Zendaya Struggled To Portray Chani's Intense Balance Of Emotions In One Dune: Part Two Scene

This article contains mild spoilers for "Dune: Part Two."

Crying on cue is a difficult task for most actors, but do you know what can be even more difficult? Only crying a little. This was a major concern for Kyle MacLachlan in the 1984 "Dune" movie; although one scene called for him to shed a single tear, he found himself either not crying at all or bawling his eyes out. That in-between area, it turns out, takes a surprising amount of skill to pull off well.

Such was the case for Zendaya during one of her character Chani's most pivotal scenes in "Dune: Part 2." When she finds Paul (Timothée Chalamet) in a coma after drinking the dangerous Water of Life, Chani needs to let out a tear to help return him to consciousness. But because she's Fremen, she knows that any more tears than one would be a waste of water. In a Collider interview where Zendaya was asked which scene made her most nervous to film, this was the one that first came to mind. "Wanting to evoke emotion but not being able to cry, and what does that mean?" she said. "Because I'm used to just like, 'Alright, well, let's just cry!' And how do you just hold them right there and not let them fall?"

Making things extra difficult was the understanding that Chani, like most characters in the "Dune" universe, is more composed than the average person. Having to show emotion while playing a character who generally doesn't want to reveal any emotion is a tough balancing act, one that doesn't always come naturally. "It was, for me, just about holding on to [Chani]'s composure, but also being emotional," Zendaya explained. "I remember there's a scene where I accidentally cried, and then they got rid of it in post."

An ode to subtler acting

The other challenge with the scene was simply making sure Chani's tear fell at the exact right moment. "[The tear] can only fall when a specific thing happens," Zendaya explained. The result is a stark contrast from the actor's emotional scenes in "Euphoria," where her character, Rue Bennet, often cries in a chaotic and guttural fashion. Rue's episode-long breakdown in season 2's standout episode "Stand Still Like the Hummingbird" won Zendaya an Emmy for Best Leading Actress; it was definitely deserved, but it was also the sort of noisy and provocative performance that's designed to get everyone's attention. Everyone loves a loud tearful monologue, but a subtle, restrained performance can be just as interesting, and just as important to the story.

This is maybe one of the most fascinating aspects of the "Dune" movies so far: they've served as an impressive showcase for most of the cast's acting talents, even as the material they're given is not the type that usually wins awards or attracts a ton of praise. Almost every character in this franchise is stoic and borderline robotic. It's so easy to imagine a version of their performances that's reminiscent of the wooden deliveries throughout the "Star Wars" prequels. Those characters were meant to be stoic too, but there it felt cheesy and unconvincing. It's difficult to give a nuanced, subtle performance while working deep in the hot Abu Dhabi desert for weeks on end, but folks like Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet, and Rebecca Ferguson have somehow made it look easy.