HC: You tried to get the movie going years ago with Mel Gibson but it never came together. What happened?
GM: Yeah, we did. We talked about it and Mel wanted to do it. This was in 2000, I guess. We were setting it up and then when 9/11 happened, the American dollar crashed against the Australian dollar and in one day we lost about 20% of our budget. I was preparing “Happy Feet” and Warners said, “If you can’t get ‘Mad Max’ done, just start on ‘Happy Feet.’ ” And one thing led to another — time went by and Mel was having his troubles — and then Tom Hardy walked into our lives.
I felt the same thing with Tom that I’d felt with Mel when I first auditioned him: that paradoxical tremendous accessibility and danger as an actor, where you just don’t know what they’re going to do. I spent some time working with a tiger when I worked on the “Babe” films, and I just wanted to touch the tiger — the patterns of its face and those beguiling eyes — but you have to be careful. It’s almost like that in a metaphorical way.
HC: From the outside, it seems surprising that the same director who directed the “Mad Max” movies also made family films with cute talking pigs and dancing penguins. But you’ve said that you see a clear through-line in all your movies. How so?
GM: The [main characters] are all agents of change. Both Babe and Mumble in “Happy Feet” are agents of change, and Max is, in his way, a reluctant agent of change. In all of those films I’ve done, there were also interesting technical challenges to take on. I get excited by the tools.
HC: Those tools have changed to an incredible degree since you made the original “Mad Max” movies. A lot of people feel the way those movies were made was more pure than today’s CGI spectacles.
GM: Well, we made a big, big point to go old-school with “Fury Road.” There are moments of green screen mainly for some landscape, but this is not a green screen movie. We crashed a lot of cars; every stunt was done, if not by the cast then by some very fine stunt men; and it was shot on a real location. I’ve had enough experience with CG to know that you can’t really get some of that immersive material authentic in a way. Cumulatively, it’s appreciated by an audience. It feels more real.
HC: I’m sure you never could have dreamed 35 years ago when you made “Mad Max” that it would lead to where it has.
GM: No, never. “Mad Max” was my very first film. It was made for $350,000, which even back then was very low-budget. I’d hardly ever been on a set, and just everything went wrong. I thought, I’m not cut out for this. I remember I had a conversation with Peter Weir, who’d already made a couple of movies, and I told him I felt like I had no control over the process. And he said, “That’s how it always is. You’ve got to think about it like you’re in a war and you’re going on patrol. You don’t know where the land mines are. But you’ve still got to get your troops through.”
—Josh Rottenberg | @LATHeroComplex