MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Director George Miller talks exclusively to SFX.
No one makes action movies like George Miller. Not any more.
In the biggest year for mega- budget cinematic spectacle since, well, ever, Mad Max: Fury Road has something even the Age Of Ultrons and Force Awakens of the world with their gargantuan CGI budgets can’t offer – tangible auto- mechanical carnage.
“The film is different than anything else out there,” Miller tells SFX down the line from his Sydney home. “We did everything old school because we didn’t have to deal with flying humans or space vehicles; the subject matter allowed us to make it much more real. We could go and get a big truck and a couple of cars and smash them against each other, with actual people on them. So most of what you see is absolutely real, including Tom Hardy as Max dangling between the wheels of a monster truck – it’s actually Tom, not his stunt double.”
Appropriately enough for a series that deals in injection- fuelled chaos, the road back to the big screen has been remarkably bumpy. From two failed filming attempts to the public fall from grace of its original leading man, Fury Road has hit more brick walls than a crash test dummy. But for Miller, the film that will race across the big screen has existed, fully formed, in his mind for almost 20 years. All the more remarkable
for the fact he never planned to make a sequel to the original Ozploitation classic.
“I never intended to make any more Mad Max movies after the first one, so by the end of the third one I really thought I’d never do another,” Miller remembers. “And then one day I was walking across an intersection and as I got halfway across an idea flashed in my mind, but by the time I got to the other side of the road I’d put it aside again. And then two or three years later I was on a long haul flight and unbidden the movie played out in my head. The basis of that story – a chase across the wasteland into which Max is reluctantly caught up – was played out at that point.”
With the engine of the story in place, Miller enlisted 2000 AD comic artist Brendan McCarthy to help him construct Fury Road’s chassis. Together the pair storyboarded almost every shot in the film – a process spurred by Miller’s decision to emphasise visuals over dialogue.
“We decided to plot out the story by building pictures with storyboards,” Miller explains. “We brought in Mark Sexton and Peter Pound, two other artists, and we laid out the film on panels around the room, all drawn, many of which came to life on film directly off those drawings. We ended up having about 3,500 panels in a room around us where each moment played out with the visuals having primacy rather than the words. I always remember Hitchcock saying, ‘ I want to make films where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ And that was one of the things that guided this. Plus the fact I really, really am into action and chase films!”
With the storyboards complete, Mel Gibson on board and funding in place the film almost went in front of cameras in 2003, only for the shoot to fall apart after the collapse of the Australian dollar in the wake of 9/ 11 and the Iraq War. Filming was set to resume again with new leading man Tom Hardy in 2011, only for Mother Nature to turn against them. “When we were about to go in 2011 we had over 150 vehicles built, roads built in the centre of Australia, all of our stunts rehearsed,
"When we were about to go in 2011 we had over 150 vehicles built and roads built in the centre of Australia"
cast in place, everything ready and then the rains came and what was meant to be flat desert roads became a grasslands of shrubs and flowers. The salt lakes where we wanted to shoot had pelicans and frogs in them. That was hardly Mad Max!”
Given the film’s seemingly cursed journey back to the big screen, no one would begrudge Miller throwing in the towel, but even through the making of other films Fury Road was never far from his thoughts. “Somehow it was a film that would never go away,” Miller says. “I’ve made two Happy Feets since the last Mad Max, written several other screenplays, but in the room where I work, which we call the Mad Max room, all those 3,500 drawings stayed up on the walls. So even if I was working on something else the film was always there, in plain sight.”
The Hardy Boy
By all rights finding someone to replace Mel Gibson as the leather- clad road warrior should have been a Sisyphean task equal to getting the film made, but Miller knew Tom Hardy was the man for the job the moment the Bane- to- be walked into the casting room in 2009. “He was the only guy who evoked that same animal magnetism that I first saw in Mel,” Miller asserts. “He’s made the role his own. He can’t help but do that because he’s a very distinct personality. They’re both very masculine men and what makes them charismatic is you have a sense of their vulnerabilities and the conflicts inside them, so even when they’re still you feel an intense life.”
The Max of Fury Road still bears the scars of the first three films ( no- one’s saying “reboot” here) but Miller’s taken the opportunity to get to know him better. “Max is still that figure out of most folklore and mythology – the lone wanderer. Whether it’s the Ronin Samurai in Japan or the classic American gunslinger, he is that character again. In this film we get a little more inside his head.”
The first film’s Toecutter, Hugh Keays-Byrne, plays the Big Bad once again in Fury
Road – here the Immortan Joe. It’s his hunt for The Five Wives ( including Rosie Huntington- Whiteley and Zoë Kravitz) after they’re abducted by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult’s Nux that ignites the film’s breathless chase across the postapocalyptic wasteland. “This time Hugh’s a tyrannical warlord who sits on top of a dominant hierarchy that rules the wasteland, so he’s a gang leader who’s become much more powerful. But he’s not the Toecutter, he’s got his own mythology now. He’s the Immortan Joe – he’s almost implying that he’s immortal.
“Furiosa’s one of the Immortan Joe’s boss drivers,” Miller continues. “She drives a great war rig and she’s basically one of his Imperators, his elite drivers. So she’s like a road warrior in her own right, but in the service of Immortan Joe until she goes on the run. Then, in the vortex of events, Max and Furiosa get thrown together.”