Dune Part Two: Who Are The New Characters And Who Should Play Them?

Major Spoilers follow for "Dune: Part One," as well as some light spoilers for the novel.

Rejoice, spice addicts! "Dune Part Two" has officially received the green light and now all eyes, blue or otherwise, can turn towards what comes next. Though "Dune" seemed to be a big hit among both general audiences and fans (give or take a cynical killjoy here and there), this news hardly seemed like a guarantee after the depressed box office earnings experienced this year and the ongoing debate surrounding the day-and-date release with HBO Max. But that sound you've been hearing for the last 24 hours is the collective sigh of relief from everyone who came out of the film eager to see where things could possibly be taken next ... especially after that oddly abrupt ending which somehow made visuals like the Fremen riding a sandworm — let me repeat, Fremen riding a sandworm — seem no less amazing than, I don't know, getting some extra garlic knots with your pizza order free of charge.

In any case, the scheduled October 2023 release date is certainly closer than anyone could have reasonably expected for a "Dune" sequel, but that still leaves us plenty of time to look ahead at the wealth of new characters that director Denis Villeneuve could very well bring in for "Part 2" and take a stab at who would be best served to play those parts.

A Brief Recap

"Dune" concludes with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) as two of the last surviving members of House Atreides, welcomed by Chani (Zendaya) and her Fremen tribe. The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) and his nephew Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista) are still out there ... but so is the Baron's other nephew, one who was certainly hinted at throughout "Dune" who goes on to play a crucial role in Frank Herbert's novels. Oh, and don't forget that mysterious Emperor. There were also plenty of characters who had to be left out of "Dune: Part One" but could still get some screen time in the sequel. So brush off your "Dune" lexicon, get those fan-casting hats on, and let's get started on this very, very serious (but hopefully no less informative) explainer!

Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen – Barry Keoghan

Though the Baron's heir-apparent remained conspicuously absent from the events of the film, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen's presence can still be felt in the form of suggestive hints and non-answers provided by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. After Paul passes his "gom jabbar" test, Mohiam angrily confronts the Lady Jessica for her arrogant belief that Paul might very well be the "Kwisatz Haderach" — essentially the prophesied Chosen One that the Bene Gesserit have spent millennia trying to produce through the careful mixing of bloodlines. Creepy stuff, huh? Well, consider how the Reverend Mother points toward "other prospects" waiting in the wings should Paul not live up to his destiny. In the novel, Feyd-Rautha is implicitly presented as the antagonistic rival to Paul's would-be title and a "savior" to the people of Arrakis after the brutal oppression carried out by Feyd's older brother, Rabban.

Fair warning, folks: for our fan-cast, we're going full conspiracy theorist on this one. Not even an hour after the official confirmation of "Dune: Part Two" hit, actor Barry Keoghan tweeted this mysterious message that had all of Twitter buzzing that he'll be involved with "Dune: Part 2." Now, Keoghan has come up in the past many times before (with some self-promotion of his own thrown in there too) as a slightly unhinged and fittingly "off" embodiment of Feyd-Rautha and his desire to seize power from his nuisance of an uncle. But especially after bringing his weirdo energy to "The Green Knight," let's add in the real-world A24 "rivalry" element between himself and Timothée Chalamet's Paul as a meta undercurrent to their casting. Suddenly, this fits so well that it makes one wonder whether this sprawling tale of feudal war between ancient families would be better served by having the sequel keep all potential castings within the A24 roof. Hmm...

The Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV – Ralph Ineson (as the Green Knight)

The shadowy Padishah Emperor is spoken of many times throughout "Dune" as the primary force behind the upheaval of Arrakis, but never actually seen. This isn't the case with the novel, as all those references finally builds to an actual appearance at the very end. It's expected that "Dune: Part 2" will pull directly from the latter half of the book and possibly take some creative liberty to truly establish his presence, so we'll likely get to see quite a bit of the Emperor in the flesh. Despite his obviously antagonistic role, Herbert implies that this complicated individual actually regrets the political differences between the Imperium and Duke Leto Atreides, who ideally would have married into the Emperor's family had circumstances been more ideal. Instead, he allows his Sardaukar legions of highly-trained soldiers to assist the Harkonnens in overthrowing House Atreides.

In terms of who should portray this enigmatic figure, we're staying on this "The Green Knight" theme after Keoghan. Ralph Ineson brings the eponymous Green Knight to life through a mix of heavy prosthetics, his booming voice, and the piercing glint of his eyes. The sense of regal authority and menacing myth he brings to the proceedings feels like a perfect match for the Padishah Emperor ... and doubly so if Ineson is inexplicably wearing the exact same makeup and prosthetics as he did in "The Green Knight." Think about it! It wouldn't exactly make much story-specific sense in "Dune" since the Emperor is, you know, a human and all, but who let the facts get in the way of a good narrative? Try and convince me that it after keeping him in the background for an entire movie, having Ineson in full Green Knight get-up step out of the shadows wouldn't be one hell of a payoff. As the leader of this particular movement, I have no choice but to demand that we be taken seriously.

Princess Irulan – Saoirse Ronan

Denis Villeneuve wisely chose to do away entirely with the writings of Princess Irulan that begin almost every chapter of the book, which are predominantly focused on the legendary exploits of one Paul Atreides. These excerpts are written from the perspective of a historian looking back at the events of the novel from the distant future, years after the prophetic myth of Paul has been firmly established. Herbert eventually reveals that Irulan is the daughter of the Emperor himself and, given how Paul-centric she presents herself to be, it's not exactly a spoiler to say that she ultimately develops an up close and personal connection to our protagonist over in the future. If the Padishah Emperor plays a significant supporting role in "Part Two," then it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the same would apply to his daughter.

In that light and given our strictly self-imposed A24 fan-casting restrictions (just go with it!), the choice of actor to play this role simply could not be clearer. Not only did Saoirse Ronan bring precisely the right kind of fire and fiercely independent spirit to Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson in Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird," but one of the many highlights of the film happens to be her fraught relationship with the alluring and edgy Kyle Scheible, played by none other than Timothée Chalamet. Between this and their subsequent re-teaming in "Little Women," the turbulent chemistry between the pair is already present and accounted for, which should pay dividends if Villeneuve is able to adapt the events of the later books. I'll be honest here ... this one kind of started out as a joke but the more I think about it, the more I genuinely like it.

Count Hasimir Fenring – Jake Gyllenhaal

The intriguing Count Fenring ended up becoming one of the many casualties of Herbert's expansive story when it came time for Villeneuve's adaptation. Described by Irulan as the only person in the universe her Emperor father could ever consider a close friend and adviser, the Count plays a small but integral role in the events of the novel as one of the main architects behind the downfall of the Atreides. He finally appears in person for a crucial scene on the Harkonnen home planet of Giedi Prime that I could easily see Villeneuve bringing to life in the sequel, set soon after the death of Duke Leto and Paul and Jessica are forced into hiding. In the aftermath of their decisive victory, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is holding a celebratory gladiatorial battle featuring his nephew Feyd. The Count — who presents himself in public as a mealy-mouthed, stuttering, and utterly clueless political figure and ruthlessly competent in private — engages the Baron in a scolding lecture about how messily the Harkonnens handled their takeover of Arrakis. With his air of manipulative political intrigue and no shortage of veiled threats, Count Fenring feels like a precursor to the conniving Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series (played by Aidan Gillen in "Game of Thrones").

So who comes to mind as an actor that could turn the potential of such a dramatically double-minded person into a reality? Look no further than someone who you never know what performance he might bring into a given role, has previously played a set of wildly different twins in the past and, even better, did so under the direction of Denis Villeneuve. That's right, we're talking about Jake Gyllenhaal bringing some of his disturbingly chaotic vibes from 2013's "Enemy" over to the "Dune" universe — which Villeneuve already did in "Part One" with the brief inclusion of that random and terrifying spider alien ... thing. Never mind that Count Fenring is described to be "a small man with oversize dark eyes and a weasel face," which is just about as far as you can get from Gyllenhaal. What really matters in fan-casts (other than abiding by arbitrary rules about sticking to A24 movies) is whether an actor has the specific skillset and screen presence to match with a given character. Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely does.

Sandworms – the Cow From First Cow

"Dune" is about religion, imperialism, and most importantly, how that all relates to nature. That's why sandworms are depicted as such a terrifying, all-powerful force for Atreides and Harkonnen alike. They don't care about power grabs and regime changes ... they just want to tunnel around, eat some spice harvesters, and be left alone. Relatable! After Paul and Jessica flee into the desert with the Fremen, the novel jumps ahead a few years and returns to Paul as he is on the cusp of the most difficult Fremen initiation ritual yet: summoning, riding, and taming the largest sandworm ever seen in the open desert. The lead-up to this deadly task is brilliantly rendered in the novel, bringing us up to speed on what Paul's been up to in the time since and how his "Chosen One" legend has only grown stronger and stronger.

If you ask me, there's only one foolproof way to improve on this sequence for "Dune: Part Two." Cast the cow from "First Cow" as the sandworm. Simple as that. The cow plays a similar role in the sweet, low-key A24 mood piece, emphasizing the importance of the natural world as grubby little humans try to exploit the cow's resources for their own interests. With such similar interests, it's a wonder "First Cow" isn't formally set in the world of "Dune." Well, we can change that right now if the Powers That Be listen to reason. Start the "Dune" sequel off with Paul Atreides trying to tame a wild cow that everyone treats as if it were a gigantic sandworm. Give the cow from "First Cow" the sensory-overloading IMAX treatment she deserves. Do the right thing, Denis Villeneuve.