- “A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune” chronicles the struggles and challenges behind the making of Lynch’s polarizing adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic novel.
- The book features interviews with cast and crew members, including Zach Galligan and Virginia Madsen, who reflect on the casting process and the intense pressure of auditioning for the lead role in such a high-profile project.
- This comprehensive oral history provides an in-depth exploration of the highs and lows of the adaptation and is a must-read for fans of Lynch’s Dune and those interested in the behind-the-scenes of the movie’s troubled production.
David Lynch’s polarizing adaptation of Dune is getting an extensive behind-the-scenes chronicling in A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History. Long before Denis Villeneuve scored widespread acclaim for his take on the material, Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic novel made its way to the screen with the 1984 movie written and directed by Lynch with an ensemble cast led by future frequent collaborator Kyle MacLachlan. Plagued by studio meddling and lengthy source material to adapt, Dune became a critical and commercial failure upon its release but has since garnered a cult following.
Ahead of the book’s release, Screen Rant is proud to present an exclusive excerpt from A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History. The excerpt, as seen below, features interviews with Gremlins star Zach Galligan, Virginia Madsen, and the movie’s production office assistant Craig Campobasso, in which they reflect on the casting process of the infamous 1984 movie, namely Galligan’s feelings of losing the role of Paul Atreides. Check out the exclusive excerpt below:
The most sought-after role in Dune was the lead, Paul Atreides, for whom the production considered many rising young actors, including an 18-year-old Zach Galligan fresh off filming a lead role in the surreal comedy Nothing Lasts Forever, but before he scored his iconic part in Gremlins. At the behest of Jane Jenkins (The Casting Company), Galligan came in for a New York City casting session on August 19, 1982 (coincidentally, exactly 40 years to the day I interviewed him) at 4:45pm, and then again on August 23 at 6pm.
ZACH GALLIGAN (Actor, Gremlins): Standard operating procedure is I went in on the 19th and met with Jane or Janet [Hirshenson] for their casting pre-screen so she could take a look at me to be like, “Is he suitable? Does he look okay? Is he bad? Is he covered with tattoos?” Am I familiar with the books? Was I familiar with David Lynch’s work? The 23rd is when I went in and met David. The Dune project with Lynch attached to it had a lot of heat, so everybody who went up for it . . . it wasn’t like you were just going up for another movie. You were going up for a BIGGIE. I was way more nervous for my Dune interview than I was for my Gremlins interview. Gremlins was Spielberg, but it was also not Spielberg, it was Joe Dante, but it’s still Spielberg so it was exciting. Going up for Dune, you could feel it in the waiting room, you can feel the tension. The fact that you had no script to go over, which in some ways is your safety net, made it worse. I remember very vividly hanging in the waiting room with other actors, and people are getting up and pacing, doing practice questions in their heads. Some people would do the opposite; they’d sit and deep-breathe and close their eyes and try and calm themselves. It was a big deal going up for that, going up for the lead. That’s when I felt like, “Okay, I did Nothing Lasts Forever—I’m in the big leagues now.” I have very fond feelings for Jane. I always thought she was a very nice woman. She met me before for The Outsiders. Along with Juliet Taylor and a few other classic ’80s casting directors, she was the epitome of nice, kind, and really interested in actors.
VIRGINIA MADSEN (Actor, “Princess Irulan”): Jane and Janet Hirshenson were THE casting directors at that time. There were only like four of them that were important, but you weren’t going to go anywhere unless you had the support of those two women. Unlike today, that was a time when what they were doing was trying to make you look the best you could look. Not physically, they were more like acting coaches. They wanted all the actors to be really good before they appeared to the director and producers.
Although he was well-prepped by Jenkins, Galligan does not have fond memories of Lynch’s “speed-dating” casting methodology.
ZACH GALLIGAN (Actor, Gremlins): What Lynch did that is weird—and accounts for some of his casting—is he doesn’t read actors. You’re literally just going in there and meeting the man and talking to him for 15 minutes. It may have been longer, but it feels like it was a 15- or 20-minute conversation with him. It was nerve wracking in a way because I’m 18 and thinking—probably stupidly—“I just want to be what this guy wants me to be.” You want to please him and be the character somehow, but how do you do that? That’s impossible. Like, “Okay, how are you doing today?” “Oh, I was thinking of, like, becoming an emperor and taking over the planet.” How do you audition for Paul-Muad’Dib, you know? I knew there was no way to do that, so I just decided I was going to go in and be myself and hope that was good enough.
CRAIG CAMPOBASSO (Production Office Assistant): Even Johanna Ray—who’s my casting mentor and became David’s casting director from Blue Velvet on—would just bring in actors for him to meet, and he would either say yes or no. That was it. We never really saw anybody read. The only reading was during the screen tests.
ZACH GALLIGAN (Actor, Gremlins): When I met him in 1982, David was chipper, upbeat, something very Midwestern-feeling about him with his pompadour hairstyle and genial demeanor. You walk in the door, and it’s like, “How the heck are ya today?” Almost something out of Fargo. People have a hard time believing that’s real, but he’s exactly like that. He’s like, “What have you been doing? What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Have you lived in New York all your life? What’s it like living in Manhattan? Wow, gee, so you just finished high school? What are your plans now? Shucks, it’s great to meet you.” To me, as an actor, that was very frustrating because I love the Dune books; I knew all of the dialogue. I would say to my friends, “fear is the mind-killer.” It was frustrating because this is such a random and not merit-based procedure. I wanted to show him what I could do. I was on a roll. I had just worked with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, and I was feeling good about myself. “Hey, I’m an 18-year-old up-and-comer! Let me show him what I can do!” And it was just like, “Well, he either likes me or he doesn’t.” If you look at the casting in some of his movies—I won’t name names—it is kind of like, “Well, that person got lucky in the meeting.” To me, it defeats the purpose because the whole point of acting is to not be yourself, to vanish into a character the way Sean Penn did in Milk or I Am Sam or Spicoli. The feedback I got from Jane was, “David just didn’t respond, and it’s not going any further.” I can remember saying to my agent, because I was 18 and a little whiny, “That’s so unfair that I don’t get a shot to read.” There are other directors that do the same approach. Jon Amiel, who did Copycat with Sigourney Weaver, he did that approach. I met with Richard Lester who directed A Hard Day’s Night. A lot of British people did not read actors; they just had the assumption that, “If a casting director is sending them to me, they can do anything. Let’s just see how they are and if I can get along with them.”
Why A Masterpiece In Disarray Is Perfect For David Lynch’s Dune Fans
Even before Lynch got his hands on the material, a Dune movie had undergone a variety of incarnations in its development for the screen, with one of the most notable being that of Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose extensive work led to a documentary chronicling the making of the failed effort. Lynch’s Dune got a similar treatment nearly a decade later when streaming service ARROW entitled The Sleeper Must Awaken, which featured new interviews with a variety of cast and crew, as well as archival interviews with Herbert and Lynch.
Unlike said documentary, A Masterpiece in Disarray, written by film writer and journalist Max Evry, offers a much more expansive picture of the struggles to produce Lynch’s Dune. Beginning with insight into the actual creation of Herbert’s novel to the troubles Lynch experienced during and after production, Evry makes full use of his 560-page book to explore the highs and lows of the adaptation. Additionally, the book features new interviews not only with Lynch and much of his cast and crew but also with those who failed to be part of the movie, including Galligan, as seen in the excerpt above.
Given that David Lynch’s Dune has enjoyed many reassessments in the nearly 40 years since it was released, A Masterpiece in Disarray makes for an important addition to the collection of those in its cult following. Additionally, since Lynch has worked tirelessly to distance himself from the project over time, his willingness to sit down with Evry and share a lot of new insight for the movie should add even more intrigue for those curious to learn the maligned history of the project.
A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History hits shelves on September 19!