Warner Bros. turned a Monday night screening of "The Road Warrior" at the South by Southwest Film Festival into one of the fest's biggest geek attractions: the studio had director George Miller flown in from his native Australia to participate in the event, and also screened some all-new footage from the forthcoming "Mad Max: Fury Road," which Miller directed 30 years after the last Mad Max adventure. Tom Hardy stars in the new film, replacing Mel Gibson in the title role, with Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Zoe Kravitz lending support. Following Monday's screening of "The Road Warrior," The Huffington Post spoke to Miller about "Fury Road." An edited transcript of the conversation is below.
What made you want to return to the world of Mad Max all these years later?
It started with the idea that sprung to mind. I pushed it aside. It kept coming back. I realized it wasn't going away. I discussed it with my colleagues. They said it was a great idea. Brendan McCarthy, a wonderful graphic artist -- a big "Road Warrior" fan -- he was the defender of Mad Max. He mapped out the story. We boarded the entire story. It was conceived as an extended chase over three days in which we discover the characters and their relationships and the backstories. The big thing was to -- which came up with the first "Mad Max" -- as Hitchcock said, to make a film where you didn't need to read the subtitles in Japan. Words were only spoken when necessary. It was a boiling frog situation, bit by bit. Pretty soon, it was like here we are. It was never, "I want to make another 'Mad Max' film."
You made "Road Warrior" from script to screen in about one year. This film was significantly longer.
It wasn't one year, it was one decade.
Right. And part of the appeal of "Road Warrior" is how relentless it is. When you make a movie over such a long period of time, is it tough to retain that same energy?
It was a decade-long, but I did two animated movies in that time [both "Happy Feet" movies] and wrote other screenplays, including -- without intending to -- two other Mad Max stories. But because we were rained out at Broken Hill, we had to wait a year hoping it would dry out. It didn't. So we had to move to Namibia. It was a military exercise. We had to take 200 vehicles on ships from the east coast of Australia to the west coast of Africa. We had 900 people in the crew. So that is enough of a crucible to get the energy up. We were shooting in continuity, more or less. So everyday was stunt day -- and there wasn't green screen. That leant itself to the intensity of the process. I think it can't help but seep onto the screen.
How do you feel about visual effects advances and its application to film?
Every new advance is a great tool depending on how it's used. There is a definite cognitive shift in that everybody now sees visual effects and knows it's not real. Before the digital revolution, you knew it had to be real. There is a difference there. Even the people watching "Fury Road," they're probably watching things that are real but they think are CG. That's fine. On the other side, you could do things you could never do before. But for the most part, you'll see the real Tom Hardy doing real things. You'll see the real Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult doing that stuff. But it's like every tool. When sound first came out, for the first six months, the sound man ruled the set. He told the director where the camera should go, he told the actors how to speak. Then everyone rebelled and he was pushed back. And that happens with every technology. I've been on sets where the motion control guy is the lead on the set. Then it was the visual effects guy. Bit by bit, it's been more integrated. There's a tendency, if you pay a lot for visual effects, to show them off, when you should be making them a seamless part of the process.
It's kind of amazing how much Tom Hardy looks like a young Mel Gibson.
The amazing thing was Tom was 6 weeks old when we shot the first "Mad Max." Mel was 21 when did the first "Mad Max." In "Road Warrior," he's 24. He was very manly as a young man. By the time we were casting "Fury Road," I had seen "Bronson" and in "Stuart: A Life Backwards" with Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought this guy had the whole range. He spent a lot of time in the theater. Like Mel, he came out of drama school where he did all the Shakespeare. He walked in with that charisma. It's an ineffable part of Max. He had that quality that just reminded me so much of Mel when he first walked in.
Did you have any thought of doing it with Mel as an older version of Max?
We were going to back in 2000 and 2001. We were going to do it with Mel and we were within reach of doing it with Mel. Then 9/11 happened and the American dollar fell against the Australian dollar. The budget ballooned. There was a lot of pressure at Warner Bros. for me to do "Happy Feet" back then because there was only a small window where they could get the digital house. So we went on to do that. By the time we were ready for "Fury Road" again, Mel had all those troubles. It also definitely got to the stage where it wasn't like "Unforgiven," where it plays with an older guy. It was definitely the younger guy, the same guy.
You're considered one of the biggest action pioneers ever, but you've only made now four "Mad Max" films and not any other traditional action movies. What kind of filmmaker do you considered yourself?
I'm a storyteller driven by curiosity. I go where the story is and use the tools are most conducive to that story. I don't think of it any other way. I learned how to make films by being in the cinema. Even when I was a medical student, I used to draw and paint. When I discovered being able to cut film and put pieces of time together, I became very interested in the language of cinema. It's a new language. It's not a very old language. The freakiest thing about it is as infants we can read that language before we can read a book. It's an evolving language. In 30 years between the two films, it's changed a lot.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" is out in theaters on May 15.