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SYFY WIRE Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road once considered Uma Thurman, Jeremy Renner behind the wheel

By Jacob Oller

What if Furiosa and The Bride were the same person? Sounds like a bit of high-octane fan fiction mixing two of genre's best action heroes, but it was almost a casting reality. A lot can happen while a film is being conceptualized, which means there are many alternate versions of that film that end up never getting made. Mad Max: Fury Road, the Oscar-winning apocalyptic thrill ride that reinvented the franchise and gave fans Charlize Theron at her peak, went through hell during its production — and those leading the way could've been very different, including the star of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill series.

In the excellent New York Times oral history of the film, those behind the movie explained all the different ways the film almost went off the rails and left fans in the desert with a totally different Fury Road. One of the biggest changes could've started before filming even began. Producer Doug Mitchell said that when it came to casting Furiosa, they weren't solely looking at Theron from the start.

"There were a number of names thrown out for the female lead back when we first started, [like] Uma Thurman," he said. As for Tom Hardy's new version of Max? According to co-star Zoe Kravitz, he could've been an Avenger. "I did a chemistry test with Jeremy Renner reading for Max, because they hadn’t hired Tom yet," she explained. Hawkeye and Mad Max? Not quite as good as Thurman's resume would have been, but still impressive.

But Thurman didn't get the call, and Theron wasted no time making the character her own. In fact, she was the reason Furiosa had a shaved head. "At first, Furiosa was this very ethereal character, with long hair and some African mud art on her face," Theron said. "It was a different costume designer back then, before Jenny Beavan, and the costume felt a little more Barbarella-y. I worried about it." She took these qualms to director George Miller, who gave her the greenlight to go bald. "George was really incredible in just hearing me out," Theron said. "I called him and said, 'I don’t know how she’s getting by in the mechanics’ room with all this hair. I think we need to shave my head, and she needs to be a more androgynous, grounded character.'" Now Furiosa's practical style is part of the iconic character.

Another big change that almost happened to the film was the absence of its bookending Citadel sections. These, the brief respites between the massive central chase, weren't shot when then-Warner Bros. head Jeff Robinov gave a 2012 ultimatum. "He said, 'The camera will stop on Dec. 8, no matter what you’ve got, and that’s the end of it,' Mitchell remembered. "We hadn’t shot any of the scenes in the Citadel yet, where the opening and closing book ends of the film are set, and we had to go into postproduction without them. It was almost incomprehensible."

"Jeff was in a bake-off with Kevin Tsujihara about who was going to head the studio, and he had to assert himself to show his superiors that he was in command and a strong executive," Miller said. "I knew what he was going through, but it wasn’t going to do anybody any good at all." Luckily, after plenty of post-production work, Tsujihara ended up coming through for the film. "What happened then is that Jeff lost his job and Kevin Tsujihara was appointed, and he decided later that year, 'You know what, let’s do this properly. We need to shoot these scenes at the Citadel,'" said Mitchell. "So we brought back all these vehicles from Namibia, reassembled the team in late 2013, and brought Tom and Charlize to Australia. It could have been completely different, had the gods not been shining down."

Fury Road got an extra month to film, it all ended up making sense, and it went on to become one of the best-loved, action-packed films of the decade. And, in an alternate reality, it stars Jeremy Renner and Uma Thurman.