Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya: 'Dune' roles reflect teenage struggles

Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet star in "Dune." File Photo by Rocco Spaziani/UPI
1 of 5 | Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet star in "Dune." File Photo by Rocco Spaziani/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Timothee Chalamet said his role in Dune, premiering Thursday on HBO Max and Friday in theaters, reflects universal struggles teenagers experience.

Chalamet, 25, plays Paul Atreides, the son in a political family embroiled in a galactic battle, who is trying to make his parents proud and figure out what kind of man he wants to be.


"I think those are things that all of us struggle with when we're at that age [15], when we don't know who we are, when we're trying to find ourselves," Chalamet said in a recent Zoom roundtable with reporters. "[We're] trying to find our voice, trying to find our identity."

Dune, based on the Frank Herbert book, begins in the year 10191. The House Shaddam grants House Atreides the planet Arrakis on which to manage the harvesting of the planet's resource, spice.


The Shaddam actually are conspiring with another house, Harkonnen, to reclaim Arrakis from Atreides, while the Fremen, the indigenous people of Arrakis, battle both sides for their home. This puts Paul in the middle.

"There's an ulterior circumstance, something greater than yourself that pulls you out of that safe setting and forces you to grow maybe sooner than you were ready to," Chalamet said. "The journey Paul's on is much greater and more significant than any journey I've ever been on."

Even before Paul arrives on Arrakis, he dreams of Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen girl. Fremen have adapted to the conditions on Arrakis and can breathe the spice-filled air with breathing devices.

The Fremen have experienced being displaced by the many empires trading control of Arrakis and harvesting their natural resources. The 25-year-old Zendaya said Chani has been forced to grow up fast.

"There's a sense of a deeper wisdom to her," Zendaya said. "To be thrown in situations where you're the youngest one in the room causes you to grow up a little bit faster."

Paul's parents expect him to play a role in their ruling over Arrakis. Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) train Paul to succeed Leto.


Jessica is part of the Bene Gesserit religion, which practices telepathy. Jessica pushes Paul to practice his Bene Gesserit powers despite his reluctance.

"He's a rebellious bloody teenager, and she knows that he has possibilities," Ferguson told UPI in a Zoom interview. "She's a mom just trying to give him all the tools that he needs, just that his tools are otherworldly and grander than most of us would relate to."

The 38-year-old Ferguson said Lady Jessica is content to operate in the background of Dune's politics. Ferguson said Jessica understands Leto is the ideal political spokesman because he is loved and respected among leaders.

"A loved person is a powerful person because he will get the votes," Ferguson said. "Jessica's powers are very different to his, which he recognizes later on when he asks to protect their son, not as a mother but as the power that she is."

When the Atreides begin mining spice on Arrakis, they realize Shaddam set them up to fail. The more Paul sees the costs of the battle for this resource, and the more Fremen he meets on Arrakis, the more Paul questions his family's empire.

Chalamet began booking TV roles when he was 14. Movie roles in the acclaimed gay romance Call Me By Your Name and Greta Gerwig's Little Women adaptation increased Chalamet's profile as a rising young actor.


Although Dune was published in 1965, Chalamet said he believes the themes resonate in 2021. Chalamet said a young generation motivated by social justice causes could see parallels in Dune.

"Its themes remain really relevant about fighting for what's right socially, fighting for what's right environmentally, standing up for groups that are easily oppressed or that don't have the agency to fight back," Chalamet said.

His co-star, Zendaya, also began acting young, appearing on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up at 14. She has enjoyed a music career and roles in films like The Greatest Showman and the Spider-Man trilogy, as well as TV's Euphoria.

Zendaya said she could relate to Chani being thrust into an epic struggle at a young age. She said she supports causes like environmentalism, but sometimes feels guilty investing in work and enjoying her success before those issues have been solved.

Zendaya said that while Dune is even more epic than modern-day struggles, she hopes audiences can relate to its heroes trying to change their futuristic world for the better. She said issues like climate change feel insurmountable to her generation, since they have been ongoing for so long.

"How much am I supposed to care before it's crippling?" Zendaya said. "How do I live and enjoy things and have fun, but also care?"


Paul and Chani face similar forces pulling at them, Zendaya said.

"I think that's a battle both of our characters probably deal with quite a bit," she said. "What is the right thing and how do I do the right thing and still survive, on a much bigger scale."

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