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DUNE: Julie Cox

The actress on playing the enigmatic Princess Irulan.

By Steve Fritz     December 04, 2000

We're going to see a lot of Julie Cox this December. For starters, she's appearing in the latest Hallmark version of David Copperfield. She's also in a small-budget movie with Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker called The War Bride, which is about British women marrying men from Canada and moving there to live. Then, of particular interest to sci-fi fans, there's the Sci-Fi Channel's much anticipated Dune mini-series. In it, she plays the enigmatic Princess Irulan, who's diaries are the core of the original Frank Herbert novel.

Beyond her involvement, what's perhaps most interesting about this eclectic cross-section of productions is that each one, in its own way, is a period piece. The main difference lies in whether they're set 50 to 100 years in the past, or 10,000 years in the future.

'I've done quite a few films in tunics and corsets,' admits Cox. 'It got to the point where, whenever I got a role, the first question I usually asked was whether I was wearing a corset again or not. In fact, I was getting quite bored with them. But even though Dune is a huge costume drama, it was completely different. The wardrobe people were fantastic! I mean you can't help but feel very special when you are dressed up in things like I was. Even when I was a kid, I used to love to dress up as a princess.'

What's also interesting is Cox also grew up a science fiction fanand remains one to this day. 'It was due to my older brother,' says Cox. 'He was my guide. He turned me on to [authors Isaac] Asimov, [Ray] Bradbury, Herbert and [J.R.R.] Tolkien. When I grew up, I started reading the works of Philip K. Dick, and that made me say that's the kind of stuff I want to eventually do when I'm acting. I'd put Greg Bear in that company; he's another great one. When I read his Eon my brain was just going, 'Wow!' One of the great misconceptions about sci-fi is it's written for men and just about space ships and such. I love reading up on things like singularities and stuff like that. I love how they create worlds and I would end up believing it.'

She also loves what Dune screenwriter/director John Harrison did with the role of Irulan. In the book, readers don't actually meet the character until the very end, when Emperor Shaddam offers her up as a peace offering to Paul Atreides. She's not unfamiliar to readers, though, as each major chapter of the novel is prefaced by her diaries.

In this new mini-series, viewers will be introduced to the character quite a bit earlier. In fact, the first time we meet her, she's being trained by the Bene Gesserit in their arcane and mystical science. From there the mini-series follows her as she explores the Imperial world of her father, as well as the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen.

'It was there in the script when they gave me the part,' says Cox. 'I knew from the book that she was kind of in her own part of the world and didn't have much contact until the very end. What they handed me was much more of a character. As John explained to me when I got the role, he was interpreting her actions from what was out of the page as opposed to what was in it. At the same time, he made sure to not sensationalize her. What he did with Irulan I feel is 100 percent true. What he was concerned about was the relationship between her and her father and the rest of the royal court. She gives a kind of moral tone to all the decadence that is going on around her.'

As a resulthaving read the book when she was only 13, being a great fan of science fiction anyway and an experienced actress to bootshe was then able to add her own spin to the character. 'The way I portray Irulan is she knows she's the natural successor to her father,' says Cox. 'That comes with the best and the worst of things. It's 10,000 years in the future and many of the things are still very sexist. At the same time, when she and Paul have their first meeting, you quickly realize that they are very well-matched people. She finds a like mind, and you get the feeling that under different circumstances they could have made great lovers or friends. And after all, there really is a part of her that does fall in love with him. Even though she's a very solitary figure, you can tell in the long run she will make a very good partner for Paul.

'She's not unaware of how things really are in any way. She knows that you can't do anything in this Empire unless you have the right blood. When she walks around in public, she does act extremely bored. But under it all she's a good person, even if she doesn't always handle the situations well.'

Still, as more or less our guide to the worlds of the Harkonnens and Corrinos, the young actress seems like the perfect choice to play Irulan. Cox's Irulan can turn on a dime, being at one point extremely bratty, another a lot wiser than she let's most people knowonly her father and his aide, Fenrig, know this, too. Most importantly, you are left with the final opinion that Irulan is an extremely passionate woman. By allowing herself to be a token bride to Paul, who's madly in love with his first wife, in what everyone knows is purely a political marriage, she's making an incredible sacrifice in her own way.

Having enjoyed the role and its many layers, Cox hopes to returns for potential sequels, but says nothing's locked in place yet. 'It's one of those things that John and I talked about from the beginning,' notes Cox. 'Personally, if it stays in John's hands, I'll have no problem saying yes. If it goes to different hands, then I'll have to think about it. I think nothing can compare to what John did with Dune. He's the main cog.

'If [he returns], then I'd love to. I think there's a lot to still be said about her story. Again, John will probably have to work out of the page a bit, but she's a very interesting character and I wouldn't have any problems working on the sequels at all.'


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