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‘Exhilarating’: Austin Butler Talks ‘Dune 2’ Experience and Working with Denis Villeneuve

The King has officially left the building. Fresh off a string of blockbuster performances, Hollywood golden child Austin Butler has turned heel, ditching the bedazzled leather suit for something slightly darker. The 32-year-old is set to reign terror upon Arrakis as the vengeful warlord Feyd-Rautha in Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune: Part Two, and to put it bluntly, Butler has never looked better.

Austin Butler | Image: YSL
Austin Butler | Image: YSL

Replete with a cold stare and a steely intensity, the actor’s new villain casts an imposing shadow across an already stellar cinematic universe. It’s a far cry from his Disney days and a stark departure from his Academy Award-nominated turn as the King of Rock’n’Roll, a fact that many fans online have been quick to point out. When Butler was first announced as the antagonist for the upcoming sequel to Villeneuve’s 2021 space epic, the response was unforgiving. Memories of Heath Ledger cast in the role of The Joker immediately sprung to mind.

Even now, it seems the concept of a commercially viable actor best known for playing heartthrobs in rom-coms making the transition to a serious dramatic presence is difficult for movie-goers to grasp. That will all change, much like it did for Ledger when the initial Dark Knight teasers were released, later this month when Dune: Part Two finally hits screens.

Austin Butler in 'Dune: Part II' | Image: Warner Bros.
Austin Butler in ‘Dune: Part II’ | Image: Warner Bros.

Austin Butler, the Villain

From the first glimpses of Butler in make-up, shaved head and full of rage, the performance looks to be unlike any we’ve seen from him before. Even Villeneuve himself described Butler’s Feyd-Rautha as “something that would be a cross between a psychotic, sociopath serial killer and Mick Jagger“. It’s high praise from the industry legend, but the feeling is mutual. Speaking with us late last year, Butler described the incredible of filming Dune: Part Two, sharing his immense respect for Villeneuve as a filmmaker.

“He’s one of the greatest living directors we have right now,” Butler told us. “I love what he did with the first film, and it was a blast to get to explore that world and also just do something very different from anything I’ve ever done.”

“There’s a whole different type of unique challenge, and it was really exhilarating to be a part of.”

“All the actors on that film from Christopher Walken to Javier Bardem or Timothee or Florence Pugh, Zendaya, there’s just so many incredibly talented people. So I felt incredibly privileged to be part of that.”

Austin Butler for YSL Beauty's MYSLF | Image: YSL Beauty
Austin Butler for YSL Beauty’s MYSLF | Image: YSL Beauty

Working with Hollywood’s Best

It must be said, Butler’s rise to prominence hasn’t come out of the blue. In fact, in just a few short years, the former Disney star has transformed himself into a Hollywood titan, working alongside some of the biggest filmmakers in the industry. In 2019, Butler teamed up with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino‘s Oscar-winning blockbuster Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, where he took on the role of a fictional Manson Family member. Dark and foreboding, his on-screen presence was starkly different from roles we had seen him in before and in hindsight, foreshadowed his dramatic career trajectory. To Butler, whose little black book of contacts is growing increasingly hefty, the revolution isn’t lost on him.

“Man, they’ve all been these dream-come-true moments in one way or another,” he told me. “It had been my dream to work with Tarantino since I was 12 years old, as well as to work with Leo and Brad. That was a really special experience for me.”

“Quentin is a genius in a whole other way and in very many similar ways. He’s such a brilliant writer and he’s seen the entire film in his mind before you even show up on set. He’s open to changes and to new things happening, but it’s composed in such a seamless way ahead of time that you’re trusting him in a different way.”

“You’re trusting him with the brilliance of his writing and his vision being so clear. Whereas Baz gets more improvisational and it may change a lot between takes. Quentin is honing in on that vision that he’s had this whole time. And that is a very clear vision, but it’s definitely got more of an improvisational quality to it.”

Luhrmann vs Tarantino vs Villeneuve

As Butler explains, each director that he has worked with has brought something unique to the table. Where Tarantino was exploratory and free, others, such as Elvis director Baz Luhrmann and Dune filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, focus on the granular aspects that turn bombastic moments of chaos into scenes with real heart.

“I learned so much from him (Baz Luhrmann), and it was an incredibly educational and magical experience. I often say he’s the closest thing to a jazz musician in a director that I’ve ever seen because he does so much homework and works so hard in the preparation process.”

“A jazz musician has to know their scales and their instrument inside and out, so that way when they get up on stage, they can be present and respond to what is happening right now at this moment, and not know what the next moment is going to be and respond to the musicians that are on stage with them. And that’s how Baz is.”

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis' | Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ | Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

“You have to surrender to that process with him, which can be scary if you’re not used to it. But once you surrender and you trust him, it’s such a beautiful experience because it pushes you in ways and places that you didn’t realise you could go. He is absolutely brilliant, we spent years together working on that film, and that was an unbelievable experience. It was the same thing with Denis Villeneuve.”

“I just feel incredibly fortunate right now to get to work with people that I’ve admired for so many years and to just be a part of this community that I’ve loved for so long,” he told us. “I feel very fortunate right now.”

Denis Villeneuve’s epic Dune: Part Two stars Austin Butler, Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Rebecca Ferguson, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux and Jason Momoa. The sequel to the 2019 runaway sci-fi smash based on Frank Herbert’s iconic novel, the film hits Australian cinemas on Thursday 29 February. You can watch the official trailer above.

Zendaya in 'Dune: Part Two' (2024) | Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Zendaya in ‘Dune: Part Two’ (2024) | Image: Warner Bros. Pictures