‘Mad Max’: The feud between Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy that George Miller wanted to avoid between the stars of ‘Furiosa’

The Australian director reflects on the dispute between the actors nine years after the film’s release: ‘There’s a tendency in this business to use great performances as an excuse for other disruption that could be avoided.’ Before filming the new movie, he spoke with Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth to ensure their physical and mental safety

George Miller, Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy at the 'Mad Max: Fury Road' premiere, during the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
El País

The mood between Charlize Theron, 48, and Tom Hardy, 46, on the set of the 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road was tense. Very tense. According to their co-star Nicholas Hoult, “it was kind of like you’re on your summer holidays and the adults in the front of the car are arguing,” as he described it in Kyle Buchanan’s book Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max (2022). In the book, Theron agreed with this reflection: “He’s right, it was like two parents in the front of the car. We were either fighting or we were icing each other — I don’t know which one is worse — and they had to deal with it in the back. It was horrible! We should not have done that; we should have been better. I can own up to that.”

Ahead of the premiere of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga — the prequel to Fury Road Mad Max director George Miller reflected on the notorious dispute. “They were just two very different performers,” the 79-year-old director told The Telegraph, arguing that he spoke with the lead actors of the new installment to prevent another feud on set.

Fury Road was a success. It received 10 Oscar nominations in 2016 and took home six awards (Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing). It was also a commercial triumph, making $375 million at the global box office. But the road to get there was not easy, in part because of the strained relationship between the two stars. “Tom [Hardy] has a damage to him but also a brilliance that comes with it, and whatever was going on with him at the time, he had to be coaxed out of his trailer. Whereas Charlize [Theron] was incredibly disciplined — a dancer by training, which told in the precision of her performance — and always the first one on set,” said Miller.

Furiosa stars Hardy, but not Theron. Miller told The Telegraph that he is an “optimist” and at the time, “saw their behavior as mirroring their characters, where they had to learn to co-operate in order to ensure mutual survival.” The film is set in the future, in a post-apocalyptic desert Earth where gasoline and water are scarce commodities. Against this backdrop, ex-cop Max Rockatansky (played by Hardy) ends up joining forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Nux (Nicholas Hoult) to take on the leader of the wasteland and his army, leading to a long road battle. But despite his past optimism, Miller says that he now recognizes that “there’s no excuse” for the obvious feud between the two stars. “I think there’s a tendency in this business to use great performances as an excuse for other disruption that could be avoided,” he said.

Tom Hardy y Charlize Theron
Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in a scene from 'Mad Max: Fury Road.'Warner Bros/ courtesy Everett Collection/ Cordon Press

In Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max, camera operator Mark Goellnicht recalls an “explosive” episode that definitively ignited the tension between the actors. “I remember vividly the day. The call on set was 8 a.m. Charlize got there right at 8 a.m., sat in the War Rig, knowing that Tom’s never going to be there at eight even though they made a special request for him to be there on time. He was notorious for never being on time in the morning. If the call time was in the morning, forget it — he didn’t show up,” he said.

First assistant cameraman Ricky Schamburg seconded this: “Whether that was some kind of power play or not, I don’t know, but it felt deliberately provocative. If you ask me, he kind of knew that it was really pissing Charlize off, because she’s professional and she turns up really early.”

Goellnicht remembers that hours passed and Hardy had still not appeared, while Theron stayed put in the War Rig, not leaving even to go to the bathroom. “Tom turns up, and he walks casually across the desert. She jumps out of the War Rig, and she starts swearing her head off at him, saying, ‘Fine the fucking cunt a hundred thousand dollars for every minute that he’s held up this crew,’ and ‘How disrespectful you are!’ She was right. Full rant. She screams it out. It’s so loud, it’s so windy — he might’ve heard some of it, but he charged up to her up and went, ‘What did you say to me?’”

That was the turning point for Theron, who after that incident requested protection. From that moment on, producer Denise di Novi was assigned to be with her at all times and make sure there were no more conflicts.

In the nine years since the film’s release, both Theron and Hardy have taken responsibility for the feud on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road, claiming the grueling production schedule and lack of mutual trust were the main triggers of their enmity.

“In hindsight, I was in over my head in many ways. The pressure on both of us was overwhelming at times. What she needed was a better, perhaps more experienced partner in me. That’s something that can’t be faked. I’d like to think that now that I’m older and uglier, I could rise to that occasion,” said Hardy in the 2022 book.

“I don’t want to make excuses for bad behavior, but it was a tough shoot. Now, I have a very clear perspective on what went down. I don’t think I had that clarity when we were making the movie. I was in survival mode; I was really scared shitless,” said Theron. “Because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, ‘Fuck, this is scary for you and it’s scary for me, too. Let’s be nice to each other.’ We were functioning, in a weird way, like our characters: Everything was about survival.”

Charlize Theron y George Miller
Charlize Theron and George Miller during the filming of the movie 'Mad Max: Fury Road' in 2015.©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection (©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection / Cordon Press)

In the new film Furiosa — which opens in cinemas on May 24 — the leads are played by Anya Taylor-Joy, 28, who only has 30 lines in the 150-minute movie despite being the main character, and Chris Hemsworth, 40. According to The Telegraph, Miller brought talked to both of them before shooting Furiosa, telling them: “You have to be obsessive about safety physical safety, as the shoot goes on and fatigue sets in, but also psychological safety. It’s not like the wild old days.”

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