George Miller on Furiosa: ‘The planets had to be aligned’

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Furiosa is in cinemas May 23.
Furiosa is in cinemas May 23. Credit: Warner Bros.

Mad Max: Fury Road was a notoriously difficult production. There were dramas behind the scenes on set and at the studio, so when the years rolled on since its 2015 release and still no follow-up eventuated, you’d be forgiven for thinking Furiosa was a pipe dream.

“There are always moments when you think these things don’t happen,” George Miller tells The Nightly. “The planets have to align for any film to be made but I’ve learnt the hard way, one way or another, films that are worth their salt tend to get made.”

The Australian director insists Furiosa, starring Chris Hemsworth and Anya Taylor-Joy, was a much smoother experience because its predecessor had been so commercially and critically successful, which always makes it easier to secure financing and support for the next project.

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It also helped the dust finally cleared after a seemingly never-ending cycle of turmoil at its studio, Warner Bros, being lobbed from one parent company to another and from one chief executive to the next, including one which sent the studio’s whole cinema slate straight to streaming which resulted in Christopher Nolan breaking his relationship with Warner.

“By the time we got to do Furiosa, that had all settled down and they’re very stable with some really skilled and cohesive teams of people who understand cinema,” Miller explains. “Particularly in this time when there’s so much streaming dragging people away, they really understand that films like this are really about a cinema experience that you share communally with other people.

Furiosa is in cinemas May 23.
George Miller on the set of Furiosa. Credit: Warner Bros.

“I remember going to drive-ins and the equivalent of applause was people putting their headlights on or off because they couldn’t honk their horns. That was an indication of how we need to share these stories. I really like that people recognise that with this movie.

“That shared experience you have in cinema is something we’re hardwired for. I’m sure, in all the storytelling throughout time, there’s been a gathering of people. You see pictures of families in front of the fireplace and the parents are reading a book. That’s who we are as human creatures.”

It’s taken nine years to get to this moment, the day of Furiosa’s world premiere in Sydney, two weeks before its big bow at the glittering Cannes Film Festival in France. The $350 million blockbuster was filmed in the barren lands of western NSW two years ago, the most expensive Australian production in the history of the industry.

The film is an origin story of the character originated by Charlize Theron in Fury Road, of how the fierce warrior, now portrayed by Taylor-Joy, was kidnapped as a child by a biker gang led by the villainous Dementus, watched her mother be tortured and killed, and become Imperator Furiosa.

The production was a gargantuan feat that involved a huge crew including long-time Miller collaborators such as second unit director and stunt coordinator Guy Norris – the two have been working together for 40 years.

One of the reasons Miller is so insistent on the big screen experience is Furiosa’s visually and aurally dazzling action set-pieces, most of which was filmed practically rather than with CGI. The ambition and execution of the stunts is almost overwhelming. A mobile phone screen is woefully inadequate for such a visceral and intoxicating takeover of the senses.

Furiosa is in cinemas May 23.
Anya Taylor-Joy, Tom Burke and Chris Hemsworth in Furiosa. Credit: Warner Bros.

Even though was Fury Road widely acknowledged as having successfully attempted some of cinema’s most impressive set-pieces, Miller didn’t approach Furiosa with a need to go “bigger and better”. That’s not where he starts.

“It’s all about how do we tell this story? What’s the best way to tell this story?” he says. “You find your stories through the circumstance in which the characters find themselves. And then all the action is basically character-driven.

“It’s not ‘oh, here’s a cool stunt or a cool thing to do’. If it’s not integrated or not woven into the full story, it’s kind of what I call empty. It’s just a lot of movement, colour and noise. Ultimately, it passes and it doesn’t have any resonance.”

Even with that in mind, Furiosa has a 15-minute set piece that took 78 days and 200 stunt people to film. It’s definitely memorable.

But all kinds of scenes are difficult to shoot, not just the ones with the most moving pieces on a physical level. “The action scenes are always tricky,” Miller says. “For one simple reason as you’re shooting, it can be arduous, people get tired and safety is critical.

Furiosa is in cinemas May 23.
Anya Taylor-Joy takes over the role from Charlize Theron. Credit: Warner Bros.

“Then there are scenes which can be intimate and very nuanced and if you don’t get those right, it’s another degree of difficulty.”

He lucked out with two leads, Taylor-Joy and Hemsworth, who were both able to deliver convincing action skills (“They did a lot of their own stunts”) as well as dramatic chops.

Talking to the loquacious Miller, it’s clear he’s very impressed with the different shades Hemsworth revealed as Dementus. When he met Hemsworth, who had previously never made an Australian movie, they talked for 90 minutes. Miller walked away from that conversation having met someone he considered as “very multidimensional and wise”.

“He’s only 40 now but he has accumulated a lot of wisdom in his life about how to be in the world, how to conduct his life, and how he works, the discipline and the instinct and intelligence he brings to work,” Miller recalls.

The filmmaker also remembers Hemsworth had a very strong response to the character after the first screenplay read, and that, “he understood even more deeply than I did what the character needed”.

“There were days on set and in the cutting room when I kept saying to myself, ‘where did that come from?’” Miller says. “We talked about it, I had some sense of what he might do. But as you went through the takes and you put the footage together, I thought, ‘God, he’s made something of it that I would never have expected’. There were dimensions in it that I never anticipated coming out.”

It’s a big performance in a big movie that was very much made for the big screen.

Furiosa is released in Australian cinemas on May 23

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