Charlize Theron has never made it a secret that she had a rough time on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road. Even in 2015, the year that George Miller’s epic post-apocalyptic road rage movie was released to theatres, Theron gave an interview with Esquire saying that her co-star Tom Hardy “drove her crazy” and “they went at it.”
While that older interview paints a pretty tame, hot-and-cold dynamic between the two, things get more extreme in Kyle Buchanan’s Blood, Sweat & Chrome, a new oral history tell-all book. Buchanan, the pop culture reporter for the New York Times, conducted more than 130 interviews with key members of the cast and crew, including Theron, Hardy, and Miller, to get a full perspective of the production. An excerpt from the book has been published by Vanity Fair, and in it, Theron describes some of the “horrible” conditions she faced while filming Fury Road.
The excerpt paints a very different and much more dramatic picture of the set conditions than those described in any previous interviews. It’s been an open secret in Hollywood that Hardy can be difficult to work with (he even admitted as much in this 2015 Esquire UK interview), he’s very method, and he sometimes isn’t as professional as he could be. Buchanan’s book shows that Hardy has at least some awareness that his behaviour isn’t appropriate. But the accounts related in the excerpt highlight not only the ways in which Hardy behaved poorly, but the ways that everyone on set, including Miller and the producers, failed to protect Theron’s well-being and mental health during filming.
There are many people who explain in the excerpt what they saw between Theron and Hardy, and how they personally felt on set. Blood, Sweat & Chrome’s multiple accounts, even in this brief extract, emphasise the intense, traumatic, and at-times terrifying nature of Theron and Hardy’s interactions, including a moment where the co-stars nearly came to blows after Hardy showed up over three hours late to set. In the excerpt, camera operator Mark Goellnicht explains that when Hardy eventually showed up, Theron went over to confront him, yelling across the desert:
[Theron] was right. Full rant. She screams it out. It’s so loud, it’s so windy — [Hardy] might’ve heard some of it, but he charged up to her up and went, “What did you say to me?”
He was quite aggressive. She really felt threatened, and that was the turning point, because then she said, “I want someone as protection.” She then had a producer that was assigned to be with her all the time.
This wasn’t the first time the two had yelling matches on set. While both later admitted to a lack of professionalism, Blood, Sweat & Chrome paints a clear instigator in these situation described here. Later on in the excerpt, Ricky Schamburg, first assistant camera operator, is quoted as saying “Whether that was some kind of power play or not, I don’t know, but it felt deliberately provocative.”
The excerpts chosen for Vanity Fair do attempt to create a balance between the two actors–Theron yelled, Hardy was provocative. But despite that, there’s a clear difference between a man being consistently unprofessional and a woman (who is, by many accounts, including those in the Vanity Fair excerpt, an exceptionally professional actor) calling him out on his lack of professionalism. On top of that, in the Vanity Fair piece, Theron has multiple quotes where she admits fault for almost every instance where she reacted to Hardy’s provocations and method acting, while Hardy has only given a couple interviews about his experience filming Fury Road. In this particular excerpt, he has has a single quote, in which he adds:
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.
This is not an apology. If Hardy was so aggressive on set that Theron demanded a woman producer to be around her at all times because she didn’t feel safe, then it’s barely an admission of inappropriate behaviour. The excerpt even goes on to note that this female producer was brought in at Theron’s request, but never actually allowed on set because another producer, Doug Mitchell, refused to let Miller’s direction be interrupted.
As yet, the final result of all this is a film that is a near miraculous feat of craft and narrative drive. Mad Max: Fury Road is marvellous, incredible, and as intense as the off-screen relationship between the two co-leads. But should good art come at the expense of the actors, who did not consent or agree to be traumatized for the vision of a director? Should a film about the fight that women face for control over their own bodies have put a very real woman on a set where she felt threatened and unsafe?
There will likely be few repercussions as a result of Buchanan’s reporting, especially as Fury Road is now far in the past for Warner Bros, Miller, and his actors. Gizmodo has reached out to Warner Bros. for comment on Fury Road’s filming conditions in the wake of Blood, Sweat & Chrome’s revelations, but has not heard back by time of publication — we’ll update this piece if and when we hear anything.
But perhaps Hollywood can learn a lesson from this accounting, Maybe in publicizing them there’s a chance for a real apology, and for Miller to take these insights and apply them to his new Furiosa prequel film, scheduled for 2024. Nevertheless, it’s a horrific irony that Fury Road, a movie that is based on the intrinsic power of women and themes of solidarity and motherhood, was created at the expense of Theron, then a new mother and (still) one of the most sought-after female action stars in a pervasively sexist and ageist industry.