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Viewpoint | Elvis left the building. Austin Butler’s “Dune 2” villain is terrifying.


It’s Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen’s birthday, and his uncle has the perfect gift: three drugged prisoners to beat to death, a fun, no-stakes boost for a sadistic boy. But as he begins to fight the men, it becomes clear that one of them has not been overpowered. The task now requires work, and he relishes the wildness.

Who will you choose to play this sci-fi villain, heir to the menacing House Harkonnen in Frank Herbert’s intergalactic epic “Dune”? David Lynch took a big turn in his maligned 1984 film with Sting, the police leader who played Feyd with flaming red hair and these winged leather briefs. Denis Villeneuve, who unveiled the second part of his adaptation on Friday, turned to Austin Butler.

Butler? The guy who couldn’t shake his Elvis accent after playing the king of rock and roll in Baz Luhrmann 2022 biopic extravaganza? Well certainly. If there was one prerequisite for playing a character as relentless as Feyd – a singularly bloodthirsty villain in this universe of profit seekers and prophets – it would be a firm commitment. And Butler showed he would give anything for a role.

In “Dune: part two“, this involves appearing bald with gnarly black teeth and no eyebrows – Harkonnen’s signature look, and one butler manages to imbue it with an unsettling sexiness. He may not be as ruthless as his uncle – the lumpy Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), whose frequent baths don’t seem to have relaxed him at all – but Feyd is still a very, very bad man. The brutality gives him a higher position in the Harkonnen clan, and Feyd maintains a dead stare – except when he’s about to kill. He betrays little humanity in slaughtering his former lovers, let alone those who stand in the way of his family’s throne.

Butler was nominated for an Oscar for his breakout role in “Elvis” following a deluge of stories about the extreme measures he took to portray the troubled singer. He said he I haven’t seen his family in three years — some of which overlapped with the pandemic — and “I had months where I didn’t talk to anyone, and when I did, the only thing I thought about was Elvis.” He told GQ he was rushed to the hospital after finishing the project: “My body just started shutting down the day after Elvis finished,” he recalls. “The next day I woke up at 4am in excruciating pain. »

As far as we know, Butler did not contract a mysterious virus in “Dune: Part Two.” He noted in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times that he set a firmer boundary in playing Feyd, because allowing the character to bleed into his life “would be unhealthy for my family and friends.”

“When the camera was off, you were still maybe 25 or 30 percent Feyd,” Villeneuve said in the same interview. “Just enough to always be present and focused, but withdrawn enough to not kill anyone on set.”

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According to the director, Butler was “possessed” when the camera was on. He found a new voice as Feyd, speaking in a low growl designed to mimic Skarsgard’s performance as his uncle Baron Vladimir Harkkonen. Butler plays an obvious role opposite Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, the heir to a rival house, who spends much of “Dune: Part 2” contemplating the desert to maintain moral decency in the midst of a holy war . The most interesting comparison might be to a fellow Harkonnen: Dave Bautista’s Glossu Rabban, Uncle Vladimir’s old favorite who murdered most of the Atreides clan. Feyd operates in a more calculated manner than his sloppy cousin and therefore poses a greater threat.

Of all the cool kids who joined Chalamet and Zendaya for “Dune: Part Two” — new cast members also include Florence Pugh and Anya Taylor-Joy — Butler is enjoying her role the most. Just as playing Elvis dissuaded audiences from classifying him as a former Disney Channel star, Feyd prevents him from falling into the biopic trap. Butler is ready to continue surprising as he carves his way through Hollywood, armed with leading man looks and character acting abilities. Hopefully he leaves that voice behind.


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