Dune Star Jason Momoa Is Honored To Be Working With Denis Villeneuve [Interview]

Jason Momoa is a spirited action hero. Even when he simply walks into a room in "Dune," he does so with as much bravado as when he takes out a room full of enemy soldiers. Playing the great warrior, Duncan Idaho, Momoa brings swashbuckling fun to Denis Villeneuve's massive art film. The adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune" is an uncompromising, tangible vision that the actor is, obviously, thrilled about.

Duncan Idaho is a role that's familiar and new for the "Aquaman" and "See" star. Villeneuve's film fully displays Momoa's physical skills and larger-than-life presence, but as the actor told us, he'd never played such a committed follower before. Recently, after a few technical difficulties, the actor recalled his experience playing Idaho, as well as working with Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Greg Frasier. 

"I wanted to go to a different world."

What was I saying? Sorry, bro.

You said how certain parts of Duncan were familiar to you, but other characteristics were new for you to play.

Well, I've never really played anyone, like I was saying, that serves. I've always played these outlaws, outcasts, renegades, and kings. I've never played someone that's literally giving everything over to just service, to be humbled to be playing this, to take care of Timothée's character.

I have all these different people I grew up with, who I just idolized. They'd go out on these expeditions and journeys, and they'd come back and tell all these stories. I really never got to play something like that. What we did, when we got there, I went out with my team and it's about three of us, and we just went out and shot in the desert, like every time that we were off.

I would go around by myself and kind of stay in that character and really do that. I came back and I showed Denis this little cut that we made. And he's like, "What, did you shoot this thing?" I was like, "We went out in the desert, spent time out there at night." We brought it back to him and he just loved it. He was so inspired that in the daytime, when we weren't shooting, he went out with me and Greg and we just shot just a small shot that is in the movie.

Would you say those people you grew up with inspired how you played Duncan?

Yeah, I'm sure. Yeah, I grew up in Iowa. It was pretty flat. I always wanted to be up in the mountains. I wanted to go to a different world. So, the lust and the yearning to get out of where I was at, like go out and adventure out, to be that explorer, it very much inspired Duncan Idaho.

Of course, he's an incredible fighter. How'd you want his fighting style to define him?

I think just having the two short blades. I was fighting with blades more than swords. It's more intimate, right? Taking into consideration, obviously, the force field and being able to work through that. We worked a lot with Kali, which I've never done before. And oddly enough, my son really loves Kali, and he trained that. And so, there are moments that I got to put in for my boy Wolf where you touch your heart, and you put it to your head. That moment where I have with Timothée, I'm signaling to my son. It was really beautiful to sit and watch it, and take inspiration from him. And also, the stunt team obviously lined that up, it was originally their idea, but it was a great honor as a father to be able to do that for my 12-year-old boy.

"Denis had all of it ironed out so much that when we got the playbook, it just became."

That's lovely. What training was required specifically for Duncan's big fight?

They're all kind of the same. Nothing really changes when it comes down to the stunts, because you have to get it right. I have a wonderful, amazing stunt double that I take everywhere around the world. I never really had one 'til "Aquaman." He's the only one who can really move like me, in that style. Him and I train together, and he knows my style, and he knows my body type. Really, he built that with our existing stunt team. You just trained, you get it in you, because you don't want to hurt them, and you don't want to get hurt. Once you start putting that armor on, you get weighing yourself down, you're fighting in sand. It makes your legs loose, so you're trying to work out and condition so that you can really fight.

Were you ever acting against a green screen much? Because it does not look that way at all.

No, no. That's what's beautiful about it. I think the only time would've been me looking out when I'm flying the helicopter, and that's pretty much it.

How closely did you collaborate with [cinematographer] Greg Fraser?

Me and Greg are so close. We talked while he was doing "The Batman," and I send him texts all the time. He is wonderful. I would love to work for him again. He's amazing. And "The Batman" trailer just came out. I was so f***ing excited. I want to post it for Zoe, because I'm just an excited Papa bear to tell the world. It's unbelievable.

Were any specific details from the book, as well, important to you?

It gets a little challenging because Denis had all of it ironed out so much that when we got the playbook, it just became. So much information that I just built up with him, that I don't know what I brought, and what was real, and what was his. We shot it so long ago that I don't know. All I know is, I don't want to let him down, and pretty much did everything that he wanted out of me, and brought the rest. So, I don't know exactly what little things. I really can't remember what was designed and what I brought, unfortunately.

"I definitely had fear."

How's collaborating with Denis on a shooting day? What's a piece of direction from him sound like?

He's so intimate. He's a very intimate director. Nothing cold about him. There was tons of advice. Some that are so good that I'd like to keep personal that I use in my own filmmaking. It's just getting reassured, like it's a reassuring feeling. I wish I could do everything with him. It's amazing, man. I've never quite experienced direction like that.

I just feel like there's a massive safety net that's there, and it's an honor to be able to do the things that he asks. You feel so trusted that you don't clam up and get fear, where I was definitely scared doing scenes because there are a lot of heavy hitters in these scenes. I definitely had fear. It keeps you alive, and it just feels good.

Here's for instance, we did one scene together, I'm just remembering this, and they ended up not using it, but it's just one amazing shot, where it's on my back and you see a silhouette of my face. The scene is really all about Oscar. Oscar's telling me this information. You see this is my posture and the way that I'm standing, I'm just getting orders from the Colonel. You just see me nod, and I take off in that scene. And we do that scene, and he's looking like, "Jason, the silhouette and the back, and all this." And like, "You don't need to come around?" You understand exactly what is right there. That is everything that needs to be there. Unfortunately, the information that he was saying, we couldn't put in the movie, but the shot, the scene could be just done like that. And he knew it. We both looked at each other, and he's like, "Momoa, Momoa, you know it." And so, we move on. Visually, and all these things together, we would relate.

We did a rehearsal — and this is really f***ing cool — he always shoots the rehearsals. And he just went, "We have it. Moving on." I had never seen anyone on that level do it. We're like, "What? You don't want a back up?" He's like, "Nope, you'll never beat that. That is the best. That camera won't beat it. No. I see it in my head." He knows it that well. He could have went, "Let's get another one, just see what happens." Like, "Nope. I know exactly that is it. Nothing will be better than that."

It's not like we were wasting our f***ing day. We had all time in the day to play. That's how goddamn good he is. He didn't need to beat me up. He is meticulous. He's that meticulous that he knows it's that f***ing good. That's him.

Thank you for sharing that.

Thanks for bringing it out of me, bro. It's like, you were talking about something that was two and a half years ago, and on this press tour, you're like, "Oh God, here we go." You try to remember even that [moment], and you have those every day, those gold moments. He's just so, so good.

"Dune" is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.