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April 21st, 2019

George Miller, Tom Hardy Interview: Mad Max Fury Road

Director George Miller unleashes the explosive fury of a world gone mad in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the fourth outing of the legendary franchise and a must see big screen experience. The high octane Road War takes audiences on a ferocious chase across a stark desert wasteland as Miller pushes the limits of contemporary cinema to re-imagine the beauty and chaos of the post-apocalyptic world he created in the Mad Max trilogy 30 years ago. Tom Hardy stars as the new Max Rockatansky; Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa, a new character in the canon; and Nicholas Hoult is the War Boy Nux.

At the film’s recent press day, Miller, Hardy, Theron and Hoult discussed their epic filmmaking adventure, how Hardy found it daunting taking on the iconic role originated by Mel Gibson, how Miller infused the action adventure with girl power and introduced a strong female Road Warrior capable of holding her own opposite Mad Max, Theron’s last minute decision to shave her head for the role, Holt’s transformation during the intense car armada scenes, how Miller captured the aesthetic and the spirit of his original films and made it contemporary with the latest technologies, the film’s most daunting stunts, and the riveting score by Junkie XL that drives the non-stop action.

Check it all out in the interview below:

QUESTION: Tom, your character in this movie seems more broken than we’ve ever seen him before. Were you reflecting on all that Max has been through in the previous three movies or is that maybe your new take on him? Also, did you have sympathy for a villain who’s wearing a mask for the entire movie?

TOM HARDY: I do like a mask. I’m not going to lie. So, it was nice to get a new one in the form of a garden fork stuck to my face. In terms of Max being broken, I think he’s supposed to be broken, isn’t he, in many ways. When we started off with Max and his hermetic lifestyle at the beginning, he’s a broken spirited man trying to be left alone. Then, we see him open up throughout the movie and connect with the humanity around him, and then be broken again, and then sent off into the Wastelands. We came to this part of the Mad Max apocalyptic world. I’m not sure quite where it fits into the trilogy prior to it specifically, but it was from a succession of conversations about an around-the-world mythology previously from George’s mind. George wanted him to be broken at the beginning and he seemed to be broken from the beginning.

Q: Charlize, would you agree with me that this really should be called Mad Maxine because you’re the maddest person up there on screen? And can you talk about what was so irresistible about putting yourself through all of this to make this fantastically awesome adventure?

CHARLIZE THERON: I find myself in the last couple of days talking about this movie and realizing more than ever just how fortunate I was to have George trust me with this role and to hand this opportunity my way. You really are only as good as the opportunities that are handed to you. I watched the movie a couple of weeks ago and I found myself so incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity. (to George) So, thank you for that. In terms of Mad Maxine, I don’t know. Tom, how do you feel about that?

HARDY: Do you know that John actually found a dog, a girl, and we called her Mad Maxine. Remember that pug we found coming off the set?

THERON: On this movie?

HARDY: Yeah, when we were in Libya.

THERON: Oh I do remember the dog. And you named her Mad Maxine?

HARDY: Yeah, John, the security officer, did. I wouldn’t go for that name.

THERON: I do remember that dog. Yes. I like Furiosa. That’s a pretty bad ass name. I’ll stick with that one. It’s funny, you get a name in a movie, because that’s kind of what we do socially. We have names. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in this case, I thought what was really interesting about the names that we had was that the movie is so bare in its explanation of where these people come from and who they really are and you really find them in the midst of the movement already. I thought there was something really powerful about the name because it almost sets you up. You didn’t have to know anything about her. The name alone said it. So, anything that was emotionally driving her was already represented in her name. That was helpful. And it’s just a cool name.

Q: Did your dance training inform a lot of what you did in this and how you approached your character? It seemed like a Martha Graham movement when Furiosa finds out that the Green Place has disappeared and she’s crushed.

THERON: George and I spent a lot of time because George is fascinated by that world and knows a lot about that world, and it was a huge part of my life. But I had forgotten. It was a long time ago that I was on stage telling stories just with my body. I feel like I integrated that into my work, but this was to another extreme. We talked about it a lot, and George is truly fascinated by that. I will tell you right now, as actors, we were fighting that tooth and nail because of fear, because language is a crutch and dialogue is a crutch, and it’s so easy to just have a great writer write you a line. George was just so adamant about keeping this on track with the understanding of the world being so bare, and that language can be such a luxury that these people would never have access to was so true that in the beginning all of us were just like, “Can we get one line here?” Then, the first couple of weeks, you’re doing a lot of this, like trying to pull your face. For me, maybe five weeks into shooting, it became a little bit more second nature. I think I trusted it a little bit more and it became easier. When I watch the movie now, it’s so evident to me that that was exactly the way to tell it.

Q: Charlize, a lot of times we see these big action movies and there may be only one female character. What was it like for you working with the women?

THERON: I don’t get to make a lot of movies with women, meaning act with this amount of women. I was surrounded by women. It was like a breath of fresh air for me. I knew instantly from understanding the project that George has an innate understanding of what women represent in society, and he wanted that to reflect in a post-apocalyptic world in the most truthful way possible. It’s interesting when you’re doing press and having people come up to you and say, “Oh, strong women, strong women!” and I say, “No, we’re just actually women in this movie.” We had a filmmaker that understood that the truth of women is powerful enough and that we don’t want to be put on pedestals or made to be super unnaturally strong and capable of doing things that we’re not capable of doing. But what we are capable of doing is really interesting and really informs a story like this especially. The idea of creating a world and understanding that obviously the easiest thing to go to is yes, for procreation, you’re going to need us, but that there is so much more to it. I personally was so touched by this character, not that this is really explained in the movie, but George and I spent a lot of time talking about this. She’s about the most broken woman that you can imagine. In many ways socially, she’s almost been a disappointment in terms of what you would consider socially for a woman to be, and she ended up being discarded for that, and in being discarded, she actually became. I always had this little voice in my head of George going, “Well now I’m going to show you a real woman. I’m going to take this broken woman and I’m going to show you what a real woman is.” It’s the fact that she couldn’t deliver on the things that were expected from her. She was stolen as a young child, and she was brought into an environment where she was thrown into a breeding program. She was barren and she couldn’t do the things that she was supposed to do as a woman. Then, she ends up in the movie actually fulfilling her destiny which is to just be herself.

Q: George, I wanted to commend you for having a lot of women in this. Can you talk about your idea to infuse this with girl power and create these roles for women?

GEORGE MILLER: It came from the very first notion or conceit of the movie, which was instead of the MacGuffin being as usual a thing, that it should be human cargo, five wives capable of breeding an heir for a warlord. That started the architecture of the movie and the rest followed organically from there. It couldn’t be a male stealing the women. It had to be a female. But, it had to be a female Road Warrior. And the story unfolds. As you know, often you don’t even consciously do this. I’ve reflected though on my life. When I grew up, I had no sisters. They were all brothers. I grew up and went to an all-boy high school. I went to medical school at a time when there were very few women studying medicine. It’s only beyond that that I actually was able to really experience women and see through my two marriages. I also have a very strong mom, and somehow we’re seeing in the world in many places that women are emerging in a way as perhaps a unifying or healing force in the world. I think that’s in the zeitgeist and I guess that kind of crept into the movie. A lot of this stuff honestly gets to be unconscious. I just wanted to create characters, these two characters. We shot the movie more or less in continuity, and these two characters at the beginning are most desperate and they effectively try to kill each other. I mean literally. And then, they find themselves as extremists needing each other. They come to some mutual regard and mutual survival through that. I think that’s a longstanding story throughout history, but particularly in this day as well.

Q: George, this is such a terrific film and the music really drives the action. I’m wondering if you can talk about your collaboration with your composer, Junkie XL?

MILLER: A number of people asked if there were two composers, but no, there’s not. It was Junkie XL, aka Tom Holkenborg, and this is the first movie in which he’s taken his name as a credit. Believe it or not, when I started this movie, I intended to have no music other than the sound of the cars and the guitarist and the drummers. Then, as the movie started to evolve in the cutting room, I realized that this is almost a rock opera, but it needed a composer that really had a very wide bandwidth. Darren Higman (EVP, Music) from Warner Bros. said, “Look, try this composer.” I’d never heard of Junkie XL. I didn’t realize his background. We tried some music that he’d written for other movies that hadn’t been used and it just fitted. And then, I got to know Tom. I don’t know if you know Tom. He’s a polymath. He studied law. He lectured in sound design in Holland. He started a faculty there. He’s basically dance rock music. He’s got the full symphonic ability. And whatever you throw at him, he’s got the intellectual capacity and the artistic capacity to be able to deal with it. He was just the right person for this movie. I think he glued so much of this movie together and modulated the passages through the movie. I mean, it is visual music and it needs music that is very, very complimentary to it. We had a really good time doing it. He’s a great composer and a great guy. You know, I’m not musical but I learned. When you’ve got someone that can explain what music is, it’s almost mathematical in the way it’s structured. That was really exciting for me.

Q: Since you were out in the middle of nowhere, where did you go to unwind in between takes or at the end of the day?

THERON: Well Nick was at the strip clubs.

NICHOLAS HOULT: Well I started a strip club, and I made a lot of money, and I don’t really have to be here to be honest with you.

THERON: It was really hard to escape. I think secretly George planned it that way. Bastard!

MILLER: I wanted to shoot it near to my home in the outback of Australia and we were rained out. There were unprecedented rains and we couldn’t, so we had to go from the east coast of Australia, take all of our equipment, cast and crew, and go to the west coast of Africa, to Namibia.

HARDY: I’m still unwinding as we speak.

Q: Nicholas, can you talk about your character a little bit? You go through quite a transformation. How did you prepare for that?

HOULT: It was all through George actually. He had a great way of describing to me the world that we were living in. Also, before first in Australia and then after we went down to Namibia, he would send me videos basically chronicling my character’s life from conception and then every major moment up until the day you meet him in the movie, his physical state when he starts the film, and then everything he believes in. So, from that point on, you’ve got a great idea of what the character is like and what he enjoys and what he believes in. And then, I just tried to listen to George on set and have fun. It was quite an extreme atmosphere. It was something that really got the adrenaline pumping because it was so real and with the noise of the vehicles and everything around you. It really pumped up your energy and it was easy to get swept up in the action.

Q: This movie was so intense that I couldn’t think of anything else while watching it. Tom, I specifically didn’t think of a fellow named Mel Gibson. This role is yours now. Did you bring anything with you to completely make him your own?

HARDY: I didn’t bring anything with me, just my luggage for seven months. I think initially I was daunted because obviously Mad Max is synonymous with Mel Gibson and a much loved character by many people. At the same time, I was really excited to get the job. It’s always exciting to get a job, but this was such a big fish to land for me that it was the see-saw effect. The other side of that was everybody loves Mel as Max and nobody is going to want me. So it was like being the new boy at school and it sets you up in some way for failure immediately. But then, having said that, George has created in much the same way as he created the car chase movie, he also created the post-apocalyptic movie some 40 years ago and that there was no real pressure to try and fill in anybody’s shoes or to be a new Mad Max of any sort. Actually I was inheriting a legacy that had been chosen by George to translate his vision and his character into today’s foray into the Mad Max world, which is further discovered and further mined, and this mythology has been further pursued by George and that he had asked me to come along and to portray his Max. So really, it was a question of just doing what was asked of me and trying to understand as he transferred to me his vision which is epic. It’s not just what you see in Fury Road, but behind Fury Road and laterally to Fury Road. There is an abundance of material which is yet to reveal itself at some point. I don’t think I brought anything new as such but the fact that I’m a new actor in the fourth installment of the legacy which once was ultimately Mel’s role and still is rightly so. I’m just the new boy and hopefully accepted.

Q: Charlize, there are more roles coming out this summer for women in bigger films and action films like this. In your own career, are you seeing more roles like this that women can get?

THERON: Yes and no. I think it’s a complicated question to answer. I think it’s not so much the quantity. It’s just that we want good quality. There are women in these kind of movies all the time. I remember there were these loud whispers going around town that George was going to reimagine this world and that he was going to create this female character and she was going to stand right next to Max. At first, you’re always like, “That’s awesome,” and then, you become a little skeptical and you’re like, “I’ve heard that before. And then I’m going to be the chick that ends up in the back of the frame with the push-up bra and with a wisp of hair in my mouth.” So, the cynic in me was a little… That’s why I shaved my head so there’d be no wispy hair. It’s just that I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve made a real effort to try and veer away from those things. Then, I met George and there was just something about him that I really believed. I believed that he wanted to do something that felt really truthful. So, I think it’s in the quality of this role versus just being a girl in these movies. I think women are just eager to feel like they’re on an equal playing field. Let me speak for myself. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I don’t want to be anything other than what we are. I want to just be a woman, but an authentic woman, if it’s this genre or any other genre. In this movie, you run up against the push-up bra scenario, and then in the drama, you run up against the Madonna-whore complex. You’re either a really good hooker or a really good mom. That kind of conflicted nature that’s very much a part of being a woman is just so missed in film and also not celebrated enough in society. So, when you come across that rare filmmaker that really wants to embrace that and stick it through, it’s really nice. And should there be more of it? Hell yeah! It’s always strange to me when these women come on screen. We all respond to them so positively and they really get a reaction out of us. It’s like why is that not enough of a reason for us to keep exploring that.

Q: When we see your fragrance commercials on TV, you look so glamourous, but you have such a non-hairdo in this film. Did you have to be dragged to the chair to get your head shaved? What was that experience like?

THERON: I didn’t get dragged to it. The movie stopped and started a lot of times, and George and I had gone through various different looks and ideas. The more time we had, the more the story just informed I guess both of us. In the story, I think as an actor you’re just trying to fit into the world, and I didn’t know how to fit into this world. There is something nice about this element of surprise, that we weren’t trying to hide her as a woman, but that she also really melted into this underworld mechanics, a place where she was almost forgotten as a woman. And then, there was something nice about the element of surprise. It’s just like, “What? What! She made a left?” So, I wanted something that could kind of disappear, I guess, and I just didn’t know how to do that with a ponytail. The more we did that, the more I was like, “It’s still a ponytail.” I had done a press junket. My hair was really fried and I had a night where I thought, “What if we just shave it?” I wasn’t fully convinced so I called George and probably woke him up at 3:00am. I said, “What do you think about this idea?” and he was just really quiet and I could hear him breathe. It was like he took a deep breath and I took that as a positive. And then, I found out yesterday that he was very concerned about the shape of my head.

MILLER: (Laughs) They told you.

THERON: They told me. And about 45 minutes later, my friend, Enzo, brought me some buzzers. I was just going to let him do it, and he was very like, “No, you should do it.” So, 45 minutes later, it was off and we sent a selfie to George and he wrote me back. He was like, “Awesome, Furiosa!”

Q: Do you recommend the experience?

THERON: Yeah. I mean, look, here’s the amazing thing. After that, I was 20 minutes early to everything in my life. It’s unbelievable how much time we spend on our hair. Also, I emptied two garbage bags full of hair products and brushes. There’s something very freeing in that, for sure, definitely. And there’s always something nice when you take that importance of your femininity and make it about something more than just your hair. But it’s also nice to have hair.

Q: George, one of the film’s many remarkable feats is how you captured the aesthetic and the spirit of your original films and then you propelled it forward and it felt utterly contemporary and of the moment. Can you talk about such an amazing balancing act to have achieved? How did you get there?

MILLER: Thanks for acknowledging that because we worked so hard to do that. If we’re going to go back into the world, you sure as hell can’t do what you did 30 years ago, but it had to be uniquely familiar. It’s like visiting an old town but seeing it through new eyes. Everything had changed in 30 years. The world had changed, cinema had changed, and technology had changed. So it’s an opportunity to blend all that together. “Mad Max 2: Road Warrior” had 1,200 cuts. This has 2,700 cuts and it’s not much longer. Cinema is no question getting faster through commercials and music clips, and so, this is a language we’re speed reading now. It was really interesting to do that. Plus it was a chance to really go into a much more fully realized world. To be honest, having done pure animations and before that talking pig movies, this new digital dispensation was really interesting, even though we had to go and do it old school in terms of the vehicles and the people we visit. We were also able to do so much. The frame becomes much more plastic. You can color the frame. One of the most common uses of CG in this movie was to change the color of the sky or even indeed put a sky in so you could get some consistency. You could erase tracks and you’re able to modify the frame a little bit to just make that eye scan just a little bit more screeny so it wasn’t so jarring or confusing, even though the pace of the movie is very fast. The average shot in the movie is 2 seconds, 9 frames. That’s pretty fast. Otherwise, I don’t know. I would hope I was able to improve on the last movies after 30 years, otherwise I haven’t learned anything. I’m glad you acknowledge that. I really appreciate it.

Q: The car armada scenes were so intense and so fascinating in this film. Nicholas, can you describe what it was like to be a part of that? Were you nervous or were you just full of energy?

HOULT: Not nervous. I think the first time, it was the first or the second week, I was sitting in my hot rod, and then I saw the signal for everyone to start all the engines up, and there was just this rumbling from all these V8’s and V12’s around me. It was the first time on the set that I got natural chills all up and down my spine and every hair stood on end on my body, and I said, “Whoa, this is intense!” And then, when everyone rolled out, I had buttons in my car to make flames come out of my exhaust and things like that, and I thought, “This is great.” I was having a lot of fun. The only thing that made it difficult was that you couldn’t hear a lot of the time. So, you’d be in your car kind of mooching along, and then you’d see the camera truck come flying past you, and you’d be like, “Is this now? Are we shooting?” So, you’d do something, and then you’d see the camera truck whiz off to shoot another car and it’d disappear for a little bit, and you’d wonder, “Was that the scene? Are we done?” And then, it’d fly back past you again and you’d think, “Oh, we’re going to do it again, I guess.” So it was a little tricky for that.

Q: Tom, were you really on the front of that car speeding along?

HARDY: Yeah, I didn’t have a button. I had handcuffs and a pitchfork stuck to my face. But now to be fair actually, I was a little bit strapped to the front of the car for a couple of weeks maybe, but Jacob Tomuri, my stunt double, was strapped to it for a good six weeks doing about 60 kilometers an hour plus.

THERON: Tom, Nick has an idea for you.

HARDY: What’s the idea?

HOULT: I did have a business idea on this front where anyone wants to get in touch to help me finance this. It’s a Mad Max bobblehead hood ornament to remind us of Tom strapped to the front of the car.

HARDY: Hey, that’s really great.

HOULT: Thank you. Five percent.

Q: For each of you, which was the most daunting stunt that you actually had to do yourself? And for George, which was the most daunting stunt you had to shoot?

HARDY: All of them actually. I’m not very good with heights, so the scaffolding pole was a bit of a mouthful because you’d have to go in for reshoots. I remember in Australia we set up in a car park my own private scaffolding pole, and I went down there and I was really jetlagged. There’s a photograph of Doug Mitchell standing there on set to hold my hand and I said, “I don’t really want to go up the scaffolding pole.” He held my hand and we walked down towards that. That was the only green screen that I saw actually over a car park. It was just that lonely walk up to my cherry picker and they strapped me on and that was it. There was only about seven inches out of the side of the scaffolding pole to put your feet and you’re up there somewhere and it’s quite lonely. Also, when the scaffolding pole goes that way, you naturally fall that way as well. And then, when it comes back up to the middle, you have to roll around and fall the other way, otherwise your face mallets the other side of the scaffolding pole. That really hurts and there’s no one up there to complain to. You’re sort of drifting towards the camera and then drifting away again. And it lasts as long as it lasts really. So, that was fun.

MILLER: There are those polecats which were real. I didn’t think we’d ever be able to achieve that. We were. It wasn’t until Tom went up on top of it that he told me he was afraid of heights. And I’m afraid of heights. I wanted to [do it]. It looked pretty cool. Once I knew it was safe, I was going to go up it. But then, after Tom said it wasn’t very much fun, I wouldn’t try it.

THERON: I had a rough time with the scene where Max falls off the hood of the car and Riley’s character (Riley Keough/Capable) and I have to grab ahold of him. That was [difficult] because it was on my mechanical arm and I had no control over it, so I couldn’t really use my own body strength to pull Tom up. They just took my claw and stuck it into his pants, and I was leaning out of the window thinking this could be really bad. Of course, I was concerned for Tom’s head hitting the ground, but at the same time, I was like, “I’m going with him. There’s not going to be a choice in the matter here.” It’s not like, “Oh, I’m sorry!” I’m hooked to him. I was a bit of a pussy that day for sure.

HOULT: I think my moment is in that same scene because during that time I’m like strapped underneath the War Rig. I remember the day we went out to practice that stunt. They harnessed me up and tied me to this pole underneath, and I’m a few inches off the desert floor. Then, just before we began to roll out to test to see if it was alright and I was comfortable doing it, one of the stunt guys turns to me and says, “Nick, don’t move your head too far that way because the front tire is there and it’ll just take it right off.” I was fine until then, and then I was like, “What the hell?! Oh God!” Then they rolled out and I was just panicked throughout the whole rest of the time.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” opens in theaters on May 15th.


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