How Dune's Thufir Actor Channeled Sherlock Holmes Into The Mentat Role

This post contains spoilers for "Dune."

In Frank Herbert's "Dune," Mentat Thufir Hawat, the Master of Assassins for House Atreides, trains heir-to-the-throne Paul Atreides in the ways of military strategy and political maneuvering. Exceedingly gifted and cunning, Thufir emerges as an asset for the Atreides, especially during their takeover of Arrakis, the coveted Spice-rich desert planet that the people of Caladan knew very little about. Although Hawat's abilities are tested to the limits after the Atreides find themselves under attack, he successfully orchestrates a raid on Giedi Prime on Duke Leto's orders, striking the Harkonnens where it hurt the most by destroying their illegal spice reserves.

In Denis Villeneuve's "Dune," Stephen McKinley Henderson embodies the role of Thufir with equal parts panache and integrity, sporting a deeply intelligent gaze that turns milky-grey when he channels his abilities, along with a fashionable parasol to beat the heat on Arrakis. There is something immediately likable about Thufir even when we don't get the chance to know too much about him — he might not dominate the screen like the loyal and courageous Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), but makes his present felt nonetheless. He delivers in terms of what his character does best: supporting the Atreides by functioning as a human computer, while mining through vast amounts of data and offering the best course of action.

Given that Thufir is defined by his intelligence and the ability to deduce amid complicated socio-political situations, it is no surprise that the actor took inspiration from Sherlock Holmes, whose powers of deduction and reasoning border on the extraordinary.

Channeling the sharpest consulting detective for Dune

Although consulting detectives do not serve the same role as Mentats, they function on similar principles of mental prowess and conditioning. Henderson spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his love for Sherlock Holmes, and how it helped him connect with Thufir:

"The thing that helped me is that I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. So there was something about his power of deduction that made me feel connected, in a way, to play a Mentat. I thought of how they had to be a prototype, so to speak, in the mind of [Gene] Roddenberry for Spock, but it was really the fact that I was a math major. So I'm always able to find something in my background that helps me, and my love for math at one point was one of the things that helped me with Thufir."

As Henderson explained, his math background became an integral part of his connection to Thufir, as Mentats are known for their ability to excel in computer-like calculations that helped counter the repercussions of the Butlerian Jihad, which banned artificial machines of any kind. This meant that humanity had to train gifted individuals to replace thinking devices while factoring in the empathy innate in our kind, where a combination of the two would help shape the fate of the Known Universe.

Henderson also expanded on his approach to streamline his understanding of Thufir via Sherlock, stating how one needs to "eliminate all of the false things and the thing that's left must be the truth," especially when faced with foes like the Harkonnens. Henderson has clearly nailed this approach, and it is a sadness that his character was cut out of "Dune: Part Two" to accommodate the expansive dramatic developments in the sequel.