Ooohhh, it’s getting spicy behind the scenes of the HBO Max series Dune: The Sisterhood, which started production in late November but has been on hiatus for several months to account for a creative shift.
For starters, Johan Renck, the Emmy-winning director of Chernobyl, has exited the Dune series. Deadline broke the news of his departure, citing sources who claimed that his “auteur approach did not jibe with the streamer’s vision for the series,” and that it was also a departure from the look of Denis Villeneuve‘s two films. Renck had been slated to direct the first two episodes, though it’s unclear whether any of the footage he shot will actually be used, as that will largely be up to his replacement.
Joining Renck on the sidelines is Scottish actress Shirley Henderson, who had been cast as Tula Harkonnen, though that role will now be recast. It’s unclear whether her exit was the result of a creative change, a scheduling conflict, or Renck’s departure.
Meanwhile, creator Diane Ademu-John, who wrote the pilot script, has stepped down as co-showrunner, leaving veteran TV writer-producer Alison Schapker to serve as sole showrunner on Dune: The Sisterhood, which is being produced by Legendary.
Schapker and her team have reportedly been forced to perform major rewrites, and between that and the need for a new director, Deadline claims that production has been pushed to the summer, which is causing all sorts of scheduling headaches for the cast, some of whom may follow Henderson’s lead.
“As Dune: The Sisterhood 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.”
Dune: The Sisterhood takes place 10,000 years before the events of Villeneuve’s Dune movies, and follows the Harkonnen Sisters as they combat forces that threaten the future of humankind, and establish the Bene Gesserit. Villeneuve initially planned to direct the first episode, while Jon Spaihts was originally slated to serve as co-writer and co-showrunner alongside Dana Calvo. Though Villeneuve and Spaihts remain involved as executive producers, they had to pull back from the series to focus on the director’s upcoming sequel.
As of now, the cast of Dune: The Sisterhood 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.
This sounds like the kind of expensive sci-fi series that Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav will come to regret. Villeneuve’s Dune made just over $400 million worldwide and it was fairly divisive, so a female-led spinoff series with no major stars sounds like a risky proposition to me. Don’t be surprised if Henderson is replaced by a bigger name… or if Zas the Butcher pulls the plug on this money pit entirely.