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Interview: Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road

Charlize Theron tells Time Out about the challenges of surviving a post-apocalyptic world as the War Rig driving, shaven headed warrior, Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

It’s been a long time and finally Max Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment of the road-raging cult classic, is hitting screens. Production of the film was discussed for almost 25 years and in 2003 a script was ready and pre-production underway. Due to unforeseen circumstances like the outbreak of the Iraq War and growing tensions between the US and other foreign countries, the film didn’t get the green light to shoot in Namibia until four years ago.

This time, Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson as eponymous hero Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron stars as badass rogue warrior, Imperator Furiosa, who is supposed to take the lead in the fifth installment of the franchise, Mad MaxFuriosa.

The role has been one of most challenging for Oscar-winner Theron, who spent several months working under the scorching Namibian sun. The 39-year-old had to shave her head, toughen up and pilot a war machine in the middle of an African desert. But as she tells us, it was all worth it. 

When you first talked to George Miller about Max Max: Fury Road, what resonated about your character, Furiosa? 
The whole thing was pretty secret. There was a script, but it was really just a long storyboard. George and I had several conversations and he communicated what he wanted to do with Furiosa, which felt really honest.

Every time you make a film with somebody there is this moment where you have to kind of jump off the cliff with them. But, in this case, I feel like we were blindfolded, because there was very little to go by, except for George as a filmmaker, which is, I think, why we all signed up. 
So what happened with Furiosa was that there was a grain that was really thought out, and over the years as this project came together we ended up with a character that I felt was very unique, and somewhat brutally honest. It was interesting for me to play in this world, in a genre where a character’s flaws are celebrated. 

Can you talk about who Furiosa actually is?

Well, when you watch the movie you understand certain things about her, but the film is so sparse, and that’s the beauty of it because she really is an enigma. She starts the film in overdrive, helping or kidnapping – we’re not quite sure – these brides of a dictator, Immortan Joe. She basically takes off in one of the trucks and you don’t quite know whether these girls can trust her or what she’s planning to do with them. You notice that she’s looking a lot like the Warboys chasing her and has a mechanical arm.

She looks like a boy, but she’s not. I think you can tell there’s a look of desperate revenge on her face. And I loved all of that. 
Her journey starts off that way and then, obviously, gets derailed when she runs into Max, and all of a sudden she is kind of captured by him. But he’s also captured by her. They’re somewhat stuck with each other on this journey to find hope – a journey of hope in a place where there really is no hope. But she’s this kind of rogue survivor; that’s what she has always been.

Some members of this generation are going to be meeting Mad Max for the first time in this film, as played by Tom Hardy. Can you talk about working with Tom and what you think he brings to the role? 
There’s definitely a new generation of people who don’t even know what Mad Max is. And I think that’s the beauty of Fury Road. It’s a standalone movie, but it has elements that definitely connect to the films from the 70s and 80s. There are nice little references if you know those films, but you don’t need to.

And if you are familiar with those films, obviously what you know is what Mel Gibson brought to Mad Max. But I think George was incredibly smart in getting Tom to kind of reinvent this great character, this iconic character, because Tom doesn’t play by the rules and I think you needed that in order to really create something new. It’s pretty brave of him to step into shoes filled by an actor like Mel Gibson. I think it takes a really ballsy, brave actor to not be scared to bring his own thing to the role and at the same time be respectful of the character that George created with Mel, and hang on to the emotional drive that I think is very similar. But Tom really created something that is, I think, very, very deserving of a new Mad Max film.

What was the shoot like? 
Physically and logistically, it was the hardest film that I’ve ever made. I think you can bear anything for four months, which is normal for a movie. And we shot, I want to say, six, seven months? Most of the movie was shot in Namibia and we were really in the middle of nowhere.

The process of making this movie, too, was unusual. I don’t think any of us, as actors, had ever experienced a process like this – not really having a script, not having scene numbers. For everything that we lacked in dialogue, we made up for in brute force. There was a physical aspect to this character I had to keep up with that wasn’t easy.

We were meant to shoot this movie three years earlier, and that was like the perfect time in my life, when I wanted to set off and just live in a tent in the middle of a desert. But later, by the time we made the movie, my life was quite different. I had just become a new mum and I had different responsibilities. So, mentally, it was a little tricky for me to get my head around. 

What was the most memorable moment during filming? 

I think as an actor, you prepare for this stuff that you have to do and, for me, there were these amazing moments when you see what the stunt people were doing around you that you weren’t prepared for – the work on wires and poles that they were doing in the fight sequences. Getting to do that while you were actually driving the War Rig, and having people kind of fall in and out of the truck while this fight sequence was happening – I mean, it was incredible to watch.

There’s a scene where we’re driving the War Rig and I have to hold Tom up when he’s falling out of the truck. And because of my character’s mechanical arm, I was attached to him on a wire, but the wire dropped a little too far below so I had to extend my body out of the window. I was prepared, but still, it was a little hairy. 
You realise you’re really in a world – there’s no CGI, there’s no green screen. This is a director giving you the opportunity to live in an entire new world. And as an actor, that’s such a great gift. 

Mad Max Premieres Thu May 14.

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