‘Dune’: The Pivotal Shot Rebecca Ferguson Pitched to Denis Villeneuve

Dune‘s Rebecca Ferguson and Denis Villeneuve had a great actor/director dynamic while filming. This made room for Ferguson to make a suggestion for a Dune scene that ended up in the final cut. And not only did Villeneuve keep Ferguson’s idea for Lady Jessica Atreides in the sci-fi movie — now the No. 1 movie in the world — but it was also part of Dune‘s last scene. Ferguson revealed the moment and explained Dune‘s ending in a recent interview.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Dune.]

'Dune' director Denis Villeneuve and Rebecca Ferguson at the 'Dune' premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Sept. 11, 2021. They stand outside in front of a geometric backdrop. Villeneuve (L) wears a black shirt and grey suit. Ferguson (R) wears a black dress with one twisted strap on her left shoulder.
‘Dune’ director Denis Villeneuve and Rebecca Ferguson | Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images

Rebecca Ferguson made an important contribution to Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ ending

Lady Jessica is one of Dune‘s most important characters. She’s the mother of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and concubine of Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). She’s also an incredibly powerful woman of the Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit is an ancient matriarchal society with incredible abilities. Jessica trained Paul in the ways of the Bene Gesserit in hopes that he is the Kwisatz Haderach — a prophesied male Bene Gesserit destined to rule the universe.

After the Emperor has the Harkonnens attack House Atreides on Arrakis, decimating its military forces and killing Duke Leto, Jessica and Paul escape into Arrakis’ sprawling desert in search of the Fremen. The Fremen are the indigenous people of the planet who have successfully concealed their population size and strength from the Harkonnens for decades. Paul and Jessica do eventually find the Fremen. And Dune ends with them being led to the rest of the Fremen society by Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Javier Bardem), and others.

Zendaya has the last line in Dune (“This is only the beginning”), but Ferguson has the last frame. She looks on at Paul and Chani ahead of her. And then, her face morphs into a look that’s impossible to interpret. This is what Ferguson pitched to Villeneuve. And her comments explain Dune‘s ending. She told IndieWire:

“Denis and I were playing with different things, and I remember saying, ‘Just stay on me for two seconds, I want to try something.’ I gave him that look, and I remember thinking, ‘That’s Jessica, isn’t it?’ This is the moment of letting him go. She knows when to step down or to back away and give space. But what we get to feel is, it’s not over, this too shall pass.”

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‘Dune’s Rebecca Ferguson on Lady Jessica Atreides’ strength

Rebecca’s performance as Jessica is one of the highlights of the film. She’s steadfast and immovable in her love for Paul and Leto. And she’ll go against orders from the Bene Gesserit in the name of that love. Charlotte Rampling’s Reverend Mother criticizes her for that, but Jessica — while fearful for her son’s safety — doesn’t let her beliefs to be shaken.

And as it turns out, Jessica is right to trust her gut. The Bene Gesserit helped plan the attack House Atreides, and they didn’t prevent Leto’s death, as he “meant nothing” to them. They did secure Jessica and Paul’s safety, albeit just by banning the Harkonnens from killing them deliberately. Jessica knows more danger lies ahead for her, Paul, and her unborn child.

Villeneuve always knew he would make Jessica’s role more important in his Dune adaptation. Ferguson said Jessica’s strength is “enormous.” She said:

“Her rebelliousness, her belief in herself, and her beliefs and her love for Leto are bigger than the quest that she is sent to do. That’s an interesting starting point for a character and a journey. There’s rebellion within her. She will do whatever she wants for her beliefs and her love. That’s power, there’s an enormous strength in that.”

Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in 'Dune.' She wears a formal light blue gown with blue tulle around her head, neck, and shoulders. Timothée Chalamet stands in the background as Paul Atreides wearing a black formal jacket with a high neck and gold chains on his right shoulder.
Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides in ‘Dune’ | Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

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‘Dune: Part Two’ comes out in 2023

Jessica’s “quest” from the Bene Gesserit was to produce daughters for Leto. (Bene Gesserit women can control their fertility and choose the sex of their children.) She defied orders and produced her son. That defiance is what allows Dune‘s plot to happen in the first place.

Jessica and Paul’s mother/son relationship will be explored further in Dune: Part Two. The sequel was green-lit by Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. following Dune‘s successful opening weekend. The movie is set for an Oct. 20, 2023 theatrical release. And Villeneuve says to prepare for a lot more action.

Dune: Part One is like an appetizer,” he told Nerdist. “And Dune: Part Two is the main meal.”