Kyle MacLachlan Has Trouble Nailing a Scene While Filming ‘Dune’ in Oral History of Sci-Fi Epic (Exclusive Excerpt)

Just because “Dune: Part Two” has been pushed back to 2024 doesn’t mean that your fall can’t be filled with delicious “Dune”-y goodness (the spice, if you will).

Max Evry’s “A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s ‘Dune,’ An Oral History” traces the development, production and reception to the “Eraserhead” filmmaker’s take on Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi novel. The book, to be released by 1984 Publishing on Sept. 19, is a gorgeous artifact (those red pages) and richly rewarding, even if you have only a passing interest or understanding of the initial attempt at a “Dune” adaptation. As you can imagine, things are messy, and in this exclusive excerpt, star Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young and others recount a particularly fraught sequence that MacLachlan was having trouble with. Enjoy!

David Lynch’s ability to help actors bring their best to the table was often tested. During the filming of the knife fight with Jamis (Judd Omen), Kyle MacLachlan had difficulty in the scene directly after when he has to cry over Jamis’ death. The whole sequence (including the fight) was shot but ultimately cut out of the picture, with MacLachlan admitting to Starlog that he was “pleased to see it gone.” 

KENNETH GEORGE GODWIN: That was a massive setup. It was an Aguilas Rojas location. They had a huge construction crane with a massive metal cable that the camera was hanging on. The camera operator was basically dragging it around on this cable. You’re following the fight down in this gully. The follow-up to that fight—which narratively was really, really important—was after he kills the first man he’s ever killed—Jamis— Paul cries, and the Fremen camp are like, “why are you leaking water for this guy?” It’s like, “this guy is different from us.” That’s the beginning of him becoming their messiah. It was a big night.

KYLE MACLACHLAN: In the book, the structure was that I’m drawn into this fight and I don’t want to fight. There’s a delay, so it doesn’t happen right then; we go back, and it’s more a ceremonial thing. What I’m trying to get at is there’s a period of time between the actual killing and the realization. It was challenging to go through the idea that you’re killing and the adrenaline is running through you—the kind of energy that has—and then to stop that and suddenly have, “Oh, I just killed someone, and now I’m crying because I killed them.” The book had set it up perfectly so you killed him, there’s a period of time, and then as I am expressing my feelings—having thought about it for a while—and expressing my relationship to Jamis . . . It’s one of the beautiful parts of the book where all of his things are scattered around, and people come forward and say, “I’m going to take this baliset he had because I remember he saved me in the valley of the birds when we were being . . .” or “he gave me water.” Some connection that each of the tribe people had, and then I go forward and say, “Jamis taught me something,” and that’s when that emotion comes.

PAUL M. SAMMON: Kyle became upset because he was having trouble summoning up the proper tearful response to his killing of Jamis. It was more an actor’s frustration at not being able to tap into the required emotion, especially when he had hundreds of people standing around watching during a major story sequence.

KYLE MACLACHLAN: All of a sudden, that’s all been squeezed like this. I’m like, “All right, so I’m killing him and now I’m supposed to be crying.” I was young, and when you’re that age, that’s one of the things that stops you dead in your tracks, because you know what’s coming and you’re like, “Ahhh, I don’t know.” But I wasn’t really helped by the situation, to be honest, looking back.

PAUL M. SAMMON: David was very understanding and kind during that, by the way. He supported Kyle instead of criticizing him.

SEAN YOUNG: David really believed in him. He had to fight for Kyle. There were a lot of other people who had more credit. David won that fight, so he would take a lot of time with Kyle. He wanted to be vindicated for that choice.

KYLE MACLACHLAN: They said, “Okay, we’re going to do this thing, we’ll give you this menthol.” And I was like, “What’s that?” They said, “You breathe this and . . .” and I was like, “Ugh, that’s a cop-out. That’s not the way it should be done. It’s got to be organic.” I was all into that idea, but they gave me this menthol and it’s still not working. I’m frustrated. I’m like, “Goddammit!” I rubbed my eyes like this, get the menthol IN my eyes, like, “Oh, my God!” Then I’m really crying. It didn’t work. Didn’t work the way it was supposed to. I look back and understand because it wasn’t really an organic progression, it was squeezed, and that’s just not going to work. I love the scene in the book, the fact that he had to fight, he was forced into this thing. That leaves you where you really don’t know what you’re thinking. Then you have this little passage of time, and there’s the moment of mourning, you know what I mean? That’s when the realization hit him. That progression makes sense to me as the actor, but it wasn’t the way it was.

According to an interview with Francesca Annis, an unnamed actor was screaming at both her and MacLachlan during the scene, making the situation worse. Young supported a rattled Annis (not used to this type of on-set treatment) by telling her that actor’s performance would likely wind up on the cutting room floor, which it did. 

PAUL M. SAMMON: Francesca Annis was referring to Judd Omen, who played Jamis. Judd was doing a Method thing, shouting out—just before takes—the vilest profanities at Jessica and Paul—not Francesca and Kyle!—to steer himself into what Judd felt was the proper mindset for Jamis: homicidal rage. Actors do all kinds of things to find the moment. Whatever works, you know? Although that was one of the more memorable “methods” I’ve witnessed.

SEAN YOUNG: As an actor, when I’m working with other actors, we all know who’s the deadwood. We all know who it is. We may not say it, but we’ll avoid them. It’s like you’re in a dance class. You know the dancer that’s bad; you can’t fake it.

KENNETH GEORGE GODWIN: I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with Judd Omen. He was very nervous, but they shot the entire fight scene. They cut all of that out in the theatrical, and even when they stuck most of the fight back into the extended TV cut, they still cut that ending with the crying off.

“A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s ‘Dune,’ An Oral History” will be available via all fine booksellers on Sept. 19.

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