Director George Miller, the originator of the post-apocalyptic genre and mastermind behind the legendary Mad Max franchise, is now releasing his fourth film in the world, Mad Max: Fury Road. This time around, Road Warrior Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is haunted by his turbulent past, and even though he believes the best way to survive is alone, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig that is driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is transporting stolen cargo from the evil Immortan Joe.
During a conference at the film’s press day, co-stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron talked about how broken this Max is, being only as good as the opportunities that are handed to you, how bad-ass Furiosa is, making these roles their own, and the most daunting stunts that they did themselves. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: Tom, the Max in this movie seems to be more broken than we’ve ever seen him before. Were you reflecting on all that he’s been through in the previous three movies?
TOM HARDY: I think he’s supposed to be broken, isn’t he? In many ways, he’s a broken-spirited man. We start off with Max in a hermetic lifestyle, in the beginning. He wants to be left alone. And then, we see him open up throughout the movie, connect with humanity around him, and be broken again, really. And then, he’s sent off into the Wasteland. I’m not sure quite where this fits into the films prior to it, but there was a succession of conversations about and around the world and mythology previous. George [Miller] wanted him to be broken, at the beginning, and then suitably broken again.
Having done it before yourself, did you have sympathy for a villain who had to wear a mask for an entire movie?
HARDY: I do like a mask. I’m not going to lie, sorry. But it was nice to get a new one, and in the form of a garden fork stuck to my face.
Charlize, what was so irresistible about putting yourself through all of this?
CHARLIZE THERON: Well, I’ve found 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 have him 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 just found myself so incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity.
What did you think of the name Furiosa?
THERON: Furiosa is a pretty bad-ass name. It’s funny, you get a name in a movie because that’s just 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 we had was that the movie is so bare in its explanation about where these people come from and who they really are, and you really find them in the midst of the movement already, and 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. Anything that was emotionally driving her was already represented in her name, and that was helpful. And it’s just a cool name.
Do you feel like your dance background helped you out with this role?
THERON: George is fascinated by that world and knows a lot about it, and it was a huge part of my life. But, I’d forgotten. It was a long time ago that I was on stage telling stories just with my body. I feel I integrated that with my work, but this was to another extreme. But, we talked about it a lot. As actors, we fight that tooth and nail because of fear. Language and dialogue are a crutch. It’s so easy to just have a great writer write you a line. But George was just so adamant about keeping this on track, and understanding that the world is so bare and that language would be such a luxury that these people would never have access to. In the beginning, all of us were like, “Uh, can I get one line here?” But for me, maybe five weeks into shooting, it became second nature. I trusted it a little bit more, and it became easier. And when I watch the movie now, it’s so evident to me that that was exactly the way to tell it.
After being out in the middle of nowhere on this, where did you go to unwind, at the end of the day or between takes?
THERON: It was really hard to escape it. I think secretly George planned it that way, the bastard.
HARDY: I’m still unwinding, as we speak.
Tom, what did you do to make this role your own?
HARDY: Initially, I was daunted because, obviously, Mad Max is synonymous with Mel Gibson, and is a much loved character by many people. At the same time, I was really excited to get the job because it’s always exciting to get a job, but it was also such a big fish to land. The other side of that was that everybody loves Mel as Max, and nobody is going to want me, at all. It’s like being a new boy at school, and set up for immediate failure. George not only created the car chase movie, he also created the post-apocalyptic movie, some 40 years ago. There was no real pressure to fill anybody’s shoes, or to be a new Mad Max, of any sort. I was inheriting a legacy, and had been chosen by George to translate his vision and character into the Mad Max world of today, which is further discovered and mined and pursued by George. That he asked me to come along and portray his Max, it was really just a question of doing what was asked of me to fully translate George’s 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. So, I don’t think I brought anything new, as such, but the fact that I’m just a new actor in the fourth installment of the legacy, which once was Mel’s role and still is, rightly so. I’m just the new boy, who’s hopefully accepted.
Charlize, what was it like working with all of the women on this?
THERON: I don’t get to make a lot of movies acting with this amount of women. I was surrounded by women, and it was a breath of fresh air for me. George has an innate understanding in what women represent in society, and he wanted that to reflect in a post-apocalyptic world in the most truthful way possible. We’re just 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. The idea of creating a world and understanding that, obviously, you’re going to need us for procreation, but there’s so much more to it. I personally was so touched by this character. She’s about the most broken woman that you can imagine. In many ways, she’s been a disappointment, for what you would consider a woman to be, socially, and she ended up being discarded for that. She was stolen, as a young child, and brought into an environment where she was thrown into a breeding program. She was barren and couldn’t do the things that she was supposed to do as a woman. So, she ends up actually fulfilling her destiny, which is to just be her.
Do you feel like there are more roles for women in these bigger action movies now?
THERON: Yes and no. I think it’s a complicated question to answer. 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 re-imagine this world, and that he was going to create this female character who was going to stand right next to Max. And at first, you’re always like, “That’s awesome!” And then, you become a little bit 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 a wisp of hair in my mouth.” That’s why I shaved my head. I was like, “No wispy hair!” No. I’ve been doing this for awhile and I’ve made a real effort to try to veer away from those things. And then, I met George and there was just something about him that I really believed him. I believed that he wanted to do something that felt really truthful. And 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. Well, let me speak for myself. I just don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I don’t want to be anything other than what I am. I want to just be a woman, but an authentic woman, whether it’s this genre, or any other genre. So, when you come across that rare filmmaker that really wants to embrace that and stick it through, it’s really nice. Should there be more of it? Hell, yeah! When these women come on screen, we all respond to them positively and they really get a reaction out of us. Why is that not enough of a reason for us to keep exploring that?
Did you have to be dragged to the chair to get your head shaved?
THERON: I didn’t get dragged to it. The movie stopped and started, a lot of times. George and I had had gone through various different looks and ideas. The more time we had, the more the story just informed both of us. As an actor, you’re just trying to fit into the world, and I didn’t know how to fit into this world. There was something nice about this element of surprise. We weren’t trying to hide her as a woman, but she also really just melted into this underworld mechanics place where she was almost forgotten, as a woman. So, I wanted something that could kind of disappear, and I didn’t know how to do that with a ponytail. I had just done a press junket, and my hair was really fried. I had a night where I thought, “You know what? What if we just shave it?” I wasn’t fully convinced, so I called George. I probably woke him up at 3 am, and I said, “What do you think about this idea?” He was just really quiet, and then I could hear him breathe. It was like he took a deep breath, which I took as a positive. I found out later that he was concerned about the shape of my head. I didn’t have buzzers, so my friend brought me some buzzers. I was just going to let him do it, and he was like, “No, you should do it.” So, 45 minutes later, it was off, and we sent the selfie to George. He wrote me back and was like, “Awesome, Furiosa!”
Do you recommend it?
THERON: Yeah. The amazing thing is that, after that, I was 20 minutes early to everything in my life. It’s unbelievable, how much time we spend on our hair. I also emptied two garbage bags full of hair products and brushes. There was definitely something very freeing in that, for sure. 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.
Tom, were you really strapped to the front of that car?
HARDY: Yeah. I had handcuffs on and a pitch fork stuck to my face. To be fair, I was strapped to the front of the car for a couple of weeks, maybe. But my stunt double was strapped to it for about six weeks, doing about 60 kilometers an hour.
What was the most daunting stunt that you guys did yourselves?
HARDY: All of them, actually. I’m not very good with heights, so the scaffolding pole was hard. In Australia, they set something up my own private scaffolding pole in a car park. I went down there really jet-lagged and was like, “I really don’t want to go up the scaffolding pole!” It’s quite lonely up there. When the scaffolding pole goes one way, you naturally fall that way, as well. And then when it comes back to the middle, you have to roll around and fall the other way. And there’s no one up there to complain to. You just drift into the camera, and then drift away again. That was fun.
THERON: I had a rough time with the scene where Max falls off the hood of the car, and Riley Keough and I have to grab ahold of him. It was on my mechanical arm, and I had no control over it, so I couldn’t really use my own body strength to hold Tom up. They just took my claw and stuck it into his pants. So, I was leaning out the window like, “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. I’m hooked on him.” I was a bit of a pussy that day, for sure.
Mad Max: Fury Road opens in theaters on May 15th.