Christopher Walken Dune: Part Two
Christopher Walken as Emperor Shaddum IV in Dune: Part Two. Credit: Warner Bros.

Christopher Walken confirmed that a speech in the 2002 thriller Poolhall Junkies could be seen as a foreshadowing of his role as Emperor Shaddum IV in Dune: Part 2.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, writer Anthony Breznican makes the connection between the new film and Walken’s speech about a lion in director Mars Callahan’s Poolhall Junkies.

The sports thriller tells the story of a poolhall hustler named Johnny (Callahan) who becomes enemies with his mentor (Chazz Palminteri) and must face off against the protégé (Rick Schroder) who replaced him in a high-stakes match. Walken plays Mike, the wealthy uncle of Johnny’s girlfriend (Alison Eastwood) who helps fund his final pool match. During a tense break in the game, Mike delivers a monologue encouraging Johnny to put his mentor in his place.

Known as the lion speech, it has a lot of similarities to the way that Emporer Shaddum IV approaches the political chessboard in Dune: Part 2.

“You watch those nature documentaries on the cable? You see the one about lions?” Walken tells Callahan in Poolhall Junkies (above). “They got this lion. He’s the king of the jungle. Huge mane out to here. He’s laying down under a tree in the middle of Africa. He’s so big, he’s so hot, he doesn’t want to move. Now, the little lion comes, they start messing with him. Biting his tail, biting his ears, he doesn’t do anything. The lioness, she starts messing with him, coming over, making trouble. Still nothing.

“Now, the other animals, they notice this, and they start to move in. The jackals. Hyenas. Barking at him, laughing at him. They nip his toes and eat the food that’s in his domain. They do this, and they get closer and closer and bolder and bolder, until one day, that lion gets up and tears the shit out of everybody. Runs like the wind and eats everything in his path. Cause every once in a while, the lion has to show that jackals who he is. It’s too late to be scared. It’s time to kill.”

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Christopher Walken Connects Poolhall Junkies to Dune: Part Two

Walken agreed with Breznican that Mike’s speech in Poolhall Junkies has lessons for Emperor Shaddum IV, who secretly backs the Harkonnen’s assassination of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) in Dune: Part One because he fears Leto’s growing popularity. But he unknowingly unleashes an ever more powerful force in Leto’s son, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet).

“Oh,  Poolhall Junkies…” Walken told Vanity Fair. “I think you’re right. They call it ‘poking the bear with a stick,’ and yeah, that’s true. He’s the lion in winter. [The emperor] can’t quite do what he used to, but he’s still dangerous.”

The True Romance actor also said there’s a reason his Emperor is dressed in an unassuming wardrobe rather than decked out to the nines in jewels.

“I can tell you that it’s probably better not to think about it,” Walken said. “When I was young, I had to play a king in something. I was in a Shakespeare play. It was Henry II. And an older actor said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He said, ‘If the director sets it up so that people treat you like the king, you don’t have to do much.’ And I sort of trusted that to happen.”

He added: “The emperor’s got the trappings, he’s got the court, he’s got the costume, he’s got the bodyguards. And so I figured I’d just let them call me the emperor.”

Dune: Part Two is now in theaters.

Main Image: Christopher Walken as Emperor Shaddum IV in Dune: Part Two. Credit: Warner Bros.