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Dune star Rebecca Ferguson compares reading Frank Herbert's novel to 'doing a crossword puzzle'

By Josh Weiss
Rebecca Ferguson Dune 2020

If you've ever attempted to or succeeded at reading Frank Herbert's Dune, you know just how thick and inscrutable the 1960s tome can be. The sheer amount of world-building and obscure concepts (that often fuse sci-fi and fantasy together) can sometimes amount to a sensory overload for certain readers. Such was the case with Rebecca Ferguson, who is playing the character of Lady Jessica in the upcoming big budget remake from Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve.

"For me, it was very much a new world, which means I'm an open book, but an open book that will do research," the Mission: Impossible actress told Empire for the magazine's November 2020 issue. "I love learning new things. When I eventually started reading the book, I found it so complex and difficult, I didn't finish it. It was like doing a crossword puzzle: 'What's in the middle of a stone?' and I'm going, 'I don't know — a hard f***ing material?' and then it's like the letters in the middle of the word. My mindset was not there."

Luckily, Ferguson could rely on Villeneuve (whom she described as "such a nerd about this book!") and her co-star Oscar Isaac, who portrays Duke Leto Atreides. "[They're like] Tweedledum and Tweedledee," she continued. "I eventually sat down with Denis and said, 'I don't get the book. Can you please explain it to me as if I'm a child?'"

Dune 2020

While the director would refer to the source material as "the Bible," Ferguson ended up doing most of her research via "blogs on people discussing characters. I do a lot of research on fan pages ... I link that together to what Denis and I do with what my thoughts are on the character from the page and what I got from the book. I do a big mixture of it all because I love finding the secrets within characters. I love giving you something new and different."

Villeneuve has previously stated that he wanted to really boost Lady Jessica's role in his movie, transforming her from a "space nun" into what the studio's plot synopsis calls a "warrior priestess." This became apparent to Ferguson on set when the filmmaker told her she was being "too stoic" during a specific take involving her and Timothée Chalamet ("Paul Atreides"). "That's one of the things I'm tired of a little with my characters; I love getting the strong female characters," she said, going on to list some of the roles she's played. "But there is a vulnerability, as well, to me. I always try to find this in all my characters. But I'm lacking [in expressing it] and Denis found it. He found those moments and said, 'You can do it. You don't have to walk like a queen: round your shoulders, slouch a bit more.'"

Originally scheduled to land on Arrakis (and in theaters) this December, Dune has reportedly been delayed to next fall. Villeneuve hopes to adapt the latter half of the novel in a second feature film, although Warner Bros. has yet to officially green-light the project. Watch the trailer for Part I right here before checking out SYFY WIRE's detailed breakdown.