From director George Miller, originator of the post-apocalyptic genre and mastermind behind the legendary Mad Max franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road tells the story of a man haunted by his turbulent past, who believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. When Road Warrior Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by the elite Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), they are pursued in a high-octane Road War. For more on the film, watch the trailer.
While at Comic-Con for a presentation in Hall H, filmmaker George Miller spoke to press at a conference, in which he talked about what makes this version of the Mad Max character different, coming back to this world after so many years, how his view of a post-apocalyptic world has changed, what made him decide to take such a visual approach and do thousands of storyboards, why he brought back an actor from the first film (even though he’s not playing the same character), that this story came to him over 12 years ago, how he’s fully developed two other stories in the time since, whether he considered having Mel Gibson return in the role, and what he could do with the cameras now, that he couldn’t do when he made the previous films. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
GEORGE MILLER: Yes and no. Yes, of course, it’s based on the same character that Mel [Gibson] played. He’s the lone warrior in the wasteland, basically disengaged from the rest of the world. But naturally, Tom brings his Tom Hardy-ness to it. He brings another quality. And the character is different, to some degree, because the story is different. So, it’s a yes and no answer. Yes, it’s different, but no, he’s essentially grown out of the same material.
Have you specified how many years after Beyond Thunderdome this might be?
MILLER: I keep asking the question, and I’ve got it down to between 45 and 50 years from next Wednesday, or the next Wednesday from the day that you watch the movie.
What’s it like to come back to this world, after so much time has gone by?
MILLER: What happens, if you work on something, it does stay around in the back of your mind somewhere. We’ve all got that place that we’ve had from childhood, and I like to call Mad Max and the characters in the films imaginary friends. It’s a very, very compelling world to work with because it’s allegorical. That’s why the Westerns were basically what cinema grew up on, from the silent era on. They were very accessible, elemental stories. And that’s the attraction of working in this post-apocalyptic, Mad Max world. Getting back into it, it felt familiar, in many ways, and very, very strange. So much has changed. The technology has changed. You can do a lot more. You can keep everyone safe. When you see the movie, you’ll see a lot of the actors doing the actual stunts. It probably would have been criminal to do that, in the old days, but now you can keep them safe with harnesses, and things like that. It was just interesting to go back there, after all these years. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do it.
Has your view of what a post-apocalyptic world would seem like changed, as a result of the changes in society and technology?
MILLER: Yes. One of the things that’s quite interesting is that many of the same issues apply. In many ways, we are doomed to repeat history. With information, things change. Mad Max 2, for instance, was basically based on oil wars. Back in the early ‘70s, there were sudden restrictions. Cars got smaller and people went to war over oil, and we call it gasoline in Mad Max. We’ve arguably been fighting oil wars, ever since. Now, in some places in the world, there are water wars. In my own country, there are no wars, but there is a huge dispute over water. There’s a financial crisis that we’re all worried about. All of those things are in the news. Even 45 or 50 years in the future, we’re in a medieval construct, in terms of how people behave towards each other. The other big thing I wanted to do was to tell a story with very little dialogue. It’s a world in which people say very little. And I wanted to have one extended chase, in which you discover the backstories of the characters on the way. All those things come together. A post-apocalyptic world allows you to make it very, very elemental. I like to call them Westerns on wheels. For the same reasons why the Westerns had that very essential quality, you can find that in Mad Max Fury Road.
What can you say about Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa?
MILLER: Without trying to give away too much story, I can say that she plays the Imperator Furiosa. She’s the boss of a War Rig, in which the people flee across the Wasteland. I can’t really think of another character in cinema quite like her. I’m sure that other people might find connections, but just the way the character was conceived, and how Charlize took it on and transformed herself and played it, she did it with such authority. There have been great female action characters, but there’s just been nothing quite like this. If I say too much more, I’ll give away too much story. We’re coming out next May. We haven’t finished the film yet.
Before you had a script, you had thousands of storyboards. What made you decide to take such a visual approach for this?
MILLER: First of all, it’s a chase. It’s very hard, when people are chasing across the wasteland, to write that in words. It’s much easier to do it as pictures. Because it’s almost a continuous chase, you have to connect one shot to the other, so the obvious way to do it was as a storyboard, and then put words in later. So, I worked with five really good storyboard artists. We just sat in a big room and, instead of writing it down, we’d say, “Okay, this guy throws what we call a thunder stick at another car and there’s an explosion.” You can write that, but exactly where the thunder stick is, where the car is and what the explosion looks like, it’s very hard to get those dimensions, so we’d draw it. We ended up with about 3,500 panels. It almost becomes equivalent to the number of shots in the movie.
After doing some animated features, did you enjoy being back out on location?
MILLER: Animation is much more thoughtful. Shooting movies is much like sport. Making animation is a bit like writing about sport. In the middle of a football game, I would imagine that you don’t have much time to think. It’s the same thing with going out and shooting. There’s also an exhilaration to it. It’s a bit of a military exercise, logistically. It’s tough, particularly out there in the middle of a desert, on the west coast of Africa. It’s pretty spare out there. We also wanted to do this film old school. It’s not a big CG movie. There is CG in it, but every stunt you see is real, involving real people, and often involving members of the cast. That was a big logistical exercise that brings a certain degree of anxiety with it. We had a wonderful rigging crew, stunt crew and camera crew, and we had no serious injuries, at all. Every day, safety was the utmost, but there is a certain tension about that. I wouldn’t say that it was a pleasant thing to be out there, wrecking cars, but when we’d see the footage and review it, each day, it was worth being out there. It was better than being a green screen movie. This movie is very real world, very palpable and very visceral, and that’s what we were going for.
Are we going to see any characters or descendants of characters from the previous films?
MILLER: No. But the one thing that I did do was that, in the first Mad Max, there was an actor called Hugh Keays-Byrne who played Toecutter. He died at the very end of the movie. He was the bad guy. In this film, he played the Immortan Joe, who’s the warlord. The whole movie, he wears a mask on the lower part of his face. The notion is that those people who saw the early one, all that time ago, might recognize Hugh, 30 years later. I’ve always loved him as an actor and as a person, and it was great to have him in there. But, that was the only one.
Is this a story that you’ve wanted to tell in the Mad Max universe for a long time?
MILLER: I didn’t want to do another Mad Max movie because I’d done three and I do have a lot of stories that I want to tell. But the story came to me over 12 years ago, and I kept on pushing it away. I always find that those stories that keep on playing in your mind are the ones that you should pay attention to. So, this story emerged and I made a deal with myself that I was going to do it with storyboards and not write a screenplay, specifically. I wanted to have the visuals come first.
Was there ever any consideration in having Mel Gibson play the role, or did you always want to recast?
MILLER: Back in the early part of the decade, Mel Gibson was cast in the movie. We were about to shoot, and then 9/11 happened and that caused a whole lot of issues, not the least of which was a decline in the American dollar and we lost a significant amount of our budget. At the same time, we had to move on Happy Feet. I thought, “Okay, we’ll do Happy Feet, and take four years for that.” So, we did that, and then, by the time we came out of that, it just went on and on. It’s not a story about an old Mad Max. It’s a story about a younger Mad Max. So, I had to find a new Mad Max. Luckily, Tom Hardy came along. And then, we were about to shoot in Australia, where the shot the first ones, and we had record rains and what was flat red desert, became a flower bed. The salt lakes in the center of Australia, where we were going to shoot, had pelicans and frogs in them. So, we waited and Warner Bros., to their credit, said, “Let’s wait and see if it dries up again.” It hasn’t dried up yet, which is great for the land, but not for Mad Max. That’s how we ended up in Namibia.
Did this Mad Max movie make you think about doing another one? Are there story threads in this one that you want to explore further?
MILLER: That’s a great question. In order to tell this story, we came up with two others. We’ve written a screenplay of one, and a novelization of another, but it’s a very rough novel. When you watch this movie, and you’re watching what happens over three or four days in these people’s lives, you have to form everything that you see in the movie, and not only the characters, but everything they touch and see, with deep backstory. So, we wrote bibles. We asked about who Furiosa is, and we actually had to tell her story. We did that with every character. Out of that, because of the delays, we just kept working on them while we were working on other things. So, we ended up having two other very, very highly developed stories.
The Mad Max shot where you attached the camera to the front of a car was so monumental in cinematography. What can you do with the cameras now?
MILLER: Good question. The truth is, as you know, you can now put cameras anywhere. When we did the first Mad Max, we shot that anamorphic. It was a very, very cheap system that had come down. Sam Peckinpah had made a movie called The Getaway, with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and he really wrecked the lenses, but they were massive lenses. They were very difficult with the cameras, in those days. If you did a motion shot, you needed a big magazine. So, they were big and cumbersome, and to put them on a car was a lot more dangerous then. Now, you can put these smaller digital cameras in there where you couldn’t have, otherwise. But, I didn’t set out to invent any new film language. It would have been nice, but I couldn’t think of any. The camera was always there to tell the story. But, I was able to get cameras where I never would have been able to, in the first Mad Max.
And I don’t know if you know what the Edge camera is. You’ve got a car, you’ve got three guys in the car, and it’s a four-wheel drive with a crane on it and a camera, and a guy is toggling. The camera can move anywhere and can go at high speed. It’s the most brilliant filmmaking instrument that I’ve ever encountered, that never existed before. When you see these cars, there’s no green screen. The camera is moving in and around and amongst them. That’s real-world, real-time, old school filmmaking. It’s because of this incredibly complex thing, called the Edge. I, as the director, was sitting with a great stunt driver, and it’s the wildest drive you can possibly have. I couldn’t get out of that vehicle. It was like being in the middle of a real video game, and we were able to pull off those shots that we never, ever, ever, ever would have been able to do, in the old days.
What did Nicholas Hoult add to things?
MILLER: He’s just a wonderful guy, who’s incredibly mature for someone so young. I have a son not quite his age, but almost. I thought he was mature, but Nicholas has been working since he was nine and he’s one of those really centered actors. This film doesn’t have many speaking roles, but I tested with really complicated scenes. I’d seen his work, but I was just struck by his abilities. He’s one of those actors who insists on doing his own stunts. He’s very methodical and very clear and very safe, but he can really get in there. He plays a character called Nux, who’s a war boy, and he gets caught up in the story, with Max and Furiosa and the others. He’s just got a lot to give, and a lot to contribute to cinema and acting. He’s got so much going on.