatable story of a young person having to fight for what's right and what's good," Chalamet says. "That's especially relevant today, with my generation and the ones coming up fighting for what they believe in so strongly. ... Even though I'm older than Paul in real life, the lessons I learned from the shoot and playing him will stay with me forever."
Chalamet trained for months to master the film's complex fight choreography, only occasionally nicking his co-stars. ("I think I might've gotten Brolin in the (crotch) once," he admits.) Choreographer Benjamin Millepied, husband to Natalie Portman, also taught Chalamet and Ferguson how to "sand walk," a gliding sort of run their characters use to help evade the monstrous, computer-generated sandworms on Arrakis.
The moves, reminiscent of cross-country skiing, were "one of the more challenging parts of the role. I hope I won't have to use it in real life," Chalamet says. "I don't know what situation would require it, but I've got it in my toolbox of skills."
"That was so tiring," Ferguson adds. "I've done so many stunts with Tom Cruise (in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise), but running up sand in full-body suits, try that. That's why we stayed fit filming this."
"Dune" has been embraced by critics (88% positive reviews on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes) and is a surefire awards contender in technical categories such as production design, cinematography and score. But the two-and-a-half-hour, $165 million movie could face an uphill battle at the box office, given how recent same-day streaming releases including "The Suicide Squad" and "Space Jam: A New Legacy" have struggled in theaters.
Early ticket sales "and social media buzz have been strong, but the X factor will be in how much of the casual audience turns up after opening day," says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro. "This is a film with a die-hard fan following, but not much familiarity to the uninitiated. It'll be fascinating to watch the results unfold in the days and weeks ahead."
If successful, "Dune" will be followed by a movie sequel centered heavily on Chani (Zendaya), a desert-dwelling warrior who primarily appears in Paul's dreams in the first film. HBO Max also announced a TV prequel series, with Villeneuve attached to direct the show's first episode.
"I know everybody is super hopeful and jazzed on the possibility (of a sequel)," Chalamet says. "I remember watching films growing up and already clamoring for more." Until now, "I've never had that feeling about something I'm in."
Chalamet is currently in the U.K. shooting "Wonka," a "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" prequel directed by Paul King (the "Paddington" movies). He can also be seen this month in Wes Anderson's star-studded dramedy "The French Dispatch" (in theaters Friday), playing a student revolutionary who falls into bed with Frances McDormand's magazine journalist.
The genial heartthrob swallowed his pride acting in the buff, in a scene when McDormand walks in on his character in the bathtub.
"I guess it's the masochism of actors," Chalamet jokes. "The crazier the scenes, sometimes the easier it is to just enjoy it.
"I never thought I'd get to be in a Wes Anderson movie, let alone work with Frances McDormand, who's one of the strongest actresses I've ever gotten to watch and work with. It's a total dream come true. Having shot ('Dune' and 'Dispatch') back to back, and to have them be coming out at the same time, I'm so proud of them."
Contributing: Bryan Alexander
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Dune' director compares 'crazy' Timothée Chalamet fans to Beatlemania