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George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road is remembered now as one of the best action movies of the 21st century, a box office hit that also won six Oscars for its filmmaking craft. But it wasn't an easy road to get there. The film emerged after years of development and delays, a tough shoot in the desert of Namibia, and reports of on-set fighting between its stars, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
Now, a new behind-the-scenes book details exactly how those tensions reached their breaking point, and how both Theron and Hardy look back on things these days.
In Blood, Sweat and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, writer Kyle Buchanan breaks down the entire journey of bringing the fourth Mad Max film to the screen, and in a new excerpt published by Vanity Fair, he specifically brings multiple interviews to bear on the tension between the film's stars. According to multiple people who were on the set, the standoff between Hardy, who played Max, and Theron, who played Furiosa, stemmed in no small part from very different approaches to their work as actors.
Tom would want justification for every bit of choreography, not just in the actual action but in the pre-setup of the action and everything else," Richard Norton, who played The Prime Imperator, recalled. "Charlize, her basic want is simple: I just want to f***ing kill him. Let’s shoot it."
Nicholas Hoult, who played the War Boy Nux in the film, compared the tension between the two of them to being a kid sitting in the back seat of a car while his parents were arguing in the front seat, while Miller recalled how the subject matter of the film only further served to drive a wedge between his stars.
"The story is all about self-preservation: If it’s an advantage to you to kill another character, then you should do it and you don’t think twice about it," Miller said. "I think that crept into the actors."
According to multiple people involved in production, tensions between Hardy and Theron were high from the very beginning of production, but they reached a breaking point one day when Theron arrived on set to find her habitually late co-star was once again not on time.
"I remember vividly the day," camera operator Mark Goellnicht said. "The call on set was eight o’clock. Charlize got there right at eight o’clock, sat in the War Rig, knowing that Tom’s never going to be there at eight even though they made a special request for him to be there on time. He was notorious for never being on time in the morning. If the call time was in the morning, forget it — he didn’t show up."
According to Goellnicht, Theron waited in the War Rig for three hours in full makeup and costume, refusing to move until Hardy finally showed up. What happened next changed the dynamic of the production for the rest of the shoot.
"Tom turns up, and he walks casually across the desert," Goellnicht recalled. "She jumps out of the War Rig, and she starts swearing her head off at him, saying, 'Fine the f***ing c**t a hundred thousand dollars for every minute that he’s held up this crew,' and 'How disrespectful you are!' She was right. Full rant. She screams it out. It’s so loud, it’s so windy — he might’ve heard some of it, but he charged up to her up and went, 'What did you say to me?'
"He was quite aggressive. She really felt threatened, and that was the turning point, because then she said, 'I want someone as protection.' She then had a producer that was assigned to be with her all the time."
At Theron's request, Miller reportedly agreed to have producer Denise Di Novi fly out to Namibia to be Theron's mediator for the rest of the shoot. Though Di Novi was then part of the film's production office and would regularly check in with Theron, she was not allowed to be a permanent presence on Fury Road, something both Theron and Miller now express regret over.
"Looking back on where we are in the world now, given what happened between me and Tom, it would have been smart for us to bring a female producer in," Theron said. "You understand the needs of a director who wants to protect his set, but when push comes to shove and things get out of hand, you have to be able to think about that in a bigger sense. That’s where we could have done better, if George trusted that nobody was going to come and f**k with his vision but was just going to come and help mediate situations. I think he didn’t want any interference, and there were several weeks on that movie where I wouldn’t know what was going to come my way, and that’s not necessarily a nice thing to feel when you’re on your job. It was a little bit like walking on thin ice."
Miller added, "There are things that I feel disappointment with about the process. Looking back, if I had to do it again, I would probably be more mindful."
Though the tension was palpable throughout the making of Fury Road, and on-set clashes between Theron and Hardy have since become an infamous part of the behind-the-scenes story, both actors seem to look back on it now as a product of the process, something neither of them saw coming.
"Because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, 'F**k, this is scary for you and it’s scary for me, too. Let’s be nice to each other,'" Theron recalled. "We were functioning, in a weird way, like our characters: Everything was about survival."
"In hindsight, I was in over my head in many ways," Hardy said. "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."
Blood, Sweat and Chrome is now available in bookstores everywhere.