The Insane Transformation Of Dave Bautista Into Beast Rabban In Dune

Ever since former pro wrestler Dave Bautista started acting in 2006, his roles have been scrutinized by fans. While he had trouble being seen as a serious actor, Bautista took the risk and it paid off when his acting career skyrocketed after he was cast as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" in 2014. He might be retiring that character soon, but Bautista has a lot up his sleeve, regularly lining up interesting projects. This includes his role in Denis Villeneuve's science-fiction movie "Dune."

The adaptation of the 1965 sci-fi epic novel by Frank Herbert came out in 2021 after several delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans were eager to discover the characters they had read about and seen in other adaptations come to life with Villeneuve's particular vision. They were not disappointed: "Dune" delivered an eye-popping spectacle, rich storytelling, and set pieces of impressive scale, which let the audience rediscover the Atreides' story anew. After starring in "Blade Runner 2049," Bautista got the chance to work with Villeneuve again for "Dune," transforming into the character of Glossu "Beast" Rabban, a menacing and brutal character.

Who is Glossu Rabban?

Glossu Rabban is part of the Great House Harkonnen. As the nephew of Baron Harkonnen, he is tasked with governing the planet of Arrakis and managing the harvesting and production of spice for the Empire — at least until his brother and favored nephew Feyd-Rautha can take over. In Frank Herbert's novels, Glossu Rabban is often depicted as a brute, the dumber and uglier version of his younger brother, who is described as charismatic, intelligent, and even good-looking. He is a sadistic and tyrannical ruler who lacks the scheming qualities that his family is known for. The Baron is using Rabban, scheming to be seen as a savior when his true heir, Feyd-Rautha, takes over the planet after the ruthless rule of his brother.

The character is known by many names, including Mudir Nahya (or Demon Ruler), and King Cobra. While he has several nicknames, he is most often called Beast Rabban, earning the title after murdering his father, Abulurd Harkonnen. Brother to Vladimir, Abulurd was a principled and peaceful man who distanced himself from his family, the cunning and cruel Great House Harkonnen. Beast Rabban is without a doubt a violent brute, showing his savagery in many ways in Herbert's novels. To consider him stupid, though, may not be the best interpretation of the character. He still shows he understands Arrakis and its native people, the Fremen, better than the rest of his family. He warns them not to underestimate the latter before the Siege of Arrakeen, for example, when they occupied the capital and took the planet back from House Atreides.

How was Dave Bautista cast?

The wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista had a rough start in Hollywood, but ever since being cast in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," he's fared well enough for himself. As for "Dune," Bautista knew about the project and was keeping an eye on it, as he says in an interview with Collider. He was especially surprised when Denis Villeneuve himself called him to offer him the role of Glossu Rabban after the two collaborated on the "Blade Runner" sequel, "Blade Runner 2049." 

In a video interview with Digital Spy, he recalls the phone call and being brought to tears by the offer. Apparently, he'd been passing up on other offers to remain available in case anything came up for "Dune." When it came time to read the script, Bautista was blown away by it, impressed by the scope of Villeneuve's imagination, which he likened to James Gunn's (and even hinted at his own directorial hopes).

Becoming a villain

As Dave Bautista puts it, "If you always try to play a character who's trying to be terrifying, then he's never terrifying." His performance as Beast Rabban is understated and somehow human despite playing a despotic and cruel character. As he explains, villains don't usually believe they're the villains in their story. Their self-righteousness and greed, and their deep-rooted belief in their ideas, are ultimately what make the Harkonnens so terrifying — we can recognize them in humanity's flaws.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bautista said that it was easy to dive into the character because the script was concise and not overwritten. The actor also talked about the concept of evil: "Evil exists. There are people that are this evil, that are this greedy, that feel hunger for power this much, that are willing to do things this bad. It's about showing the worst in humanity, and portraying that in a way that is believable. People can connect to this, and recognize these evil people. It's nothing to overstate."

Transforming into Beast Rabban

Thanks to his long career as a wrestler in the WWE, Dave Bautista already boasts an impressive physique (standing tall at 6'4" and wide with rippling muscles), which certainly helped him to embody the character of Beast Rabban. Aged 53 years old at the time of publication, Bautista's condition is stunning, but he does say he doesn't train as he once did during his wrestling career. Training is now therapeutic for him and not a conscious effort to look a specific way.

As far as preparing for the character of Beast Rabban, Bautista kept it to a minimum because he knew Denis Villeneuve would give him a lot of direction for his performance and wanted to keep it as fresh and collaborative as possible. They talked about the character for the first time during the makeup and costume fittings, and Villeneuve reportedly told Bautista to give him some time to dream about it.

Special mention to the makeup and costume design teams

The makeup and costume design teams for "Dune" played a big part in Dave Bautista's transformation into Beast Rabban, as well as in Stellan Skarsgård's transformation into the Baron. Those two departments were even nominated for Academy Awards, but they, unfortunately, didn't win them, much to our disappointment. Beast Rabban sports stark white skin and a heavy black spacesuit, which Denis Villeneuve explained is because of where they come from (via Entertainment Weekly): 

"Geidi Prime, the Harkonnen planet, is one where the sun is obscured most of the time by heavy clouds of pollution. It's an artificial world, it's a world made out of plastic and cut off from nature. Their skin is not used to sun, so they have to protect themselves from sunlight when they go on Arrakis. Their armor is almost closer to an astronaut suit than anything else. I tried, for each tribe coming from different planets, to see how they would use their technology to try and adapt. The Harkonnens are brutal colonizers, brutal invaders, but they are still vulnerable to the environment."

Previous on-screen depictions of Glossu Rabban

"Dune" was previously adapted for both the big and small screen: In 1984, David Lynch directed his feature-length adaptation, and a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries aired in 2000. In Lynch's version, Beast Rabban is played by actor Paul L. Smith, sporting bright ginger hair (as do the rest of the Harkonnen characters) and a black spacesuit that is not too dissimilar from the one Dave Bautista wears. The way he acts, though, is very different; Smith's Rabban is less a beast than a buffoon, and he overplays the dumb qualities of the character. His interpretation ends up being cartoonish, a ridiculous and repulsive villain instead of a scary one.

In The Sci-Fi channel three-part miniseries, the character is played by Swiss actor László I. Kish. Beast Rabban sports red hair in this adaptation as well, and is far less of a villainous caricature. As Gizmodo's Beth Elderkin put it, "Kish as Glossu Rabban is fine," despite the fact that he doesn't have a lot of screentime in that adaptation.

How is Bautista's Beast Rabban different?

Both the physical appearance and the demeanor of the character in Denis Villeneuve's version of "Dune" sets him apart from previous depictions. Villeneuve wanted to avoid the character, as well as that of the Baron, becoming cartoonish and overplayed like how Paul L. Smith and Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir had portrayed the villains. 

While the various adaptations' black spacesuits are similar, it feels like a lot more thought when into the conception of Villeneuve's version. He talks about the insectoid-like quality of the suit, and its helmet in particular, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: "They are invaders and colonizers, so we really focused on this idea that they are like predators." Costume designer Jacqueline West added, "Insects have textures so I used a lot of molded black leather with insect designs carved into the leather. The references were from scorpions, spiders, and ants. Both the Baron and Rabban have this almost ant-head-like helmet."

Reunited with Denis Villeneuve

As previously mentioned, "Dune" is not the first time Dave Bautista and Denis Villeneuve have worked together. The filmmaker cast the ex-wrestler in 2017's sci-fi drama "Blade Runner 2049," in the role of Sapper Morton. While the director initially thought Bautista was too young for the role, they got along very well, and the studio, as well as the actor, were eager for the casting. After a few screen tests — and with the help of make-up artist Donald Mowat — the role was Bautista's, and the rest is history.

Bautista has said that the role of Morton in "Blade Runner 2049" opened a lot of doors for him, and credits Villeneuve with helping him further his acting career. He loved working with the Canadian director, whom he described as devoted to his performance as Morton. His detail-oriented approach helped the actor understand the character better and elevate his performance, and he was thrilled to be able to work with him again for "Dune."

What the role means to Dave Bautista

Other than being reunited with Denis Villeneuve, Dave Bautista was very excited and grateful for the role of Rabban in "Dune" as it cemented his place in Hollywood, in his eyes. As he told Collider: "Moments like that really gauge how far I've come, as an actor. There's a lot of pride in it for me that a director like Denis would call like that and offer me a role in a film that I know is going to be enormous. Because people have been waiting for this for years and years and years. And people are so passionate about the novels. So for him to offer me such an integral part of this film, for me, it was a personal statement."

While Bautista will forever be grateful for getting the breakout role of Drax in "Guardians of the Galaxy," he was also afraid of being typecast as a muscle man or not perceived as a serious actor because of sillier roles. The role of Beast Rabban in "Dune" became another step for Bautista in showing off his acting chops in a new way. The sinister villain role isn't one we had really seen from him yet, and he is happy to distance himself from his action-movie persona (via ConnectRadio).