By Todd Gilchrist | The Playlist November 11, 2011 at 11:52AM
For the better part of the past two decades, George Miller has made films that veered sharply away from his earliest triumphs, opting for decidedly more family-friendly fare like “Babe: Pig in the City” and “Happy Feet” than the unforgiving adventures of the “Mad Max” series. But next year, Miller returns to that franchise with the tentatively titled “Fury Road,” and even though production was aborted back in 2003 and then pushed back several times since the project was first re-announced in 2009, Miller told The Playlist that their completion at Warner Brothers is as inevitable as their conception was in his head.
“When you actually work on a film, they do invade you,” Miller said Thursday morning via a telephone interview about his new film, “Happy Feet 2.” “The characters, they’re like imaginary characters in your head and they’re sort of part of your family in a strange way. So like family, they keep on intruding.”
Miller first attempted to resuscitate the franchise in 2003, and he confirmed the longtime rumor that Heath Ledger was set to star alongside Mel Gibson. That version was to begin shooting in Namibia, but in late February 2003 with the prospect of the impending Iraq invasion ahead 20th Century Fox postponed the production, and it lead to its eventual death.
But even then, he’d been turning over the idea of new films in his head for several years beforehand. “14 years ago, I remember the moment when I was walking across a street, a crossing,” he explained. “While I was in the middle of the road, I got this sudden flash of a story, and by the time I got across the street, I realized, oh my God – that’s a ‘Mad Max’ movie! It was the core idea.” Nevertheless, he insisted that he was reluctant at first to revisit that world after making three films about it early in his career. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was a ‘Mad Max’ movie, so I pushed it away.”
Nevertheless, “Mad Max” continued to occupy his thoughts, and before long, a more detailed story emerged. “Four years after that [in 2001], I was catching a long plane ride back from Los Angeles to Sydney, through the night, and I was in that hypnologic state between sleep and wakefulness, and the movie, a version of that movie, played out in my head – not fully formed, but very distinct,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Oh, here we go,’ and of its own bidding really; I didn’t intend to think about it. And then that just kept on happening, and suddenly you realize that you’re going to make another one.”
Of course, Miller isn’t the only well-known auteur to return to the material that helped make his name; Ridley Scott is nearing completion on “Prometheus,” a prequel to his 1979 film, and planning a follow-up to “Blade Runner.” Miller suggested that part of the reason he and others are taking on these projects from their past is that their cache among audiences makes them easier to get produced. “I think the way the business is now, sort of tentpole movies do require an already built-in audience,” he observed. “Films based on well-known properties, whether they’re television, really epically-selling novels or books or remake of old movies or sequels, it’s just become a staple of the business, because it’s a very, very tough business, and hard to get anybody to pay attention because there’s so much out there.”
Simultaneously, he said that it mostly comes down to spending so much time with your own material that it eventually infiltrates how you see other material. “The world and the characters just live with you,” he said. “They’re a prism through which you view the world, so you almost don’t have a choice in the matter – they definitely creep up on you. Certainly that was the case with a new ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Happy Feet’.”
With so many failed starts on a new “Mad Max” installment and filming set to start in early 2012, one would imagine that the narrative has changed dramatically. But Miller said that while it’s grown somewhat, it’s essentially much the same film he wanted to shoot in 2003. “Obviously I’ve worked on [the script] since, and we’ve got the whole movie designed – we’ve got 150 big vehicles built – and the world has evolved. I hope I’ve evolved, and I hope the movie’s evolved. But it’s pretty similar; at its core, it’s not that different.”
One thing that Miller said was absolutely the same was Mad Max, the character who was being rebooted, albeit primarily via Hardy’s performance rather than a ground-up reinvention via screenwriting. “He’s a rebooted Mad Max, but it’s a new interpretation.” Miller revealed. “We made it very clear from the outset that it would be crazy to try to impersonate what Mel had done, but Tom [like] Mel and Heath Ledger; these guys all have very similar kind of maleness, I find. I don’t know, they somehow remind me of big cats – they’re mesmerizing to look and be with, but you don’t know what they’re going to do at any moment.”
“There’s kind of a lot of stuff boiling underneath, and that makes them extremely interesting to watch,” he observed. “And also, Tom is an astonishingly good actor.”
Miller also confirmed that previously announced cast members Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are still set to appear in the film, despite the production delays. Meanwhile, he said he thinks that the wait has made the film now more relevant than ever: “what’s a little weird is that the world unfortunately is heading in the direction of Mad Max a little bit more rapidly than I would have liked,” he said.
“It’s a rigorously vetted film; I mean, the whole film has been prepared, storyboarded and so on. I’m surprised how little has changed [in the script] in that time. But these films aren’t really speculating about a future, they’re westerns in the same way that westerns would kind of morality plays, figures in the landscape, and you’re able to somehow reduce this human behavior to its most elemental. So now, it’s very clear to see the story in there where perhaps the modern world is a little bit too cluttered – it’s a bit hard to see the signals amongst the noise.”
“Happy Feet 2” arrives in theaters nationwide on November 18, 2011. More from this interview soon.