Dune seems like it’s going to be a big, sweeping sci-fi epic, full of big fights, big ideas, and the cinematic dazzle that director Denis Villeneuve has craved. Interestingly, and perhaps less reported, we averted a horrifying reality based on one terrible decision.
While there’s plenty of wonderful vistas to gawk at in what we’ve seen of Dune so far, perhaps the most wonderful of all has been the stoic, bushy face of Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides, the powerful patriarch of his house and the new ruler of the planet Arrakis. He’s got nice coats. His family seems a bit weird but all right. But above all, he is Oscar Isaac, and more specifically, he is Oscar Isaac wearing one of the most gloriously thick beards to grace any kind of screen in 2021. Shockingly, according to Dune makeup and hair department head and prosthetic designer Donald Mowat, there very nearly could’ve been no gloriously thick beard at all.
“I personally didn’t see Oscar Isaac with the beard initially,” Mowat said in an interview with GQ this week, dedicated to, of course, the most important makeup decision of the entire movie. “When I was working on my Photoshops and concept characters — I kind of diligently pull reference materials — I didn’t. When I heard that this could happen and Oscar and Denis had talked about it, I was a little bit surprised.”
In Frank Herbert’s classic novel, Leto isn’t described as having a beard but has had one in past adaptations, including David Lynch’s 1984 film, where he was played by Jürgen Prochnow. It’s a price worth paying for a smidgen of creative licence in adaptation then, that we got Isaac’s commanding, Daddy-Duke-worthy facial hair, something that caused Mowat to turn to European royalty like Tsar Nicholas II and Prince Michael of Kent for inspiration. As far as care for said beard goes, GQ writes: “Maintenance involved shampooing and conditioning, brushing it out, and trimming it regularly — and, of course, the beard oil must flow.”
So majestic was Isaac’s beard growth — which took roughly 14 weeks — that it influenced Mowat’s hair choices with other members of House Atreides, in particular Timothée Chalamet’s Paul, the Duke’s son. “We kept [Paul’s] hair very wavy, a lion-like mane,” Mowat. “He’s like the young lion to the old — this mane of hair blown in the sand and the dust and the spice — but he is Lady Jessica’s son. He’s pale, he’s statuesque, he’s beautiful, but he’s got his father’s hair.” So powerful a beard it influences generations. Given that there’s enough smoothness in Dune right now as it is, it’s for the best we avoided more.