‘Dune’: Charlotte Rampling Almost Played Lady Jessica in ‘Dune’ Movie That Was Never Made

Many have tried and failed to make a good Dune adaptation. But Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is being lauded as the first successful adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel. In Dune, Charlotte Rampling plays the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, a Bene Gesserit leader and Lady Jessica Atreides’ former teacher. But decades ago, she had the chance to play Lady Jessica herself in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune movie. The scrapped film is so infamous, it’s dubbed “the greatest movie never made.” It had so much hype around it, many believed it would change cinema forever once released. But Rampling didn’t agree. She said no to the role because of one gross scene Jodorowsky wanted to include.

Charlotte Rampling in 'Dune' as the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. She sits in a dimly lit room wearing an all black robe, tall hat, and a black, beaded veil that covers her face.
Charlotte Rampling in ‘Dune’ | YouTube

How many ‘Dune’ movies are there?

Dune is the most successful sci-fi book series of all time. Herbert’s first Dune book came out in 1965. He wrote six books total. And after his death, his son and some collaborators published Dune spin-off books. David Lynch’s Dune (1984) is the only other Dune movie that actually made it to theaters. There were two Dune TV mini series titled Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) and Children of Dune (2003).

Lynch’s Dune starred Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica, and Siân Phillips as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. The shows starred Alec Newman as Paul, Saskia Reeves as Lady Jessica in the first show and Alice Krige as Lady Jessica in Children of Dune, and Zuzana Geislerová as the Reverend Mother. A young James McAvoy also played Paul’s son, Leto.

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Charlotte Rampling was almost in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune,’ dubbed ‘the greatest movie never made’

Jodorowsky’s Dune pre-dates all of these adaptations. The director started working on it in the 1970s. And his vision for the film was so daring, it created a lot of hype.

First of all, he wanted Dune to be up to 14 hours long. Pink Floyd was going to make the music for the film. And the cast was going to be even more star-studded than Villeneuve’s. Orson Welles was set to play the Baron. Salvador Dalí was going to play the emperor. And Jodorowsky agreed to Dalí’s price of $100,000 per hour. But he was creative and made it so the emperor would only be needed for one hour of screen time, according to Inverse.

The director’s own son, Brontis Jodorowsky, was going to play Paul Atreides. And Rampling was Jodorowsky’s ideal choice to play Lady Jessica. The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune breaks down the story of “the greatest film never made.” And in a 2014 interview with IndieWire, director Frank Pavich explained Rampling’s temporary involvement. He said:

“Jodorowsky was going to shoot part of the film in Algeria. They spoke to the Algerian government, and the Algerian army was going to play extras. Jodorowsky was looking for who was going to play Jessica, and he wanted a strong, beautiful woman, not a weak dainty woman. Someone with a real spiritual strength. He saw a movie with Charlotte Rampling, and thought she would be perfect.”

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Charlotte Rampling starred in ‘Dune’ decades after Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’ failed

Rampling was quick to turn down the role after learning more about Jodorowsky’s vision. She was convinced no one would watch it. And technically, she was right. (Funnily enough, Rebecca Ferguson almost turned down playing Lady Jessica in Villeneuve’s Dune too.) Pavich continued:

“They sent Charlotte Rampling the script, and she agreed to meet with Jodo before she had read the script. And in the script, there is a scene where a character named Rabban the Beast, part of the Harkonnen army. In order to insult Duke Leto, David Carradine, Rabban the Beast gets his army, the Algerian army, to pull down their pants in front of the palace and sh*t. So there’s going to be a scene of 2,000 extras defecating at once.

So here’s Charlotte Rampling, she agrees to meet with Jodo, she gets the script, she reads the script, and she says, ‘I can’t be in a movie where there’s 2,000 extras defecating on screen! I need to be in a movie that people are actually going to see! Who the hell is going to see this movie?’ Jodo said, ‘It was a great disappointment for me. A great disappointment.’ It’s kind of fantastic.”

Not only did the director want people pooping on screen, but he also planned on straying far from the source material. In Jodorowsky’s Dune, the director said he was aiming to make his Dune and not a loyal interpretation of the book.

Now Jodorowsky’s Dune is seen as more influential because it wasn’t made. Artist H.R. Giger, for example, made concept art for Dune. Had he not, his work on Alien might not have happened. And Rampling had the chance to be in Dune after all. Looks like she was holding out for a good version of it.