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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

The Mad Max mythology has been with many of us for our entire lives. Can you talk about bringing Furiosa to the screen, particularly as it relates to the previous film and the way they were, in some sense, created simultaneously?
George Miller: That’s exactly right. The movies made three decades ago really weren’t connected except for the Max character. They were kind of exercises in storytelling, but never connected. This is quite different in that we had the story, as you know, of Furiosa before we shot Fury Road. There’s no other way to tell the story of Fury Road, which happens over such a compressed amount of time; there was no way to get the internal logic of everything, not only of the characters, but of the world and the objects and the costumes and language of that world, unless we really understood it.

So the actors and the cast and the crew and the designers on Fury Road had this story before we launched into that one. And we have a film now, all this time later, that runs directly into Fury Road, as you saw here. So I’m really grateful that the internal logic of this film was apprehended, basically, by people who had seen Fury Road already, and that they were then able to expand on it more in this film.

I’ve come to think that directing is a little bit like being an athletics coach

Part of the mythology is also introducing it to new people. And I’m curious, Chris, what did you think when you first encountered the character of Dr. Dementus, the script, and this world? Because in a lot of ways, this is not only part of our collective mythology, but it’s also a particularly Australian mythology.
Chris Hemsworth: Yes— David Collins, who plays Smeg in the film, summed it up well. He said, “the Americans have Star Wars, the Brits have Harry Potter, and we have Mad Max.”

GM: Says a lot about us!

CH: Exactly— says a lot about us. So, obviously I had grown up watching the Mad Max films and I was inspired in many ways as an actor, but also I thought a lot about the sort of the adventure that the stories had taken me on as a young kid; they were very prominent in my thinking.

I, like many people, saw Fury Road and was blown away. Having worked in the industry at that point for a number of years, I’d seen behind the curtain enough and I understood sort of how the tricks worked. When I first read the Fury Road script, though, I was back in the seat as an audience member and I was truly captivated as a fan and forgot that I was a part of the movie making business. I was a fan again, and I called my agent and said, “I have to work with George in any way, shape or form… I’ll carry coffee to the set if he needs it, just to be on the set.” A few years later this opportunity came up and I read the script and we met at his office in Sydney and spent a couple of hours talking about the world… but mostly about the psychology and the character of Dementus himself, that for many different reasons resonated so loudly with me. And that began the endless discussions and journey into creating the character and finding a window in.

Part of the mythology of every Mad Max is that there is a villain with a potential mentor / mentee relationship. But in this film, the audience really gets to be with the antagonist and his proposed mentee for the first hour of the film. George, can you discuss that choice?
GM: Well, when we first had the character, I had no idea who could play him. Because it was… if it was diving in the Olympics, I had a sense even from the beginning, it was a dive that was the highest degree of difficulty, and I wasn’t sure who could pull it off.

I remember early on we did some concept art of Dementus: he looked nothing like the one we’ve made here, but he did have a teddy bear. And that teddy bear, somehow, was amplified through the story and became significant. The other thing we did in some early concept art was to make him a bit of a showman. A different mode of basically ruling his tribe, as it were, his bike horde, then that of Immortan Joe, who’s a kind of a demigod, kind of deified in some sense. We’ve seen variations on both of those themes throughout history, I believe, and particularly in Dementus, it was all about pageantry: his vehicles, his dress, his language. His behavior is all about that thing that we’ve seen right throughout history. He changes as the story goes on, but to be honest, I had no idea who could play him.

I’ve come to think that directing is a little bit like being an athletics coach. I mean, without going on too long, actors have to be physically athletic, intellectually athletic, and emotionally athletic. And I’ve come to realize in a way that, for me, they’re kind of warrior-like. Warriors of the psyche, I think. And as a director you don’t really know – just as with an athlete – whether they’re going to deliver the goods. You know that they’ve got the innate talent—they’re born with it in some way. And then you get the athlete and they drill and they work and so on, and basically amplify those talents.

And then you get the actors together in a team. And the team has to drill and work. But it’s in the moment of performance, it’s the moment of the game, when they completely surrender all of that, all that preparation, to their instinct. And you don’t know what’s going to happen. And you hope that the game is going to go well, but when you see it, when you’re sitting there, nowadays on the monitor watching it, and quite often you’ll have, you know, more than one camera, and you’re watching it, and you see it there or you more than see it— you feel it, you experience it, and that’s always a great moment for me… and then to see it again and again and again, in the cutting room, and get the same feeling every time.

That’s really, sorry to go on about it, but it’s really interesting to me, like a great bit of music. No matter how often you hear it, you still get that experience. It brings you back into that. That’s when I’m thankful for those moments that we see, because it’s just a wonderful feeling.

In the Mad Max world, characters don’t wear their personal tragedies on their sleeves. Even in Road Warrior, Michael Preston’s character says to Mel Gibson something to the effect of, “you think you’re special because you have someone that you lost? Everybody lost something.” But Dementus is very open about having experienced loss, and he wears it like it is something that’s important to him. Can you talk about building the backstory for Dementus?
CH: You know, I’d had the script for two years and had a lot of different ideas about the character. And different sorts of inspirations. And it wasn’t until about two weeks before shooting that I started to kind of panic because I didn’t quite have a grasp on the character. I knew that he was villainous; I’d logged all my lines at this point, and it was all sort of in there… but I was still kind of uncertain. George suggested that I write some journal entries in character. And… even when he said it, I thought, “oh yeah, okay, maybe…” you know. And I woke up one night (not that I just forget anything George tells me), but I was in this sort of frenzied state of… and I woke up in the middle of the night and just put pen to paper and thought, “just don’t take the pen off the page and just write.”

I closed the book, didn’t think much of it, and then I showed it to George the next day, and I think a lot of it landed for me at that point. The why of who this character was, it was about backstory. It was about his own suffering, his own trauma, and then I had the sort of light bulb moment: there is an arrested development to this guy, you know, through his traumatic experiences, his own abuse, he suffered.

It was a stunted maturity and growth. And so that explained to me the sort of childlike, impulsive, flamboyant actions he takes throughout the film. You know, he’s throwing a tantrum at one minute, and then he’s screaming for attention over here. He’s celebrating over there. I began to understand what he was screaming for, which was his own way of trying to ask for love. You know, it was his own way. He wanted the same thing everyone else wanted. He wanted connection. He wanted to be part of a family. The teddy bear, as you said, it was, it was from an illustration. Then it was in the costume, but it was never discussed in the script what it meant. And we were in the scene where I think I suggested maybe I’d give it to Furiosa in that moment. And, and then it was later I think we added in the line that it had belonged to him.

It interestingly sort of took on a life of its own at that point. It became very symbolic to him for his own reasons. It also becomes symbolic to Furiosa. It also represented a loss of innocence for the entire wasteland. It was something that they’re all searching for.

It had been taken from all of them at one point or another. It was perhaps a prisoner that Furiosa then frees later. It’s interesting trying to sort of, you know, reverse engineer, or go back and remember at what point things kind of came to life, but again, I think not seeing the character as a villain, actually seeing him as a person too, it then it started to make sense: the villain sees himself as a hero just as much as the hero sees himself as a hero.

I think he’s very… the impulse is to say, “he’s just this bad guy.” But once he was a real person to me, I really warmed to him. And now I have to be careful sometimes publicly articulating my compassion for the guy! Because he’s also a savage, obviously. And so I don’t justify any of the things he does, but you understand.

Some people, when abused, take that energy and that past and continue the cycle as he does. Whereas with Furiosa, there’s a revenge in it, but she chooses to exist in a more noble fashion. But for him, it was this excuse: “I’m allowed to treat you this way because that’s how I was treated.”

GM: Can I just say from the coach point of view, the first response that I got was your response to the screenplay. And I thought, “oh my goodness, he… I’ve been working on this for years, and he already seems to understand more than I do.” And then reading that journal, those five pages, I thought, “yes, he’s going deeper!” And then as we were shooting, he used to say, “you know, if there was this relationship with curiosity, if it was clearer…” and as that built through the shoot, basically expressed through the exchange of the teddy bear and all that sort of stuff, I thought, “wow, that thread of the tapestry is much, much stronger than I anticipated it would be.”

And for me, I found that if I have an understanding of not only their character, which is the obligation, but also an understanding of the context of that character and the interaction of that character with others, that’s when it becomes really powerful for me and it’s just like, you know, training some great Olympic gymnast or diver or something like that. It’s just a great feeling. You try to create the space for the actors to work together and then you put them together, and when you see them stick the landing as they say, it’s just a great feeling. I’m very grateful to this film that this happened with all of the cast, particularly when you’re working together. We’re not interested so much in what the individual actor is doing—it’s what they do to each other, or the characters do to each other, that’s really where the drama lies. Anyway, thanks Chris.