We pull up a chair next to the man taking over the role of road warrior Max Rockatansky (made famous by Mel Gibson in the first three Mad Max movies) to chat all things Mad Max: Fury Road.
Firstly, have you met Mel Gibson?
Oh, yeah, we had a lunch, in LA four or five months before we started filming. It was a hand-the-baton-over moment. Mel’s Max, right? When George [Miller, director] asked me to play Max it just seemed right to touch base with Mel. It was an experience. He told my agents that they had probably found someone who’s more insane than he was! I take that as a compliment.
What stood out for you when you first saw Mad Max?
Black leather, metal, the shotgun, the dog… the dog is very important to me. I was very young as well because it was 1979 and I was only two years old so I didn’t come to it until I was about 10 or 12. I knew about it before I came across it but I was too young to watch it by that time Mad Max was already in people’s vocabulary. It would be impossible not to know the name anywhere even if you hadn’t seen the film.
Did the original movie have an impact on how you related to the character?
No, I didn’t think it did until I was playing Max. At the time it just looked a bit weird with strange men and women and leather. It’s a bit weird, a bit advanced, and clever and smart.
I mean those original movies are very out of the box, very eccentric and esoteric and dynamic. It’s this wild, wacky, crazy, post- apocalyptic, super-stylised, action movie. It’s fantastic stuff.
Did you ever hesitate about taking on such an iconic role?
I didn’t hesitate at all. As a young actor, to play Max is a huge opportunity. He is not someone who can just leap across a river. He has not got any superhero abilities but he is as iconic as your Batman or your Superman. Everyone I know was going up for this; lots of Australian actors, who should be playing Max, really. Obviously I am really grateful that it’s me but I am very aware of he is an Australian icon. I have to pay respects to that and pay attention to that.
Is Max actually mad?
There are elements of all kinds of maverick in him, obviously, but I always thought Max is somebody who just wants to go home but there is no home. His family is dead. It’s really sad. And in a place where there’s no humanity, he still yearns for it, despite the elements beating him down.
A lot of the roles you’ve played before are very in-your-face. Are you a bit mad?
I suppose that, and being typecast as a lunatic, come hand-in-hand, but trying to understand complex psychology and play that, is a playground for a lot of fun and a lot of characters, and you should not misinterpret that with the actor. It’s not something that has come from a crazy place. It is something that I’ve observed. So I just reflect it and if that gives me gainful employment then I’m certainly not going to knockback a pay check. But I’m not a loony. Well, maybe I am a loony. I’m nuts!
Was there a cool moment on set for you during filming?
The whole thing was cool. When you are faced with an awful lot of adrenaline, like six months of it, it gets pretty f–king tiring. There was so much of an orchestration of adrenal choreography that it would be impossible not to somehow zone out of it and find a way through it, because on a daily basis the job had to be done. I mean there were three other Maxes – the driving Max, the physical double doing the fighting, and motorcycle Max.
And they did the hard yards for you?
The other three Maxes are being driven around the desert and thrown around and rolled over and doing stuff which is really dangerous. And this whole movie doesn’t stop. It starts on the road and it’s one hundred miles an hour plus going in one direction, then it turns around and comes all the way back again. We were just constantly moving. It’s an adrenaline rollercoaster. Every time you see a car roll over or a lorry being spun in the air or things flying at you in 3D, they’re actually really there.
Did you have any injuries?
You just grin and bear it. You don’t get awards for Best Choreography or Best Fight or Best Car Chase, but you should. You’ve got people actually technically trying not to kill themselves in the pursuit of somebody’s dream. And they actually make something come to life. We had over 600 stuntmen and women up there in 100+ degrees, every day, for six months, eight or nine months for some people.
How was it working out in the desert?
We were going to shoot initially in Broken Hill, in NSW, and that’s the birthplace of Mad Max, but then it had the worst rainfall in years and turned into a meadow. That’s not what we had come to do, so there was a logistical switch to Namibia. And to get all the equipment, all of the vehicles you see from Australia to Namibia, was an absolute pleasure!
Considering he knows the world of Mad Max so well, how did [director] George Miller approach it?
This man came with so much material and it’s very hard to explain everything. He had to relate an entire library of knowledge in a very short amount of time. He’s incredibly smart. We had pictures so I could visually see what he was saying. He storyboarded the entire movie. I read comics and I like books but I’d never seen a comic book like this – 300 pages long, every single frame detailed.
What was your impression when you saw Charlize Theron?
Oh, striking. Absolutely striking. She looks amazing and so brave as well. There is a woman who is not afraid to just bare everything in her work, and that’s fantastic. And she can back it up as well.
What did this movie cost you physically and emotionally?
Some days I wasn’t sure I could keep up with it. There’s a lot riding on it. But I could be in much, much, worse places so you just pull your socks up, don’t you? You get on with it. I’m getting paid to do something unbelievable. I’m living the dream.
Would you do a second and third Mad Max?
Yeah, of course I would! These things largely depend on the performance of the vehicle. I have no shadow of doubt in my mind we’ll be going out again. The film is awesome.