4 Ways ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Seemed Destined To Fail
Long belated pop-culture sequels are obviously everywhere these days – hence how we all know that Uncle Joey’s life shockingly didn’t end in a violent tragedy at the Chuckle Hut. But the best of the bunch is arguably Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller’s fourth entry in the iconic action series set in cinema’s most confusing post-apocalypse. And Fury Road’s success was by no means a given; for one thing, it takes a hell of a lot of nerve for any filmmaker to even attempt a follow-up to a movie that featured the perfect Tina Turner power ballad.
Also, the production itself was so chaotic that even some of the cast members had no idea they were making a future classic and not the car chase movie equivalent of Norbit. How? Well, for starters …
It Took More Than A Decade To Get Off The Ground
Miller first had the idea for a fourth Mad Max movie, one that was “one long chase,” back in the ‘90s – so long ago that when pre-production began, the role of Max still belonged to Mel Gibson, who, back then, was still just famous for defending America from the British and using his psychic powers to violate women's privacy. Miller took the unorthodox approach of writing the script mostly using visuals; creating an elaborate series of storyboards with co-writer, and comic book artist, Brendan McCarthy.
The shoot was scheduled to kick off in the deserts of Namibia in 2003 (to the consternation of Mel Gibson’s wife, who allegedly emailed the crew inquiring about “how many Muslims there may or may not be in Namibia”). Weeks before the cameras were set to roll, the crew got to work building all of the crazy vehicles you’d expect to find in an S&M-themed future hellscape.
But after 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the American dollar plummeted, and the Australian dollar rose, essentially gutting the film’s budget. 20th Century Fox ended up pulling the plug on the entire production. As recounted in the book Blood, Sweat & Chrome by Kyle Buchanan, this meant that “most of the vehicles had to be destroyed” because the “studio wasn’t interested in paying for it to go anywhere.” So all of those uniquely crafted props were chopped up, and ultimately, “all went into a big pile of molten steel.”
When the movie got going again in 2010 (without Gibson, who turned out to be a real Mel Gibson-type) the production moved to Broken Hill, Australia, where Miller had previously filmed The Road Warrior. While the new cast was in place and the stunts fully rehearsed –
– their plans were foiled by the weather. A surprise rainstorm flooded the area, which was A) not great for a movie that involved driving, more driving, and pretty much only driving …
And B) it ended up creating a “lush garden” instead of the barren wasteland the filmmakers were obviously hoping for – which would have really negated the whole quest for the “Green Place” plot point.
So everybody moved back to Namibia, which was easier than rewriting the script to focus on Max’s newfound passion for lawn care.
The Stars Sure Hated Each Other
Even back before Mel Gibson was hired for Fury Road, Miller considered replacing him with a younger actor like Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt – they even pasted Pitt’s head on Gibson’s body in a still from The Road Warrior to see what he would look like. Following Gibson’s departure, possible Maxes included everyone from Jeremy Renner, to Michael Fassbender, to Armie Hammer, to Heath Ledger. Eventually, the role went to another Batman villain actor, Tom Hardy, who, oddly enough, had previously screen-tested to be a War Boy during the 2003 attempt.
Weirdest of all, before Hardy was cast, Miller pursued the idea of casting (we’ll pause while you take a big swig of piping hot coffee) … Eminem! Yeah, somewhere in the multiverse, Mad Max: Fury Road starred friggin’ Slim Shady. Apparently, Miller thought the rapper was “really interesting” in 8 Mile and even had blonde hair added to Max in some of the storyboards. But this didn’t end up coming to fruition because Eminem “didn’t want to leave home” and travel overseas – thus blowing his one shot, his one opportunity if you will, to star in one of the greatest action movies ever made.
Hardy ended up clashing pretty significantly with co-star Charlize Theron. While their stunt doubles may have ended up falling in love, for these two, it was anything but. Reportedly they “hated each other” so much they couldn’t even stand to look at each other and would face the other way if “the camera wasn’t actively rolling.” Things got particularly heated when Hardy showed up late to the set, while Theron had been waiting in full make-up and costume for three hours. Rather than dryly quipping, “more like Tom Tardy” while sipping from a brandy glass, an enraged Theron suggested that they “Fine the f**king c**t a hundred thousand dollars for every minute that he’s held up this crew.” Hardy responded with aggression, and Theron requested the presence of a female producer as “protection” for the rest of the shoot.
Non-Stop Crazy Stunts Were The Daily Norm
Rather than have Industrial Light & Magic whip up most of the movie on a laptop (perhaps with some banthas and womp rats thrown in for good measure), George Miller insisted on doing the stunts practically, capturing most of the auto-craziness in camera. One performer called it “a stuntman’s dream.” But as wacky and intense as the shoot may have been, the stunts were all meticulously planned and executed. Stunt coordinator Guy Norris was keenly aware of the importance of making sure everything was as safe as possible because he had previously suffered a terrible injury while making another Mad Max movie, as a young Norris, on his first film job, broke his femur while performing a motorcycle stunt in The Road Warrior.
Amazingly he still shot a fight scene with Mel Gibson just days later by “propping his broken leg on a box just outside of the camera’s frame.” Decades later, it was Norris who crashed the War Rig for the climactic action scene (a stunt that was saved until the very end of the shoot) accompanied by a dummy of actor Nicolas Hoult. Unfortunately for George Miller’s cardiologist, the director forgot about the dummy and immediately freaked out, concerned that his stunt coordinator had flipped a tanker truck and landed on his head.
But all of this calculated madness wasn’t without a cost; some resident Nambians alleged that the crew “destroyed sensitive dune ecosystems and disrupted animal habitats.” Another problem that could have been avoided if they had just made the movie in George Lucas’ basement.
The Studio Shut Everything Down Before The Ending Was Shot
Perhaps not surprisingly, not all of the suits at Warner Bros. were super-thrilled with Fury Road’s whole “let’s head to the African desert and spend millions of dollars on a sequel to an ‘80s Mel Gibson movie, co-starring a dude playing a flaming guitar in his long johns” approach. With the production over budget and behind schedule, the president of the studio “flew to Namibia and had a gold-plated fit.”
In an effort to show off his assertiveness, one exec gave the crew a firm cut-off date – despite the fact that they hadn’t shot any footage at the Citadel. You know, the setting of both the beginning and the end of the movie?
So the film went into postproduction without those key scenes, making the story “almost incomprehensible.” Editors considered adding voice-over to “fill in all the gaps.” Thankfully, Warner Bros. came to their senses, and, more than a year after shooting began, the studio ponied up the dough to shoot the Citadel scenes, ensuring that the editors of Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t have to employ any “Poochie died on the way back to his home planet” tactics.
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Top Image: Warner Bros.