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Why George Miller Wanted Heath Ledger To Be Mad Max In 'Fury Road'

Director George Miller opens up about the year's manliest action movie. <em></em>
by | Oct 6, 2015
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In the world of filmmaking, it seems 70 is quickly becoming the new 30, with Hollywood’s elder statesmen picking up the pace in their eighth decade, and beyond. Ridley Scott (77) is about to release his fourth film in four years. Martin Scorsese (72) is firing on all cylinders following a string of critical hits (three this decade) and Clint Eastwood is probably still staggering around under the cache of awards American Sniper picked up earlier this year.

Another member of this new gang emerged this summer, when 70-year-old Australian director George Miller proved it’s not just the Americans who can do "blockbuster" with his fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise. Mel Gibson-free and coming 30 years after the last film, there were some doubts about the fourth installment (even if it did star everyone’s favourite actor, Tom Hardy).

Photo via Madmaxmovie Instagram page 

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But a $374.7 million box office take proved we’re more than ready for a return to the wasteland. Lucky then that Miller and Hardy are already working on the follow-up Mad Max: The Wasteland. We sat down with Miller to talk retuning to the franchise, his forays into children’s films, and his long-abandoned Justice League film

What were the main differences in making
Mad Max in 1979 and 2015?

“The differences were huge. The world has changed and so has cinema. The second Mad Max was regarded as a pretty intense action movie. It had 1,200 different camera shots. This one had 2,900 shots. Movies now are busier and how we consume them is changing all the time. “Secondly, the technology has changed so much. In Fury Road all the people, all the cars, all the crashes are real. Now we can put harnesses on actors like Tom Hardy and hang them upside down from a speeding War Rig. There’s so much more you can do.”

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The original three films are all slightly different, tonally. How did you decide which elements you’d take from the original films to define the world of
Fury Road?

“Just the ones that stuck in my mind and I thought we could do with exploring further. Someone said that Scrooloose from Beyond Thunderdome was a War Boy. That’s not the case. I love the way Scrooloose looks, but it wasn’t really conscious. There were a few conscious references—like the music box from Road Warrior—but not too many.”

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Fury Road took a long time to get made and Mel Gibson was attached originally. Did you ever consider keeping him on and having Max in his 60s or beyond?

“No. It’s not a story like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven about an old, ageing warrior. Max is supposed to be that universal archetype of the lone warrior searching the wasteland for meaning. He’s a perennial character, like the gunslinger, or the lone samurai. At a certain point Mel just couldn’t do it. Interestingly, Tom Hardy was six weeks old when we started filming the first Mad Max film.”

Was he your first choice?

“The only other actor I considered was Heath Ledger. Every time he was in Australia we’d sit down and talk. He was a wonderful man. He, Mel and Tom had the same quality when they walk into the room, a real likeability mixed with a turbulence. It’s a wonderful paradox of nervous energy. That’s great for an essentially silent character."

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You have two more scripts lined up. Will they follow on from each other?

“They’ll be tangentially linked. They’re all in the same world, but they won’t be direct sequels. During the huge delays on Fury Road, we developed deep backstories from everything from weapons to vehicles to the Doof Warriror who plays the guitar. The film is very helter-skelter, so you have to help the audience pick up as much as possible on the way."

At what stage did Charlize Theron’s character Furiosa become the lead?

“From the beginning. The basic idea was to be the chase across the desert with the stolen five wives of the tyrannical warlord. It couldn’t be a man, because that’s a man stealing women from another man. It had to be a woman and she had to be as hard-bitten as Max. Charlize nailed it."

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You were attached to direct a Justice League film back in 2007. What went wrong?

“We’d cast the movie and designed the sets and the costumes but the whole thing was dependant on a tax rebate from the Australian government. They had a new government who didn’t understand the film industry and they basically stopped the movie. It was very clumsy. These sort of problems happen to everyone. As John Lennon said ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.’ It was fine. I made Happy Feet 2 instead."

Will you go back to the superhero genre?

“I’m interested in mythology, and superheroes are basically the latest incarnation of the Greek and Roman gods, so I’d always be interested in doing that. Batman is interesting because he’s human and he wants to be a god. What was interesting about the Greek gods is that they were fallible and interested in all the human emotions from jealousy to rage. They were much more interesting back in the day."

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Is it a different mind-frame when you’re directing something like [Miller’s insanely popular children’s films]
Babe 2 and Happy Feet?

“Whatever I’m doing is driven by the story. If it’s really good you feel compelled to tell it. I’m also interested in the technology. Babe was at the beginning of the digital age when we could make the pigs talk. Happy Feet came about when I saw Gollum in Lord Of The Rings and realised we could make penguins dance. Before I had kids I made more adult films, then suddenly I was watching family movies, so that was in my head. Now my kids are grown up, I go back to Mad Max.”

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