Denis Villeneuve on Zendaya’s Role in ‘Dune: Part 2’ and Wanting to Direct an Adam McKay-Written Comedy

Awards Circuit Podcast: Villeneuve on that "Dune" Oscar nom haul — except director. Also, the Roundtable on the latest awards buzz.

Denis Villeneuve
Julian Ungano

The most shocking snub of this year’s Oscar nominations was Denis Villeneuve’s omission from the best directing category for his science-fiction epic “Dune.” “It’s better to be in that position than the opposite,” Villeneuve tells Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast. “I prefer people say you should have been there instead of ‘what the hell are you doing there?’ I’m not making movies to get awards recognition. If you do that, you’re not walking the right path. I make cinema because I love the art form of cinema. I love making movies. If you had told me a year ago that we would get 10 nominations, including best picture, I would have laughed and said, ” You are out of your mind.”

On this episode of the award-winning “Variety Awards Circuit Podcast,” double Oscar-nominee Villeneuve discusses his passion for creating the world of “Dune” and that best director snub. He teases what to expect with “Dune Part Two,” including working with Zendaya, which he says her involvement with Part One “a promise.”

In addition, he praises his phenomenal team of artisans, who are all nominated for every technical Oscar category, only the sixth film in history to achieve this feat. The filmmaker also chats about two other projects on his docket, including “Rendezvous with Rama,” which he calls “‘Arrival’ on steroids,” and the remake of “Cleopatra.” He also shares that he wants Adam McKay to write him a dark comedy to direct and the possibility of wanting to make a French-Canadian musical. Finally, he talks about the Academy’s decision to pre-record eight awards and edit them into the telecast. Listen below!

The Academy announced on Feb. 22 the decision for several major categories to not be presented live on the air during this year’s telecast to deliver a more streamlined and television-friendly experience. The awards that will be handed out earlier in the ceremony are for documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live-action short and sound.

Villeneuve says: “When people talk about ‘technical’ awards, they are not ‘technical,’ they are artistic. Sound design is an art form. Editing is the most important art form of cinema. It’s all about art. So the beauty of the Academy Awards is to put the spotlight on the people who work in the shadows. I thought it was a sad decision. I think they threw the baby with the bathwater. I understand that they are under tremendous pressure. I understand that the Oscars are, in a way, victims of the fact that broadcast TV is slowly fading away. But you cannot [move] away from the nature of the Academy Awards to get more people to watch. It must be a show where every single art form is celebrated, and I think that is a regrettable decision.”

Villeneuve addresses the rumors of Oscar-nominee Florence Pugh (“Little Women”) joining the “Dune 2” cast but shares, “things are not solidified.” Nonetheless, he is a “big fan of Florence.” Regarding Zendaya, who played Chani and had a minor role in his nominated film, he says: “For Zendaya, I will say Part One was a promise. I know that we saw a glimpse of her in Part One, but in Part Two, she’ll have a prominent part. We will follow Timothée [Chalamet] and Zendaya on their adventures in the desert. That’s the thing that excited me most about going back to Arrakis is to spend time with those characters again.”

There’s one scene coming in “Dune Part Two” that Villeneuve acknowledges is very complicated to get right, saying, “It involves sandworms that’s going to be one of the beautiful challenges of my life. And I know if I do it right, that will be the scene.”

The Canadian-born filmmaker has loved cinema for his entire life, earning his first Oscar nomination for best director for “Arrival” (2015). He’s also responsible for giving legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins the vehicle to win his first Oscar after multiple losses for “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), which he called “one of the great honors” of his life. Nothing is planned regarding a possible third outing for the Ridley Scott venture, but Villeneuve says, “it would be difficult for me to decline an invitation, but I’m not expecting one.”

Distributed by Warner Bros., “Dune“ is nominated in production design (Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos), cinematography (Greig Fraser), costume design (Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan), film editing (Joe Walker), makeup and hairstyling (Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr), sound (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett), visual effects (Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer) and original score (Hans Zimmer). In addition, Villeneuve received noms as co-writer for adapted screenplay (shared with Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth) and co-producer for best picture (shared with Mary Parent and Cale Boyter).

Also on this episode, the Awards Circuit roundtable discusses the latest buzz on the final march to the Oscars.

Variety Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.