Tom Hardy as Max in a scene from "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jason Boland / Warner Bros)Link
From left, Riley Keough as Capable (Brainy), Courtney Eaton as Fragile (Cheedo), Charlize Theron as Furiosa, Nicholas Hoult as Nux, PHS-4, and Abbey Lee as Dag (Smiley), in a scene from "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jason Boland / Warner Bros.)Link
George Miller at Comic-Con International in San Diego. (Michael Yarish / Waner Bros.)Link
In the 35 years since Australian director George Miller made his debut with a gritty, high-octane post-apocalyptic action film called “Mad Max,” his road has taken many a twist and turn. The shoestring-budgeted “Mad Max” launched its star, Mel Gibson, to worldwide fame and spawned two hit sequels — 1981’s “The Road Warrior” and 1985’s “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” — and Miller went on to make such varied films as “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Babe: Pig in the City” and “Happy Feet.”
Now, much to his surprise, Miller’s road has led him back to the “Mad Max” franchise, which he is rebooting with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” starring Tom Hardy — in the role Gibson originated — along with Charlize Theron.
Hero Complex caught up with Miller just hours after footage from the film, which opens May 15, 2015, was greeted with raucous applause at Warner Bros.’ Comic-Con International panel.
Hero Complex: This is your first time ever at Comic-Con. What has your experience been like?
George Miller: I feel very at home. When I was growing up, I was the kind of kid who’d always find the other kids in class who could draw well and we’d draw cartoons and swap comics and read them in class under the desks. So I see these kids here and I think, That was me. It’s fascinating. The energy and the quasi-religious quality of it is really interesting. I even saw protest signs talking about false idols and things like that.
HC: It’s not uncommon to see a younger generation of filmmakers go back to dormant franchises and reinvent them, but for an established director to go back and reboot his own decades-old franchise is more unusual. George Lucas did it with the “Star Wars” prequels, Steven Spielberg did it with “Indiana Jones,” and now you’re doing it with “Mad Max.”
GM: I definitely did not intend to make another “Mad Max.” Having done three, I didn’t want to do any more. But one day about 14 years ago, this idea came to me as I was walking across a pedestrian crossing, and I thought, “That was a ‘Mad Max’ idea!” I put it aside, but once the seed was there, I found it would pop up from time to time like an imaginary friend. Then a couple of years later I caught a long overnight flight from L.A. to Sydney and I couldn’t sleep, and I found a form of the story playing out in my mind, and I thought, “Oh my, this is really interesting.”
HC: You said in the Hall H panel that, rather than write a traditional script, you storyboarded the entire movie.
GM: We wrote it as a storyboard because it’s essentially a constant chase and you’re picking up the characters in the story as you go. It’s all in the same landscape in the same vehicles, so what better than to draw a picture of it? Hitchcock had one of my favorite sayings about cinema: He said, “I want to make movies where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.” And these chase films are like that. You want to be able to have clear syntax and for people to be able to read the film as if it were a silent movie.
HC: You tried to get the movie going years ago with Mel Gibson but it never came together. What happened?
GM: Yeah, we did. We talked about it and Mel wanted to do it. This was in 2000, I guess. We were setting it up and then when 9/11 happened, the American dollar crashed against the Australian dollar and in one day we lost about 20% of our budget. I was preparing “Happy Feet” and Warners said, “If you can’t get ‘Mad Max’ done, just start on ‘Happy Feet.’ ” And one thing led to another — time went by and Mel was having his troubles — and then Tom Hardy walked into our lives. I felt the same thing with Tom that I’d felt with Mel when I first auditioned him: that paradoxical tremendous accessibility and danger as an actor, where you just don’t know what they’re going to do. I spent some time working with a tiger when I worked on the “Babe” films, and I just wanted to touch the tiger — the patterns of its face and those beguiling eyes — but you have to be careful. It’s almost like that in a metaphorical way.
HC: From the outside, it seems surprising that the same director who directed the “Mad Max” movies also made family films with cute talking pigs and dancing penguins. But you’ve said that you see a clear through-line in all your movies. How so?
GM: The [main characters] are all agents of change. Both Babe and Mumble in “Happy Feet” are agents of change, and Max is, in his way, a reluctant agent of change. In all of those films I’ve done, there were also interesting technical challenges to take on. I get excited by the tools.
HC: Those tools have changed to an incredible degree since you made the original “Mad Max” movies. A lot of people feel the way those movies were made was more pure than today’s CGI spectacles.
GM: Well, we made a big, big point to go old-school with “Fury Road.” There are moments of green screen mainly for some landscape, but this is not a green screen movie. We crashed a lot of cars; every stunt was done, if not by the cast then by some very fine stunt men; and it was shot on a real location. I’ve had enough experience with CG to know that you can’t really get some of that immersive material authentic in a way. Cumulatively, it’s appreciated by an audience. It feels more real.
HC: I’m sure you never could have dreamed 35 years ago when you made “Mad Max” that it would lead to where it has.
GM: No, never. “Mad Max” was my very first film. It was made for $350,000, which even back then was very low-budget. I’d hardly ever been on a set, and just everything went wrong. I thought, I’m not cut out for this. I remember I had a conversation with Peter Weir, who’d already made a couple of movies, and I told him I felt like I had no control over the process. And he said, “That’s how it always is. You’ve got to think about it like you’re in a war and you’re going on patrol. You don’t know where the land mines are. But you’ve still got to get your troops through.”
—Josh Rottenberg | @LATHeroComplex
RECENT AND RELATED