Part Two’ Expands Zendaya’s Character

Zendaya had top billing in 2021’s Dune — but it’s in the new sequel that the actress truly gets the chance to shine. 

Dune: Part Two, in theaters now, features the 27-year-old Euphoria star reprising her role as Chani, a warrior of the Fremen people who hide in the deserts of planet Arrakis. (Spoiler alert: as trailers have revealed, the sequel includes far more Zendaya than in the first installment.)

Dune introduced Chani via the prophetic visions of Paul Atreides, played by Timothée Chalamet. When he finally meets the young woman in person and is taken further into the desert, she promises this marks “only the beginning” in what turns out to be the movie’s closing moments. 

Writer-director Denis Villeneuve designed his Dune adaptation as a two-parter covering the plot of author Frank Herbert’s original novel that in 1965 became a science fiction classic. A follow-up was not guaranteed, however; it wasn’t until days after Dune premiered in theaters and on HBO Max in 2021 that production company Legendary Entertainment and distributor Warner Bros. greenlit a sequel due to its box office — and later Oscar-winning — success.

Because Chani appears primarily in the second half of Herbert’s book as Paul adapts to life in the Arrakis desert, Zendaya’s role in Part One served mostly as a set-up to the events of a sequel. 

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in “Dune: Part Two”.

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures

For many Zendaya fans, her seven minutes of screentime in the two-and-a-half-hour movie were a letdown, especially after the Spider-Man star had appeared in countless press events and premieres. 

Villeneuve, 56, admitted to The Los Angeles Times in 2021 that “some characters that are less developed… I’m keeping for the second film — that’s the way I found the equilibrium. We tried in this movie to stay as close as possible to Paul’s experience. Then, in the second one, I will have time to develop some characters that were left aside a little bit.”

As Zendaya said in an interview with PEOPLE, her audition for the role of Chani predated the release of the HBO hit that considerably raised the star’s profile and made her the youngest-ever Emmy winner for best actress in a drama series. 

“Before Euphoria came out,” she said, “I heard that Denis was making this and that there might be something that I could do in it. I was like, ‘Hi, can I audition?’”

Zendaya revealed to Entertainment Weekly earlier this month that her appearance in Part One amounted to a week of filming in the deserts of Abu Dhabi and Jordan. However, she said, that made her all the more excited to revisit Chani: “It was fun to figure out and live with her a little bit longer because a week wasn’t enough!”

Villeneuve added that in the latter half of Herbert’s novel, Chani and Lady Jessica (played in the movies by Rebecca Ferguson) “are a bit more in the background — which I didn’t like, because I am absolutely in love with both characters… I felt it was more meaningful to give them more substance and presence, their own agendas.”

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Zendaya at the Mexico City premiere of “Dune: Part Two” on Feb. 6.

Medios y Media/Getty Images

For Chani, that meant expanding the role beyond simply being Paul’s love interest. Dune: Part Two sees the character wrestling with the tension between falling for a foreigner and disagreeing with him ideologically as he embraces becoming the Fremen people’s saintly icon. “It’s constantly something that she’s battling inside of herself,” Zendaya told EW. “That gave me something more to hold onto, and I really appreciated that.”

As Villeneuve further explained, giving Chani “a different agenda” than her passive acceptance of Paul in Herbert’s original novel enabled him to “bring a different perspective to the story.” 

“[Herbert] was disappointed at how people perceived Paul,” the French-Canadian filmmaker told the outlet. “In his mind, Dune was a cautionary tale — a warning against charismatic figures. He felt that Paul was perceived as a hero, when he wanted to do the opposite.”

Dune Messiah, the second novel in the series published in 1969, “makes it very clear this story is not a victory, it’s a tragedy,” said Villeneuve. “With humility, I hope that this adaptation is closer to Frank Herbert’s original intentions. I used Chani’s character to do so.”

(Left-right:) Anya Taylor-Joy, Souheila Yacoub, Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet, Denis Villeneuve, Austin Butler, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Florence Pugh and Lea Seydoux at the New York premiere of “Dune: Part Two” Feb. 25.

Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Mild spoilers ahead: considering Part Two ends with Paul and Chani both alive — and their romantic relationship uncertain, given how much she objects to his becoming a messianic leader — fans could see even more Zendaya if the Dune franchise continues. 

Herbert wrote five Dune novels, while his son Brian wrote further sequels, prequels and spin-offs within the literary universe. In 2021, Villeneuve told EW that he would like to make “at least threeDune movies. 

Last August, the filmmaker told Empire that “there are words on paper” for a third film. “If I succeed in making a trilogy, that would be the dream,” he said. 

Dune: Part Two, costarring Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Léa Seydoux, Anya Taylor-Joy, Christopher Walken, and returning cast members Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem, is in theaters now.

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