Pop Culture

How Oscar Isaac Got His Immaculate Dune Beard

The film’s head of makeup and hair lets us in on the Duke’s beard secrets. 

A collage of Oscar Issac in dune with a big beard on a background of sand dunes and a purple sunset

Photos by Everett Collection, Getty Images; Collage by Gabe Conte

When I entered the theater to see Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation, I knew very little about Dune. I knew that it was based on an influential 1965 sci-fi book by Frank Herbert. I knew that Timothée Chalamet would be running around the desert in a little body suit. I knew that there were giant worms that looked like buttholes. Most importantly, I knew that Oscar Isaac would be sporting one of the most magnificent onscreen beards of all time.

When I left the theater after seeing Dune, I knew slightly more but still had many questions left unanswered. (Flash forward to me emerging from an internet rabbit hole to find myself sweatily reading an old blog post titled “The Theology of Dune.”) But one thing was clearer than ever: Oscar Isaac’s beard really did look great.

It’s lush but immaculately trimmed, rugged but entirely precise. This is not the result of lazily forgetting to shave for a few days and then figuring you might as well keep going; this is a beard cultivated with intention and purpose. It’s a beard that lets you exclaim stuff like “Desert power!” and have people actually take you seriously.

So I called up Donald Mowat, the makeup and hair department head and prosthetic designer for the film, to ask him how it came together. “It’s an imposing beard,” he told me. “It’s an important beard, if you will.” I will!

First, a small bit of backstory on the man attached to the beard: Isaac plays Duke Leto Atreides I, father to Paul Atredies (Timothée Chalamet) and partner to Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). In the book, the Duke is described as “tall, olive-skinned. His thin face held harsh angles warmed only by deep gray eyes.” No beard to speak of. David Lynch’s gloriously disastrous 1984 adaptation gives actor Jürgen Prochnow a notably sparser beard, while the 2000 miniseries Children of Dune cast William Hurt as a clean-shaven and inexplicably blonde Duke.

Jürgen Prochnow as as Duke Leto Atreides in Dune, 1984.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Universal

William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides in Dune the TV miniseries, 2000. 

Everett Collection / Courtesy of New Amsterdam Entertainment

There was briefly a chance we would get a smooth Duke here too. “I personally didn’t see Oscar Isaac with the beard initially,” Mowat told me. “When I was working on my Photoshops and concept characters—I kind of diligently pull reference materials—I didn’t. When I heard that this could happen and Oscar and Denis had talked about it, I was a little bit surprised.”

Mowat went back to the drawing board. “I looked at it kind of with European reference, but particularly Greco-Roman,” he shared. He also looked at Imperial Russia, particularly Czar Nicholas II, along with one modern-day royal counterpart. “If you look at Prince Michael of Kent, who’s the Queen’s cousin, he’s the spitting image of Czar Nicholas of Russia,” Mowat said.

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia circa 1900.Laski Diffusion / Getty Images

Prince Michael of Kent in 2018.

Max Mumby / Indigo / Getty Images

The way that the Duke was styled ultimately influenced Paul’s look. “We kept [Paul’s] hair very wavy, a lion-like mane,” he explained. “He’s like the young lion to the old—this mane of hair blown in the sand and the dust and the spice—but he is Lady Jessica’s son. He’s pale, he’s statuesque, he’s beautiful, but he’s got his father’s hair.” Because Isaac and Chalamet are respectively 42 and 25 years old, Mowat also added grey coloring to Oscar’s beard and fake crow’s feet to his face to make the father-son relationship more believable.

Now, if you want to try to get Oscar Isaac’s Dune beard (not to be confused with Oscar Isaac’s Scenes From a Marriage beard), Mowat estimated that it took about 14 weeks total to grow out. Maintenance involved shampooing and conditioning, brushing it out, and trimming it regularly—and, of course, the beard oil must flow. It ultimately took less than 35 minutes in the chair to get Isaac ready to shoot every day, and considering that was with all the additional movie makeup, this is ostensibly an achievable everyday grooming routine. And what’s a few more minutes for a beard so good that it upstages a $165 million budget? 

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