Dune’s Stephen McKinley Henderson Talks Jumping to Blockbusters and That Cool Parasol

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Dune has a stacked cast of actors both established and on the rise, from Timothée Chalamet as supposed messiah Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as his mother Jessica to Jason Momoa as loveable warrior Duncan Idaho. But few of the film’s stars have the “oh, it’s that guy!” energy of character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson. As Thufir Hawat, Henderson’s computer man for House Atreides isn’t the showiest role in the film, but it hasn’t stopped people from taking notice of his character…and also that cute parasol he sports while walking around the desert planet of Arrakis.

Henderson’s been around as an actor for decades, but in an interview with Vulture, he admitted that he never thought he’d be “in a film of this stature.” It was only recently that he really began to think of how his journey as a film and TV actor changed, which he partially attributed to Vulture listing him as one of the great character actors working today. What’s more, he hadn’t read the original Frank Herbert novel; a friend would occasionally quote passages from the book at him because of Henderson’s interest in theology and philosophy. It was only after director Denis Villeneuve sought him specifically for the role that he dove into the novel. “It became one of my favourite books,” he said, understanding the hype surrounding it.

The entire interview is good, and Henderson comes across as a sweet guy, as seen when he calls up the writer after the interview’s ended to gush about his role in Halle Berry’s upcoming MMA movie, Bruised. Having come primarily from theatre work, Henderson offers up an interesting view into the larger than life world of Dune. Calling it “Shakespearean,” he pointed out how everything hinges on Paul. “It’s not that they know what a messianic journey he’s on — he’s simply the crown prince of the House Atreides who will one day be king…the linchpin for this wonderful film of Denis’ is that Paul’s future is important.”

When it came to playing Thufir in the film and spouting off a lot of sci-fi jargon, Henderson focused on the character’s empathy, as seen when he offers up his resignation following a failed assassination attempt on Paul. That’s where the parasol came in: while shooting in Budapest on a hot day, Henderson was offered a parasol by someone to protect him while he was sitting down. When Villeneuve took notice, they quickly agreed that Thufir would have a parasol. “It was just one of those spontaneous things…it’s something that someone not human would be attracted to. I just think it’s the desire to really be a part of these wonderful people as the alien that he is,” Henderson said, adding that a parasol is rather “civilized” for his character to have. “It just says so much about where he is at the time and that he’s taking care of himself. He was a young man once.”

Dune is in theatres and on HBO Max now.

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