Making Dystopian Magic in an Iconic Australian Franchise: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth and George Miller Talk 'Furiosa'

Nine years after 'Fury Road' electrified audiences, the fifth movie in the 'Mad Max' saga roars onto screens — and its two stars and the legendary filmmaker behind it chatted us through it.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 21, 2024

"You wanna get through this?" asked Furiosa in the film that introduced her to the world. With the heat of a blazing sun in a desolate future Australia scorched by ecocide, the answer to that question was baked into Mad Max: Fury Road's frames. All that the characters in the dystopian franchise's fourth film in 2015 wanted was to survive, its namesake (Tom Hardy, Venom: Let There Be Carnage) and the long-running hero's new hero in Furiosa (Charlize Theron, Fast X) included. Of course, merely getting through the phenomenal George Miller (Three Thousand Years of Longing)-directed addition to a saga that the iconic Aussie filmmaker started in 1979 couldn't have been further from its audience's mind.

Mad Max: Fury Road wasn't just the return of an Australian franchise three decades after its last instalment; it was the return of the Aussie franchise. It was post-apocalyptic action cinema at its most spectacular, too — and the action film that all action films are now judged against. Viewers got through it not only revved up and buzzing, but seeking more like a war boy chasing Valhalla, especially as further chapters were teased by Miller. It took nine years, but now the fifth Mad Max flick is finally racing onto silver screens: prequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

As Furiosa, The Witch, Split, Emma, The Queen's GambitThe Northman and The Menu's Anya Taylor-Joy dons a shaved scalp and grease smeared across her forehead. As Dementus, her captor from childhood — and the adversary that she devotes her pre-Fury Road life to getting revenge on— Chris Hemsworth trades a Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero for a wasteland warlord. Much to the amusement of both while they're chatting with Concrete Playground about the film, the latter can't quite leave his time as the MCU's resident hammer-wielding god behind even while he's riding a chariot made out of motorbikes across a hellscape. A cape that turns red via a flare gun's crimson smoke guarantees it.

"You did bring it up," Taylor-Joy says to Hemsworth about the wardrobe choice that pushes his four Thor films, 2022's Thor: Love and Thunder being the last, to mind. "I said it to George, I go 'you know I wear red cape in that film we're trying to forget about, and that character we're trying to remove myself from?'," Hemsworth tells us. "And he said 'oh, I didn't think of that. Anyway, cool.' And I was like 'so it stays red?'. And he's like 'yeah, it stays red'."

Jasin Boland

Scarlet capes aside, the only thing that anyone should be thinking about during Furiosa is Furiosa. That, and the magnificent cinematic series that Miller has been crafting for 45 years now. Back then, he didn't foresee a future for anything Mad Max. He couldn't predict the response to Fury Road, either. "You can't. It's like life; there's almost no point in trying to prognosticate," the former doctor explains to Concrete Playground. Talking through why that's the case Steven Spielberg anecdotes spanning both E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park — and charting how the technology that helped bring the Babe pictures to life (Miller scripted and produced both, and helmed sequel Babe: Pig in the City), and then the Happy Feet flicks, led him back to the world of his directorial debut.

Miller hasn't just been making visions of a potential sunburnt fate that increasingly no longer feels purely fictional — especially with Fury Road and now Furiosa, he's been making dystopian magic. We also chatted with him about the route to the saga's fifth entry, plus the decision to cast Taylor-Joy instead of digitally de-ageing Theron. And, with Taylor-Joy and Hemsworth, we dived into entering such a significant franchise, living the Aussie dream, the threads that connect Furiosa and Dementus, Taylor-Joy's love for her character and why this is Hemsworth's favourite part in years.


On Never Imagining 45 Years Ago That Mad Max Would Still Be Going All of This Time Later

George: "Not in a million years. I mean, to be perfectly honest, the first Mad Max was so difficult to make, I didn't even think I'd make another movie — let alone make more Mad Max movies.

But one thing led to the another. As John Lennon said, life is what happens when you're making other plans, and that's what happened to me.

Luckily for me, the first Mad Max had some resonance with audiences — and I couldn't even figure out why. Because for me, it just wasn't anything close to what I thought was a film that would work. And then I realised 'oh, I'd better find out why' and that led me to do Mad Max 2 — which was technically and physically a much more difficult film to make, but I understood then what makes a film. I'd learned all the things I did done wrong on Mad Max.

And then that basically started my lifelong inquiry into how to make films and why we make films, or why we tell stories on film. So here I am still curious about that process all these years later. Never expected to be, but here I am."


On Taking on a Mesmerising Fury Road Character and Stepping Into an Iconic Australian Franchise

Anya: "Oh my goodness, I think my brain does a very clever thing where anything that could possibly stop me from taking an opportunity, it just keeps in the back of my mind and I don't think about it until it's way too late.

But I will say that I have a lot of friends that made Fury Road and they had one piece of advice — and it was just 'trust George'.

This is a man that's been living with this character for forever. He's had this script in his mind for forever. He wasn't going to let us mess it up. He was going to deliver exactly what it is that he wanted."


On Living the Aussie Dream of Starring as a Wasteland Warlord in a Mad Max Film

Chris: "I remember watching these films with my dad many years ago, and the nostalgia and vivid memories I have around it is incredible.

And to be not just working with George Miller, but on a Mad Max film, was kind of this pinnacle for me. And I don't know where I go from here. It may all be downhill. But it was a dream come true.

I peaked too early. I'm retiring. There it is."


On the Huge Response to Fury Road — and Not Being Able to Predict How Much the World Would Love the Film

George: "People say set goals. The only goals you should set are what you can do in front of yourself. You can't lay out plans because life's too unpredictable in every endeavour in life, no matter what people say. That's why I think that John Lennon quote is so true, really.

But on Fury Road, that was an exercise in basically realising one day that filmmaking had changed from the celluloid, analogue filmmaking, where we made the first Mad Maxes. Fury Road was a decade into the digital dispensation, which we kind of really got into fairly early with the first Babe movie.

That was done at Universal Studios, which had made Jurassic Park, which was the first big movie where Steven [Spielberg] used the digital technology. There were 63 shots of dinosaurs and that basically heralded the new digital age of filmmaking.

They saw what was happening with that, hadn't yet released that and said 'hey, if you guys wanted, this would be good if you wanted to shoot the pigs and the animals live action, you could do it'. So that's what got me on that path.

The story is always privileged over everything else in filmmaking, but the technology and the tools are also a fascinating thing because the new technologies can really help you make films — interesting films that are in some way unique.

So, almost a decade later when [Australian cinematographer] Andrew Lesnie, who shot Babe, went off to shoot Lord of the Rings, and he came back to Sydney after the first one and showed me the first motion capture of Gollum, I suddenly thought 'hey, this penguin story we've got, we can make the penguins tap dance'. And so that technology, motion capture, I'd never even heard the words before and now we could use it in animation — and so on and so on.

So, by the time we got to Fury Road, all that technology, that's another decade later, almost. I thought 'holy cow, there's things we can do with a basic action film like this, we could never dream of doing way back two, three decades before'.

So that led to Fury Road. You put all that you know, your skills and what you've learned along the way into a film like Fury Road. You go through the process and push it out there and people will make of it what they will — there's no other way you can do it. You can never anticipate whether a film is going to be successful or not. You really can't.

I met Steven Spielberg for the first time about a month and a half before E.T. came out. He showed me a trailer of this film. I thought, 'gee, that's very moving'. I was very touched by the trailer. And he no idea at the time that it would become E.T., that it would have such a cultural impact. He was more concerned with some other film that he was working on at the time.

So you can never predict. You can't tell either way. You don't know if something's going to be successful. I'm just very thankful that after Fury Road, which was a pretty arduous film to make, that it had some traction and ultimately it led us to do to make Furiosa."


On Avoiding Feeling Daunted About the Massive Reaction to Fury Road While Making Its Prequel

Chris, to Anya: "I get a little bit of what you were saying — you could spend your entire day kind of thinking of all the..."

Anya: "Reasons not to do something."

Chris: "Yeah, the consequences. And all of the should, could, etcetera. And it ends up distracting you from what you should be doing, which is just focusing on the character and the story and so on.

Plus, the more films I do, I realise how much of it is just out of your control. That used to scare the hell out of me, and now I find it really comforting. I'm like 'there's a lot of people involved in this, it's not my fault'.

We're all a part of this massive collaboration or jigsaw puzzle that's trying to be assembled — and it works or it doesn't, but as long as you put your heart and soul into it, then, great. If you try to take it personally and look at it like 'oh, there's this many years and so on', occasionally it's a motivation but it shouldn't be a distraction.

Anya: "I'd also say rather than thinking about all of that as something that was scary, we both wanted to do this because in recent memory we'd seen Fury Road.

We knew what that was. We knew what an adventure it would be and we wanted to be a part of the team that made such an incredible creation — and now we've done it.

So if anything, it's just more exciting to get to work with these incredible artists."


On Digging Into the Commonalities Between Furiosa and Dementus, Even Though They're Adversaries

Chris: "Quite a lot in the rehearsal process, what I found so impressive from Anya, and what I take away now in that everything I do, is the how fiercely protective she was of the character Furiosa.

I suggested doing something in one of the rehearsals with the younger Furiosa and she overheard and said 'hang on, hang on, no, no, no, no, no, she wouldn't take the bear. She wouldn't do this. She wouldn't do it'.

And I thought 'oh wow, okay'. That was, I found, inspirational, but it also did drastically alter the way I had to then perform that action. And it was sort of to bury it [a teddy bear] within her grip and then she drops it within the film, you see, as opposed to holding on to it like I was suggesting.

And so a lot of our early conversations in the rehearsals definitely, I think, spawned or dictated where these characters were going to go and evolve to or change throughout the film.

That was just one thing that always stuck in my mind that I thought I was very thankful for."

Anya: "Thank you for saying that, Chris, genuinely.

People say that hurt people hurt people. And I think that you can explain egregious action, but I don't think that you should excuse it. That's not something that necessarily makes sense to me.

So I think in this relationship, despite the fact that they both have a lot of pain, you can't argue the fact that he is a focal point for a lot of the things that have gone wrong in her life."

Chris: "Yeah, it's a beautiful examination, too, of people put in traumatic situations facing adversity."

Anya: "Yeah. Everyone's a victim."

Chris: "But ultimately it being a decision on the individual. It's not the circumstances that define us, it's ultimately our free will and our decision to act accordingly to that thing.

And two people who both have suffered but react very differently and behave very differently — I found that interesting."


On Deciding Not to Use De-Ageing Technology and Instead Cast Taylor-Joy as the Younger Furiosa

George: "It was a big, big issue. Once we decided to go ahead and realised that close to a decade had gone by — and this is a story that starts with Furiosa at ten and takes her to 28. It happens from childhood to adulthood, whereas Fury Road was compressed into three days and two nights, a completely different exercise in filmmaking.

I thought 'gee, who are we going to find to fill those big, big shoes of Charlize?'. And then it turned out to be relatively quick because Edgar Wright showed me an early cut of the movie he'd made — Last Night in Soho, a movie he'd just done with Anya.

I saw the movie. I'd seen just clips of her earlier movies, but I hadn't really seen a full movie that she'd done – and I was really struck by her presence. There's a timeless quality about her. She seemed to be very, very in the role. It was a tricky role, it involved dance, there was a lot of precision.

And I turned to Edgar and talked about the movie, and then I said 'Anya, she'd be great for...' — he had no idea that I was talking about Furiosa. I said 'she'd be great for...' and before I finished the sentence, he said 'do it, do it, she's got it all, she's got it all' or some words to that effect.

I asked him recently is that what he said, and he said it was something different. But my memory was 'she's got it all, she's got it all, do it'.

And so I talked to her. I got to understand a little bit about how she approaches her work. She had a lot in common with Charlize. They both were skilled ballet dancers from a very young age, which is a really, really good marker for somebody who's got physical skills. They had that precision.

She rode motorbikes. She came from a big family, she was the youngest of them, rode motorbikes when she was a little kid — illegally, of course — in Argentina, and so on.

And then we went through the process of working on the film together, and I subsequently learned that it was the right decision, because she was equal to the task — and not only to take on what Charlize had done, but who could match what Chris did with Dementus. These two adversaries had to be evenly matched from the top to the end of the movie, and she was able to do that. I think the movie depends on them both being worthy adversaries."


On Conveying So Much of Furiosa's Story Without Words

Anya: "It's really extraordinary — characters have always been real for me, and I think with each script I understand how I'll be able to tell the story. Sometimes I'm a little bit ahead of them, and so I can tell it more with hindsight.

And with this script, I just knew straight away that I was going to have to tell it in real time — that it was just going to feel very real for me and I'd have to experience it, and that's how I was going to be able to bring the truth of this story to light.

I will say that I'm so grateful to both Chris and George for just respecting how much I cared about her. Like, I was really fighting for her every single step of the way, and rather than seeing it as something intense, they saw it as something beautiful — and I really appreciated that.


On Hemsworth Getting His Favourite Role to Play Since He Was in Rush

Chris: "I think like Rush, when I did Rush, I had just done Thor and a few other things, action films, and it was the great departure from that space.

And look, I love playing Thor and if the opportunity came up and there was a story, I'd love to do again. But I definitely feel like I've also run out of ideas with it, whereas this just spawned an abundance of the creativity in me, which I sort of had forgotten about, I think.

And it gave me an opportunity to experiment and try different things and lose myself in a role, and get back to the joyful playfulness that we have as kids — and just experimenting with removing the critic and that judgmental voice and just having fun.

As odd as that may sound, because he's a murdering psychopath, but it was enjoyable. This is what acting's about. It's about transportation and inhabiting other spaces and someone else's shoes."


Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga releases in cinemas Down Under on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Read our review.

Published on May 21, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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