Taiwanese actor Chang Chen landed Dune role through networking

Taiwanese actor Chang Chen as Dr Wellington Yueh in Dune.
Taiwanese actor Chang Chen as Dr Wellington Yueh in Dune. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

SINGAPORE - Taiwanese actor Chang Chen has a supporting role in the science-fiction blockbuster Dune. The 44-year-old plays Dr Wellington Yueh, a physician employed by the aristocratic Atreides family.

The film, based on author Frank Herbert's classic 1965 space fantasy, is the first time that the actor has worked with the respected French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

Dune is showing in cinemas.

Proving that it pays to network, the actor tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview that he got the part after meeting Villeneuve at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

"Actually, I did not go through an audition and interview process," says Chang.

The actor's status on the arthouse and festival circuit was assured after appearing in two celebrated films.

He starred in Edward Yang's Golden Horse-winning teen drama A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and took on a strong supporting role in gay romantic drama Happy Together (1997), winner of the Best Director award for Wong Kar Wai at Cannes in 1997.

Both Chang and Villeneuve were on the competition jury at the 2018 Cannes festival.

"We hit it off quite well and one day, I was invited by the director to play a role in Dune. I accepted immediately. It was an easy decision," recalls Chang.

The actor, who also played the bandit Lo in the martial arts fantasy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), says he is a fan of Villeneuve's science-fiction works. They are the alien-contact drama Arrival (2016) and the android thriller Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

Taking place on various planets, each dominated by one of several noble space-faring houses, Dune tells the story of the Atreides family, in particular Paul Atreides, played by American actor Timothee Chalamet.

Their rivals, the Harkonnen clan, seek to wrest the desert planet Arrakis away from the Atreides' control. Arrakis is where the valuable commodity melange, which prolongs life and makes faster-than-light travel possible, is mined. Dr Yueh, as part of the Atreides household, becomes entangled in the conflict.

To prepare, Chang read the novel and rewatched the 1984 adaptation directed by David Lynch.

Lynch is the award-winning director of films such as the Oscar-nominated biography The Elephant Man (1980), but his version of the Herbert book was a commercial and critical failure, with many reviewers criticising its incomprehensible structure and fixation on grotesqueness.

Chang, however, disagrees with negative opinions.

"I have always liked Lynch films, including his version of Dune," he says.

With Villeneuve, however, the actor says he enjoyed the experience of working on a large set that placed an emphasis on real locations and props rather than green screens that can be painted in by digital artists in post-production.

Scenes set on Arrakis were filmed in Wadi Rum, a desert valley in Jordan, and in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

"The director's approach was to create a realistic set and environment for the actors and the crew. When I first saw the set, I felt that this world he created, including the props, was real," he says.

"I found myself fully immersed in a realistic world, so my emotions and performance came naturally."

  • Dune is showing in cinemas.