Mad Max: Fury Road is now five years old and stands as one of the greatest action films ever made, but making it was evidently not the greatest. In an oral history compiled by The New York Times, the actors and creators of the film get pretty candid about how terrible and stressful the shoot was, which took place in the deserts of Namibia. Evidently, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron were often at each other’s throats, and it didn’t help that director George Miller wasn’t giving them much guidance about the overall goal of the film.
“The biggest thing that was driving that entire production was fear,” said Theron. “I was incredibly scared, because I’d never done anything like it. I think the hardest thing between me and George is that he had the movie in his head and I was so desperate to understand it.”
The Mad Max: Fury Road shoot itself was miserable with cold, dust, and nonstop filming for nine months. The shooting was either quick little plot moments or orchestrating massive, taxing action sequences that were all done for real. This led to tensions on the set, especially between Theron and Hardy, who would often be tense with each other and had very different approaches to their craft. Hardy was especially hard on Miller as well, whom he evidently got upset with regularly.
“In retrospect, I didn’t have enough empathy to really, truly understand what he must have felt like to step into Mel Gibson’s shoes,” Theron said about the tension with Hardy. “That is frightening! And I think because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, ‘This is scary for you, and it’s scary for me, too. Let’s be nice to each other.’ In a weird way, we were functioning like our characters: Everything was about survival.”
Hardy concurred, saying, “I would agree. I think in hindsight, I was in over my head in many ways. The pressure on both of us was overwhelming at times. What she needed was a better, perhaps more experienced, partner in me. That’s something that can’t be faked. I’d like to think that now that I’m older and uglier, I could rise to that occasion.”
Even after the grueling shoot in Namibia, Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t complete as WB shut it down before any of the Citadel content was shot. The team was trying to edit together what they had when new leadership came in and allowed Miller to complete the shots he needed. Still, the studio didn’t believe in it, attempting to have Miller and editor Margaret Sixel cut the film down to under 100 minutes.
“It was an incredibly painful film to cut,” said Sixel. “I think the studio didn’t believe in it, so it was really difficult to keep going. Eventually George and I decided, ‘We’re just going to make the film we want to make, and if no one else likes it, that’s fine.’ And that last four months is when the film really came together.”
The rest, of course, is history. The cast all gets along and Hardy even publicly apologized to Miller for his attitude during the shoot. Mad Max: Fury Road is still being dissected and heralded and probably will be for all time. Of course, the planned sequels have their own obstacles to contend with, but Miller is optimistic they will come.