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Following the explosive screening of the first footage from Mad Max: Fury Road at Comic-Con International in San Diego, director George Miller and producer Doug Mitchell sat down in front of the press to get grilled about the film. With a production schedule that spanned well over a decade — and principal photography for Fury Road wrapping in December 2012 — questions about the movie have been piling up.
Now, with the director and producer on hand and ready to talk, the press got the most important question out of the way first: Is Tom Hardy’s Mad Max the same as Mel Gibson’s?
“It’s based on the same character that Mel played, the lone warrior in the wasteland that’s basically disengaged from the rest of the world,” Miller replied. “But naturally, Tom brings his Tom Hardiness to it, and he brings another quality. The character is different to some degree because the story is different. So it’s a kind of a yes/no answer. Yes, it’s different, but he’s essentially grown out of the same material.”
With nearly 30 years having passed since Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Miller spoke to the changes in technology he was able to utilize in the production of Fury Road. “So much has changed. Technology has changed. We shot with digital cameras. You can do a lot more — simply safety, you can keep everyone safe. We had a lot of the actors, when you see the movie you’ll see, a lot of the actors doing their own 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.”
Miller also revealed that Fury Road was written storyboard-first, with the film playing out in nearly 3,500 panels instead of in traditional script form. “The big thing I wanted to try to do was tell a film with not a lot of dialogue,” Miller explained. “[This is] a world in which people say very little, and [we] basically have one extended chase in which you discover the backstory of the characters along the way.”
In addition to Tom Hardy as Mad Max, the next installment in the franchise includes Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. With her shaved head, robotic arm, and smoldering glare, Theron commands attention in pretty much every second of footage she’s been seen in so far … but Miller didn’t want to talk too much about her just yet.
“Without trying to give away too much story,” Miller began hesitantly. “She’s the boss of a war rig, which is a big rig, which is one of the characters in the story as it were — that’s the rig in which the people flee across the wasteland. And I can’t really think of another character in cinema quite like her. I’m sure 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 that I honestly can’t think of another character, a great female action character, [there’s] nothing quite like this. If I said too much more I’d give away too much story.”
The director might be so protective of the story simply because it’s been under his care for well over a decade now. “I didn’t want to do another Mad Max because I’d done three, and I do have a lot of stories I want to tell,” Miller said. “But the story came to me over 12 years go, and I kept on pushing it away. I always found that those stories that keep on playing in your mind, you should pay attention to. When this story occurred, I made a deal with myself that if I could do it this particular way, with storyboards and not write a screenplay specifically — to have the visuals come first. We did that, back in the early part of the decade, [and] Mel Gibson was cast. Then we were about to shoot, and then 9/11 happened, and that caused a whole lot of issues, including the decline in the American dollar, and we lost a significant amount of budget… As time went on, [we realized] that it’s not a story about an old Mad Max, it’s the story of a young Mad Max, so we had to find a new Mad Max and luckily Tom Hardy came along.”
The long production process did result in more than just Fury Road, however. “In order to tell this story, we came up with two others, which we had written the screenplay of one and a novelization of another. But it’s a very rough novel,” Miller revealed. This other material came into being as part of the extensive bibles Miller and his co-writers created to give the characters in Fury Road a backstory.
One character that needed backstory created was Nux, a ferocious young warrior that’s a far cry from the erudite Beast actor Nicholas Hoult played in two X-Men films. “He’s just a wonderful guy, incredibly mature for someone so young,” Miller said. “Nick, having been working since he was nine, is one of those really sensitive actors. I said this film doesn’t have many speaking roles, but I tested with really complicated scenes. We would give them very complicated speeches. Peter Finch’s speech from Network to do, stuff like that, big long monologues. I was just struck — I’d seen [Nick’s] work but I was struck by his abilities.”
Miller closed out the press conference by admitting that this was his first trip to Comic-Con International, but he added that it wouldn’t be his last. “I grew up as a kid doing cartoons in class and getting in trouble and putting comic books in my text books. When I was in university I was missing classes to go off and see a double feature when I shouldn’t have done it…When I come here, I described it as I feel they’re my tribe … To see this, I would never dream this back when I was a kid. I never dreamed I would see this. It’s like some wonderland, really.”
Mad Max: Fury Road opens May 15, 2015.