George Miller Talks Mad Max Sequels and Tom Hardy Tension On Fury Road

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ had a tortured journey from the mind of series creator George Miller to the big screen and was beset with problems right from the start.

After two aborted productions in the early ‘00s, Mel Gibson’s much-publicised meltdown, a shoot in the Namibian desert with new leading man Tom Hardy plagued with rumours of on-set problems and reshoots, followed by years of post-production, the fourth ‘Mad Max’ arrived early this summer to widespread critical and commercial acclaim.

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There’s now talk of sequels, spin-offs, and the film’s 70-year-old George Miller is suddenly hot property once again in Tinseltown. 

We caught up with the Aussie filmmaker while he was in town to promote the home entertainment release of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (out now on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and digital download) to talk sequels, Tom Hardy, men’s rights activists, the rumoured black and white version of ‘Fury Road’, and how the film would have differed had Mel Gibson been the star.

Yahoo Movies: What’s the latest on ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ sequels?

George Miller: We’re talking to the studio about it, but that’s where we are. That’s all I can say.

YM: So ‘Fury Road’ made enough money to warrant those discussions?

GM: Oh yeah. Definitely. We wouldn’t be talking about it if it hadn’t.

YM: There was talk that the sequel would be called ‘Mad Max: The Wasteland’, has that been decided?

GM: Not really. That’s just stuff that got out on the internet, it’s not been decided yet.

YM: Is there a chance we’d see more of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa?

GM: Yes, definitely. A lot of the characters I want to come back.

YM: So the sequel will be more of a continuation than a standalone story?

GM: In their own way they’re always standalone. It deals with the same world and obviously it’s the same characters, but they’re not a continuous story. They are episodes, if you like, in the lives of the wasteland and the characters.

YM: What were your thoughts on the men’s rights activist boycott of the film?

GM: It was kinda nonsense. There’s always this noise at the periphery of things and the best thing you can do is to pay no mind to it really. Movie stories, and in particular those that are allegorical, are in the eye of the beholder. That’s the whole nature of allegory. So we can all decide what things mean.

To some people it means one thing and to another it means something else. It’s like song lyrics, we all have our own interpretations, or our favourite bit of poetry, that’s the nature of it. It’s open to interpretation and that’s just one of them.

YM: At Cannes, Tom Hardy apologised for being “myopic” on set for not recognising or understanding your vision for the story. Was there tension on set?

GM: There was the tension that would expect if you’re doing something for real. These were real people in a real wasteland for seven months, every day out there in the desert, doing hardcore action.

And someone like Tom is a creature of the theatre, and in the theatre, the actor is there on the stage playing out a continuous performance. So, he does something like ‘Locke’, where he’s doing a lot of that.

In an action movie, particularly like ‘Fury Road’, it’s tiny little bits of film, moments at a time, accumulated like pieces of a mosaic, so it’s very hard for the actor to grab at any continuity.

Also, he’s playing a silent character, or at least a person who doesn’t say very much, so it goes against his nature as an actor, but that was just him trying to really, really do a good job.  

I did try to warn everyone that’s the trick of these things because the moment you say “action” you go for about 5 seconds and then you say “cut”. It’s very hard for the actor.

We often did repeat takes – reset, shoot again, reset, shoot again – and kept the cameras running because they were digital cameras, so you’re not chewing up celluloid. So that’s what it was about and then he realised at some point when he saw the film come together that basically he had to be – in a sense – in my head.

But he was gracious enough to recognise that.

YM: The film was in development for some time…

GM: Yeah, it was greenlit 3 times.

YM: So how different would the film have been if you’d made it the first time it was greenlit?

GM: Well, it’s an interesting question. It would have been, the basic story, it would have been the same. Because it was storyboarded that way and a good proportion of the boarding stayed.

At that point it was Mel Gibson and then when the film fell down at that point, by mid 2000s, Mel had hit all this turbulence in his life. So what I’m trying to say is that it would have been different because it would have had a different cast.

So in tone, to some degree it would have been different. But the thing that changed the most was the technology, in just a bit over a decade. The cameras were much more agile. The digital cameras were much, much more flexible. You could put a camera at risk, where in the old days, if you smashed a camera, there goes a quarter of a million US dollars. Nowadays you can buy a camera at the airport and shoot it if you need to.  

The imagery, everything was much more flexible, the image was much more plastic. The 3D conversion had advanced, we could never have attempted that back in the early days. Shooting native 3D would have been pretty much impossible because the cameras weren’t small enough to get into the cabins for close ups.

So the film would have been less agile, I would say, but the story would have been the same.

YM: It was a blessing in disguise then?

GM: Yeah, exactly. The things like those guys on the polecats? Initially I thought we’d do guys on green screen and comp them in to the shot because I thought we’d kill someone if we had them up on the poles. 

But by the time we regroup and shoot it again, we figured out how to make them actually real and work the physics of them out precisely and safely, even to the point where we got Tom Hardy on top of one those things.

YM: You cited Akira as an influence on the film…

GM: Actually, I didn’t, I don’t know where that came from. I’m a huge fan of anime and the precision of that and to some degree Manga, even though I don’t read Japanese, but just the aesthetic of it. So Akira might have been one of the many movies but it certainly wasn’t one that directly influenced Mad Max.

YM: There’s talk of a live action Akira at Warner Bros., would you be interested?

GM: There was talk of it, but I’ve got so many things on my dance card, I don’t have the time to do everything.

YM: What happened to the black and white version of Fury Road?

GM: The best version I ever saw of ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ was way back in the day when the composers would do what they call a “slash dupe”. To save money, they would take the coloured cut of the movie on celluloid and do a black and white, nasty print of it, very high contrast, and the composers would conduct to that.

And I watched this movie, ‘Mad Max 2′, in very harsh black and white and there was something about the outdoors in that light, it made it very elemental. So on Fury Road when we got into the DI suite, colouring the movie I’d often say to Eric, the colourist, “Can you take all the colour out?” And we’d just see it in pristine black and white, and it was always better!

I think the reason is because it abstracts it even more, but of course I wasn’t going to go to the studio and say “I want to make it black and white”, it’s not an art movie. I want to do a DVD version where we only had the black and white and we only had the music track. Further down the track I’d like to do it.

YM: You’ve been linked with Man of Steel 2, is that something you’d be interested in?

GM: I’m definitely interested. I was going to do a Justice League until an Australian government rebate didn’t go through. They were very indecisive and we were up against the writer’s strike, and it fell through.

I’ve always been interested in mythology and I think the superhero myth and the superhero stories are basically Greek and Roman mythology revisited in the modern day, so that’s always very interesting. Those things are always in the mix.

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is out now on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download. Watch a clip below.

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Image credits: Warner Bros./Rex Features/Giphy