The stars and creator of the new Mad Max reboot talk to Michele Manelis about the extremes they went to for the new movie.

As the opening scene in Mad Max: Fury Road attests, George Miller has not mellowed with age.

The 70-year-old Australian director, whose original Mad Max films (1979-85) established him as a master of motorised mayhem is at it again - pushing boundaries with this new version of his story set in a desolate post-apocalyptic world.

The reboot makes the original films seem comparatively sedate family affairs.

Once again, all of the action is real. "Whatever my age, I still feel like a kid in my head," says Miller. "I love action movies and when I was making the film I thought about what Hitchcock once said: 'I try to make movies where they don't have to read the subtitles in Japan.'"

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Miller has certainly achieved his goal.

He cranks it up to 11 and offers minimal dialogue in this unrelenting adrenalin rush, delivered mostly without the help of computers.

Max (Tom Hardy) and one-armed warrior, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) flee across a toxic desert trying to shake warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, also in the first Mad Max film) and his motley crew, including an unrecognisable Nicholas Hoult. "Almost every day was a big stunt day and there were many stunts," Miller chuckles. "It was a marathon 135-day shoot through the Namibian desert."

Budgeted at US$150 million, what sets this post-apocalyptic movie apart from others in the genre is its economic use of special effects. "We don't defy the laws of physics. There's no flying men or spacecraft. We not only used real vehicles for the car crashes but we used real people and shot the movie almost in continuity so there's attrition to the vehicles and to the people. We made it look as real as possible, the way we shot movies back in the old days."

A stand-alone piece, Fury Road is unapologetic in its refusal to explain the previous films three films of the franchise - and their Australian settings - nor even much about its titular hero.

Nicholas Hoult in the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.
Nicholas Hoult in the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.

We originally met Max Rockatansky in 1979. Back then, Gibson was the leather-clad 23-year-old highway cop out to avenge the murders of his wife and son.

Mad Max spawned a post-apocalyptic sequel, The Road Warrior, in 1981, in which roaming gangs of looters killed each other for petrol. The third instalment, 1985's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, saw Max rescued by a tribe of children having been banished from a desert town by the evil queen, played by a fierce Tina Turner. Fury Road, though, it is not remotely connected.

A Mad Max 4 almost happened with Gibson in 2001.

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"Then 9/11 happened, the American dollar collapsed against the Australian dollar and the budget ballooned," explains Miller. "By the time we got going again Mel had all that ... turbulence in his life, and besides, the film wasn't about an older Mad Max. It was meant to be a similar sort of character."

Enter Tom Hardy (Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises) to fill Gibson's big dirty leather boots.

"When Tom walked in the room, he reminded me of Mel when he walked in the room 30 years before. Tom was six weeks old when we shot the first Mad Max," he laughs, "To compare them, they are both extremely talented actors, both creatures of the theatre, both very lovable. At the same time there is that quality of mystery or danger which is what we see in all charismatic actors."

Miller denies there was ever a Gibson cameo in the offing, despite internet rumours.

His cast seem genuinely enthusiastic about the highly-anticipated action film.

Tom Hardy in the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.
Tom Hardy in the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.

Says Hardy of inhabiting this iconic role: "I met with Mel Gibson. I thought it was the right thing to do because it's a family, the Mad Max family, and has been for some 30 years. I felt a bit like the new wife having to go and meet the old wife and they've got kids together and I suppose in a way I have custody of those children. And George is ultimately as the patriarch of the family."

Hardy enjoyed Miller's keeping it real approach. "Everything you see, any destruction, any car that's ripping, falling off, anybody who's harnessed or is hitting something is a stunt man or woman.

"The film was free from artifice and George embraced the stunt department and pushed them beyond their limits. With Fury Road, I think we're celebrating that back to the old school film-making methods."

Although it's most definitely a Mad Max franchise, Theron's turn as the alpha female, Furiosa, is equally compelling.

Her character escapes from the clutches of warlord Immortan Joe who enslaved her, a fate suffered by all women in the land. His mandate is that all women are his property, under his rule.

Miller says of Theron's brutish appearance: "Charlize is unmistakably a woman; she didn't have to worry about whether she was going to be too butch or too tough so she was able to be really uncompromising in the role.

Theron enjoyed the female empowerment message of the movie.

"I think George's idea that women in a post-apocalyptic world couldn't look after themselves or be warriors or that they couldn't survive as well as men, is something that he really put an end to with this movie," smiles Theron.

"Furiosa was stolen as a young child to become a breeding machine for a tyrant. When she couldn't deliver she was discarded. So this broken woman turns out to be this amazing woman but she's not a superwoman.

"It was almost like George said, 'I'm going to show you a real woman. This is a real woman."

Charlize Theron in the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.
Charlize Theron in the movie Mad Max: Fury Road.

The film took it out of the South African star who was left battered by the experience.

"Doing this movie was definitely the hardest thing I've had to do in 20 years. There are times when i watch it and I can see my own pain in the film."

Theron had to adopt a mechanical arm for the role which proved challenging at times. "It was built from real elements and weighed over 10 pounds and so I developed a bit of a neck injury. After that I knew I had to get enough strength in order to protect myself.

"The physical part for me in the role is for my own truth," she says. "I'm not a fan of scrawny little girls kicking pretend butt in movies. I just don't buy it. I hate those moments where the tiniest little arms are hitting a guy who is four times her size and we are supposed to believe that that happened."

There's already much buzz in Hollywood that Fury Road is the first in a possible trilogy.

"We never set out to write a trilogy but it took so long to make the movie and ended up with other scripts," says Miller. Taking a breath, he says, finally, "If this does well enough and I've got the appetite to go back into the wasteland, we will see. But that's entirely in the future."

Who: George Miller director of Mad Max; Fury Road and stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron
When and where: At cinemas from May 14.

- TimeOut