Tina Turner remembered by Mad Max director George Miller: ‘She was the opposite of a diva’

When someone was such a life force, you don’t expect them to go. Of course it happens to everybody, but Tina was quite something.

When we made Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, I knew her music like everyone else, but it was her persona that drew me to her – particularly for the role [of Aunty Entity]. I knew where the music came from, where her power came from. In this Mad Max wasteland, anyone who survives, let alone becomes a dominant force, has had to survive a lot of things that would normally diminish a person. Every time we talked about Aunty Entity as we were writing, we’d say: “Oh, someone like Tina Turner.” She was the only person we could think of. And sure enough, she was the only person we ever asked.

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She was the opposite of a diva. I had the privilege of working with her and getting to see just what made her so magnificent. She was so sharp, mentally. She was acutely aware of the dynamics of every situation. She was very funny and playful, she loved to laugh a lot. She was a person of real substance. It wasn’t just the surface. I think that rises out of someone who endures so much in early life and uses it to become incredibly wise.

She performed most of her life, in one way or another. It is relatively rare that someone can go through that process and remain pretty much intact, even grow in stature. I think she had that stature innately, from birth. I once saw her at a 50th birthday party, Mick Jagger and all of those types gathered around her, behaving as if she was this great regal presence in court. I am noticing the way people are talking about her today, about how influential and generous she was. They all learned from her.

And I learned from her. When we worked together, I could tell she got something out of learning about acting. But I was learning from her too – first of all, just doing the hard work. And second of all, how to inspire those around you to work together for a common goal. I think she knew it too; she once told me: “You’d learn a lot if you came on tour with us for a week or two.” I was so tempted to do it, but I was caught up with finishing the film. I have always regretted not going with her.

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I once saw her backstage after a concert, where one of her band members was having some problems. He was having some kind of personal crisis and was thinking about moving on, ending his career. He came in to talk to her and I said: “Oh, I’ll leave the room.” “No no,” she said, “Listen.” And I watched her talk to him. She understood his problems, she was firm with him and she talked him off the ledge, as it were. I was so impressed with her demeanour – her firmness on one hand, and her kindness on the other. But then I saw her doing the same again, with the Jackson brothers. That was when I realised she did that for everyone.

A story that sticks in my mind was in 1988. There were fireworks on Sydney Harbour for the bicentennial and Tina had got a boat and invited a lot of people to go out on it. My two-year-old daughter came along and Tina played with her. As the night wore on, we had to put our daughter to bed in one of the bunks, but she didn’t want to go. She kept saying: “I want to play with the Tina Turner girl, I want to play with the Tina Turner girl.” So we took her back. But Tina was so happy to keep playing with her. For that night at least, she was the Tina Turner girl.

She grew up in America, but she was very much an internationalist. She became a Swiss citizen at the end. The last time I saw her was in the late 1990s, when she was living on the coast of France, near Cannes. She embraced Australia and Australia embraced her.

Like everyone, you feel the loss. There was a very powerful presence there and when that’s gone, there is a sadness, an awareness that this happens to all of us – even someone as magnificent as Tina.