Jason Momoa is a busy man. Between his work on DC's Aquaman movies and the Apple TV+ show See, the actor wasn't able to make EW's roundtable with the cast of Dune at the Venice Film Festival (hosted by Cynthia Erivo). But when EW finally did catch up with Momoa ahead of Dune's release, he revealed that he has now seen Dune five times following the world premiere earlier this week.
"Every time it gets better and better," Momoa says. "I'm an uber-fan. I didn't really get to see the Harkonnen side of things on set, so every time I'm just like, 'Whoa, this is unbelievable!' And the sound! The first time I saw it was in the sound-mixing booth in Toronto, so I got to see it with the best sound quality imaginable because that's where they mixed it."
Mere mortals may not be able to see Dune in its sound-mixing booth, but seeing it theatrically still brings the stunning visuals and immersive soundscape to life (though the film is also streaming on HBO Max for the next month).
Chia Bella James/Warner Bros. Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides and Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in 'Dune'
Denis Villeneuve's new adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi novel features Momoa as Duncan Idaho, the loyal swordmaster of House Atreides. Duncan is sworn to protect Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and mentors the young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) in the ways of fighting. In an early scene, Paul is clearly envious that Duncan gets to travel to the desert planet Arrakis as part of an advance team, going on adventures and bringing back stories to Paul.
"I love the idea of serving something greater than yourself," Momoa says. "I play a lot of outcasts and men who do bad things, so it was nice to play this knight who does everything for this family. I love that relationship between me and Timothée. I really felt like I had those men in my life when I was younger, who went off mountain climbing and explored and came back. As a little kid in Iowa, I would hear these great stories and feel excitement to get out there. I really feel like I was the explorer going out and bringing this gold back to Timothée."
Duncan is one of the most iconic characters in Herbert's book, both for his incredible name and his renowned fighting prowess. Momoa, Villeneuve, and their collaborators worked hard to bring those combat skills to the screen. Paradoxically, the futuristic technology of Dune means that characters have to fight at close quarters with old-fashioned blades; the protective energy shields everyone wears block fast-moving weapons like bullets or lasers. The only way to penetrate these shields is to move your blade just slowly enough to pass through.
"The shield redefines the way you use combat. The way the choreographer and I approached it was that it's like a chess game," Villeneuve says. "For more advanced fighters like Duncan Idaho, it's more of a samurai approach, where you observe and study the opponent and you know you have one shot. You make a move that will deflect the opponent's attention, and then dive the blade in a certain way that will go through the shield. It makes the fighting in Dune fresh. I love the speed of it."
Chia Bella James/Warner Bros. Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) proves his worth in 'Dune'
Momoa is no stranger to fighting on screen, but he had to pick up some new skills to portray Duncan — who stars in one of the film's most exciting battle sequences.
"Denis and the stunt team had a style that they wanted to do, so I trained to do kali, which I've never done before," Momoa says of the Filipino martial art. "I love fighting with knives in very close quarters, it's nice to have that kind of intimacy with these short, samurai-esque blades. So it fit with what I love to do, fighting with two hands. Most of the stuff we did is preparing for that last battle, where I'm fighting 19 guys in the sand, and trying to keep your legs strong enough. So we did kettlebells and endurance stuff just so I can hold that weight up. After quite a few takes, you get winded."
But when asked about his single favorite day on set, Momoa doesn't mention the fight scenes. Instead, he points to his scene with Javier Bardem, who plays the Fremen leader Stilgar. Standing in the midst of a No Country for Old Men reunion between Bardem and Josh Brolin (who plays another loyal servant of House Atreides, Gurney Halleck), Momoa says he felt both underqualified and privileged to be there. (In his defense, Brolin said pretty much the same thing during EW's Venice roundtable.)
"My favorite day on set was definitely when we were all together, when Javier walks in and we meet Stilgar. It'll go down in my top-five moments because I got to work with those heavy hitters. I never stood and acted with that level of talent before. I'm definitely the s‑‑‑‑‑‑‑t one in the whole room, and I was really afraid that they're going to find out," Momoa recalls. "We were all very close, they were so sweet. But when the scene starts, he's a whole different dude."
Momoa says of Bardem, "He walks into that scene with so much mana, so much power. He didn't miss a beat, just struts right in and eyes everyone down. I'm like, 'I can't. This guy's rolling in like Mick Jagger, just so much confidence.' He gets to me and looks at me, but we're supposed to be friends, so I just have a little smile. He looks at everybody else, and that's when he spits. It was just amazing to watch him stare down everyone. Him and Brolin, they've done films together, so they're great. They're locking horns and I'm just standing there pinching myself and praying Denis is not going to go, 'Uh, is it too late to recast?'"
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