Hugh Keays-Byrne on Mad Max: Fury Road

Hugh Keays ByrneThe mask and Immortan Joe’s lines are scary by themselves. What else can you give to it as an actor to make him so effective?

All the beautiful people around me that make all these lovely gadgets and bits and pieces. The craft around me does a lot of stuff and also I was able to click with all the war boys.

Luckily George had put enough in the schedule to give us a few weeks before we started filming of getting that shit together. What was really lucky is I was in the last one. And that most of the lads that were where going to be war boys weren’t even born when it came out.

So they showed me sweet respect because they couldn’t believe I was still alive. That was a great help to me because I could build on that.

Is it true your role in the original Mad Max (The Toecutter) was based partly on Genghis Kahn?

No. I think Genghis Khan was mentioned in the script in terms of the hairstyle.

A lot of the extras you worked with were real bikers. How did you get along with those guys?

Fine. I still know some of them. They’ve gone into all sorts of things really. Basically bikie work.

How much did they pay you for the role of The Toecutter?

I think all up I made $2000.

Any cool stories of being recognised back then?

More over the past 20 years in getting recognised. I’m 69 now, I started in the 70s, I made a fair few films and Mad Max was one of them. Things tail off, things pick up, I tried to get behind the camera and get to the other side. Then suddenly there you are in the supermarket and somebody goes ‘Toecutter!’

And that happens pretty much every week. I think it’s starting to happen a bit more because the whole Mad Max thing has come up again in the past four or five years.

When did George first talk to you about a new Mad Max?

I think it was about nine years ago that George first talked to me about the possibility of doing another one.

Is it frustrating that people remember you for that one role when you’ve got such a full career?

No, I understand it was the most popular thing I’ve done.

Any good Dennis Hopper stories from the Mad Dog Morgan shoot?

He asked me if I had any hash on the way to work one morning. I had a little lump and said ‘that’s all I’ve got’. And he said ‘oh, give us a smell’, and I pass it round and he ate it. I said ‘you c**t, why did you f**king do that?’

So to this day Dennis Hopper owes you a little bit of hash?

He ate it. He hasn’t given me any money back. He’s shat it out by now but he’s gone now, isn’t he?

Did you and George toss the idea back and forth about a new Mad Max while you stayed in touch?

Not really. He just sort of phoned up and said there was a possibility of it being on.

Was it a tough shoot?

It was a tough shoot but not for me. I was absolutely gliding. Everybody loved me. I was able to distribute largesse for groups of boys together and we’d have a laugh. Nobody told us what to do, nobody got in our way.

Did you have to be careful not to just play the Toecutter again?

Of course, but I just put my trust in George, end of story. Just because there’s nothing else one can do. It’s not like theatre, you can’t control the situation. It’s going to be, you know, George is talking to me in the earpiece saying ‘look this way, look that way’. You just do it.

You don’t worry too much because there’s so many layers that are going to get added. The lines I was saying weren’t going to go out into the theatre in the movie because you’re going to come back in and re-record it all. You had to, you couldn’t hear yourself breathe because of the noise of those engines.

How would you compare Mel’s Max and Tom Hardy’s?

I can’t. They’ve both got their own cool. What is it, this Mad Max? It’s a streak of dark and there’s a streak of theatricality. From Max, the character’s point of view, there’s a streak of cool distance.

I didn’t actually have much to do with Tom on the set because I wasn’t doing scenes with him so I didn’t spend much time with him.