Advertisement

Christopher Walken Did Not Know About His Fatboy Slim- Dune Connection

Photograph: Warner Brothers; Collage: Gabe Conte

This story was featured in The Must Read, a newsletter in which our editors recommend one can’t-miss GQ story every weekday. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

In Dune: Part Two, Christopher Walken plays Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. He’s the ruler of the Known Universe, father to Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), and mastermind of the whole nefarious plot to bring down House Atreides. So, how does the Emperor of the Known Universe talk? Why, exactly like Christopher Walken. (It’s heartening to know that humanity retains a Queens accent 20,000 years in the future.)

But long before he starred as the high-ranking villain of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, long before he was made to kiss the ring by Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, Walken had another deep Dune connection. As many people have since pointed out, Walken starred in the 2001 music video for Fatboy Slim's “Weapon of Choice,” which may be the only big beat song that also happens to be a tribute to Frank Herbert’s Dune: the lyrics include “Walk without rhythm and you won't attract the worm,” a reference to the Fremen’s method of walking in the desert so as to not call sandworms.

The 80-year-old actor chatted with GQ about this strange coincidence—which he was hearing about for the first time—inhabiting the role of an emperor, and witnessing that final showdown scene.

GQ: Were you a Dune fan at all beforehand?

Christopher Walken: I was. The first movie, the one from a couple of years ago, I had seen a number of times on my TV and was very impressed. I liked Denis Villeneuve’s movies a lot—Arrival. And I thought it was a brilliant movie, the first Dune. So when he called, I was very pleased to meet him.

Had you read the books, or enjoyed the David Lynch version as well?

I had, a long time ago, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Very different. And I think at the time, I had even gotten the book—well, one of them. So I was familiar with it.

It was a Dino De Laurentiis [produced] movie, and I had been working with him. It was very entertaining and, I suppose like a lot of people at the time, I got a hold of the paperback.

At this point of your career, how do you prepare for a role like this?

I watched the first movie again to get familiar with the main characters, some of the names and so on. Somebody in the theater once said to me—I had to play a king in a play, and I said to this older actor, “How am I going to do that? I’m this guy from Queens.” And he said, “Don’t worry about it. If the other actors treat you like the king, you don’t have to do much.” I sort of relied on the trappings of the emperor.

Speaking of being from Queens—you have a very distinct voice. And you ended up using your regular voice in the movie, without any accent work. How did you and Denis come to the decision that the Emperor of the Known Universe would talk like a guy from Queens?

I hope I wasn’t too Queens. I tried to tone that down.

Many people have since pointed out that, in 2000, you starred in the music video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” a song which had lyrics directly about Dune. Had you made that connection at all when you got the Dune role?

No, you know, that’s the first I’ve heard of that. You telling me right now is the first time I’ve heard that. You mean the lyrics of the Fatboy Slim song refer to … yeah, in the movie they kind of do that slide and dance, when they walk in the desert, they do that kind of ice skating thing.

Yeah, so the lyric in the song is “walk without rhythm and you won’t attract the worm.”

It never crossed my mind, but you’re right.

A lot of people are resurfacing that video now.

He’s a very interesting guy, the Fatboy Slim guy. He must’ve read the book.

Norman Cook, Spike Jonze, and Christopher Walken at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards.

2001 MTV Video Music Awards

Norman Cook, Spike Jonze, and Christopher Walken at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards.
Evan Agostini

Was that dance improvised or choreographed?

No, it was totally choreographed. As a matter of fact, I worked on it for six weeks. And then we shot it very quickly because they shot it in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles and they had to close the place off to some extent. We had to shoot at night because there were fewer people around—I think we shot from midnight to six in the morning. But the preparation for it took a very long time. And it was choreographed, in fact, by Michael Rooney, who’s Mickey Rooney’s son.

It’s really having a second life right now. Pretty much any time I open the internet, someone is posting it.

I didn’t realize that. I don’t have a lot of technology. I don’t even have a cell phone, so there’s a lot of stuff I miss out on.

That’s a good way to live. There’s a new generation of young superstars in DuneTimothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh. How familiar were you of their work and were any of them standouts for you?

Part of the enthusiasm about playing the part was to be with those people. I had seen the first movie and had seen some of the actors in other things, and to be with Denis Villeneuve. And Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin and Stellan [Skarsgård]. And to shoot it in Budapest, which is a very beautiful city. So the whole thing was kind of a treat.

You’re a focal point of the culmination of the whole movie—the showdown between Timothée Chalamet and Austin Butler. What was the energy in the room during that?

That last scene took a number of days to shoot, and it included that big fight between the two of them. Which was quite amazing. I was nervous watching them, it was so real. And they had knives, and they were jumping around.

Any standout memories from your time on set?

When you make a movie, especially a big movie like that, it takes a lot of time. There’s a certain amount of waiting between takes and the actors all go off into a corner and you sit and you naturally talk to people. It’s always very interesting, you don’t know the actors very well but you do get to know them just by sitting and chatting every day. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of them. To sit with Austin Butler—he had just finished Elvis. I hadn’t seen it, but I remember he had been invited to do Saturday Night Live. He asked me what I thought and I said, “You absolutely have to, you’ll have a lot of fun.” Florence Pugh, my daughter, we sat and talked all day. She’s charming. It was a very nice job.

Do you think you’ll return for the third film?

I have no idea. I don’t know if they’re planning a third one. I guess we’ll see.

Originally Appeared on GQ


More Great Stories from GQ