EXCLUSIVE: HBO Max‘s Dune prequel TV series’ long journey to the screen is taking another turn. Dune: The Sisterhood (wt), which started production in late November, is undergoing a creative shift, a director change and a recasting.
Chernobyl executive producer Johan Renck, who had signed on to direct the first two episodes, has exited the project. Search is underway for his replacement as production has been put on hold. Shirley Henderson, who had been tapped as one of the leads, also is leaving. Her role as Tula Harkonnen will be recast. That is in addition to creator Diane Ademu-John, who had written the pilot script, stepping down as co-showrunner in the run-up to production, with veteran TV writer-producer Alison Schapker becoming sole showrunner of the Legendary-produced series.
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“As Dune: The Sisterhood (wt) has entered a pre-scheduled hiatus, there are some creative changes being made to the production in an effort to create the best series possible and stay true to the source material,” an HBO Max spokesperson said in a statement to Deadline. “Johan Renck has completed his work on the series and a new director will be brought on; through mutual agreement, Johan is moving on to pursue other projects. Additionally, Shirley Henderson will be exiting the series and will no longer be playing Tula Harkonnen.”
The streamer had no further comment. According to sources, the 11th hour showrunner change put pressure on Schapker and her team to make major rewrites on the fly as the series was beginning production in Budapest. Meanwhile, we hear Renck’s auteur approach did not jibe with the streamer’s vision for the series and was a departure from the look of Denis Villeneuve’s films, which led to his departure. (He has since deleted any Dune content from his Instagram account, including his Nov. 22 post announcing start of production.) It is unclear whether any of the footage he filmed will be used in the series; that would be largely up to the new director when they come on board.
We hear conflicting views on the current hiatus. While sources close to the production insist there had always been a plan to stop filming for the winter months, others indicate that production has been pushed by seven months to give Schapker and her team time to put their creative stamp by reworking the scripts as well as to find a new director.
It is unclear whether Henderson’s departure is related to the creative changes, Renck’s exit or the new start of production but we hear the delay is wreaking havoc on actors’ schedules, creating potential conflicts that may lead to more exits and recastings.
Dune: The Sisterhood, based on Frank Herbert’s classic novel, is set 10,000 years before the ascension of Paul Atreides. It follows the Harkonnen Sisters as they combat forces that threaten the future of humankind, and establish the fabled sect known as the Bene Gesserit.
The lead cast also includes Emily Watson as Valya Harkonnen; Indira Varma as Empress Natalya; Sarah-Sofie Boussnina as Princess Ynez; Shalom Brune Franklin as Mikaela; Faoileann Cunningham as Sister Jen; Aoife Hinds as Sister Emeline; Chloe Lea as Lila; Travis Fimmel as Desmond Hart; Mark Strong as Emperor Javicco Corrino; Jade Anouka as Sister Theodosia; Chris Mason as Keiran Atreides.
Dune: The Sisterhood’s journey started in June 2019 when HBO Max gave it a straight-to-series order, with Villeneuve—director the 2021 Dune film and its upcoming sequel—set to helm the first episode and executive produce. Jon Spaihts was originally slated to co-write and co-showrun the drama alongside Dana Calvo.
Several months later, Spaights and Villeneuve pulled out as writer and director, respectively, to focus on the film franchise. (They remained executive producers.) Renck signed on to take over directing duties for the first two episodes in April 2022.
In the summer of 2021, Ademu-John joined the team as an executive producer, as well as writer and co-showrunner, replacing Spaight and Calvo. She was later joined by Schapker who was co-showrunner before being named sole showrunner in November.
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