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An epic prequel for an iconic hero; hear George Miller on how he created 'Furiosa'


Director George Miller has had Furiosa's story in his head for a long time. Of course, she's the one-armed gunslinging road warrior from Miller's 2015 smash hit "Mad Max: Fury Road."

GEORGE MILLER: At its inception, the notion of "Fury Road" was very simple. How much story can we tell on the run? In order to do that, we had to understand everything, every single detail that we see in the film, every prop, every vehicle, every piece of costume and also all the characters. So we had to write the backstories.

SHAPIRO: Those backstories became the screenplay for the new movie "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." It shows how Furiosa went from her childhood in an idyllic green place...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) They took Furiosa.

SHAPIRO: ...To the wasteland...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Who do we have here?

SHAPIRO: ...And ultimately how she became the fearsome heroine movie audiences have loved for nearly a decade.


ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: (As Furiosa) I'm Furiosa.

SHAPIRO: George Miller is nearly 80 and has been directing "Mad Max" movies since 1979. This one unfolds over 18 years, in contrast to the three frenzied days of "Fury Road." I asked Miller whether he enjoyed that long narrative sweep.

MILLER: What was appealing was that it's different, that it's a different exercise trying to tell something that is such a saga compared to something that is much more intense. They're two different exercises in storytelling. And it was really good to actually explore more deeply the backstories of the characters we encounter, particularly Furiosa, particularly when you bring her into conflict with characters like Dementus.

SHAPIRO: Dementus is the warlord played by Chris Hemsworth. Let's listen to a clip of the two of them.


TAYLOR-JOY: (As Furiosa) My childhood, my mother - I want them back.

CHRIS HEMSWORTH: (As Dr. Dementus) Of course you do.

TAYLOR-JOY: (As Furiosa) I want them back.

HEMSWORTH: (As Dr. Dementus) That's exactly how I felt - my own family, my own magnificent beauties taken so unjustly, immutably. I'm right there. I'm right there with you.

SHAPIRO: You know, the actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Furiosa, described the way you direct as painting. She told Variety that everything we see on screen is basically hand-painted by you. Every frame is so full of detail. And so how do you think about balancing chaos with legibility, like guiding your audience's eye to the right place?

MILLER: Oh, that - there's a long answer to that.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MILLER: But essentially, you have to - I guess the best analogy is music. In the same way that someone composing a piece of music, whether it be, you know, a symphony or even a song, there has to be precision. In music, it's all almost mathematical. There has to be a causal relationship between one note and the next or one chord and the next, and so it is with film. You have to prepare in a way that allows the actors and all the human intervention into the process. If it's highly prepared, then in the shooting, in the moment of performance, everyone is free to rely on their instincts.

SHAPIRO: And I'm just thinking, for so much of this movie, Furiosa, your main character, does not speak, so you can't rely on the script. You're really dependent on what audiences are seeing and hearing.

MILLER: Yes, yes. And I've also been intrigued by the way that silent cinema was able to get across so many powerful stories without words, without sound indeed. One thing I've found is that when you're doing any movie at all is that they should play a silent movie, so that the kind of syntax of pure cinema manages to tell a lot of the story. I remember when I started making movies. I would often turn off the sound and watch my favorite movies, just to understand how those pieces of footage fitted together...


MILLER: ...In a kind of visual music. I think that's really key. Then when, of course, you add sound, that's a whole other thing going on.

SHAPIRO: I'd love to ask you about the chase scenes that these films have become so famous for. I know that it's really important to you to have real cars in a real desert and not people in front of green screens with CGI.


SHAPIRO: Because special effects are so widely available now, do you find it's harder to make a sequence feel novel than when you were starting out?

MILLER: Well, that's one of the exercises regardless of whether you use special effects or however you shoot it. If it's a repetition of what's been done before, then there's no cultural progression in any human artistic endeavor, indeed in any human endeavor.

SHAPIRO: So what was the breakthrough with this one that you were particularly proud of? I can guess, having seen the movie, but I'd love to hear your answer.

MILLER: Well, you tell me first, and then I'll tell you.

SHAPIRO: Well, I feel like in "Fury Road," it was the polecats, the people swinging back-and-forth like they were in Cirque du Soleil while on a, you know, vehicle driving through.

MILLER: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: For this one, it felt to me like the kind of hang glider, parachute-y - I don't know what you called them - but that to me felt like something I had never seen before.

MILLER: That's true. And that came - actually, we had that in the storyboards of the original "Fury Road."


MILLER: There was one very brief scene where you saw at night what we thought were vehicles coming at us with headlights, but then we suddenly, at the last moment, realized that indeed, they are airborne in some way. And we decided well before we started shooting that it was unnecessary, and it didn't kind of fit in very well. And that kind of triggered us to do that for this film. And we - I don't believe we could have done and made the sequence as well.

SHAPIRO: George Miller, I imagine this is a question you've been asked a thousand times, but I looked and I could not find the answer, so I'm going to ask it. These films are so car-centric. I have to know. What kind of vehicle do you drive?

MILLER: Oh, this - I drive an electric car. I'm very conservative on the roads. I'm not a petrol head or rev head, as we call them in Australia.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MILLER: But I am surrounded by people who are really - we call them black thumbs. And we use the term in the film.

SHAPIRO: Because of the oil.

MILLER: Yeah, like green thumbs, you know? And the - it's one of the design organizing ideas is that everything has to be made from found objects repurposed. There's nothing manufactured. And so, for instance, my electric car would not survive but for a couple days come some great catastrophic, apocalyptic event. I - the power grid would go down, and the car becomes virtually useless. And so you go back to a technology that's much more - you're able to sort of manipulate more, you know, with your hands and so on. And the technology is regressive and the behavior even more so. And you end up in this world with almost neo-medieval behavior. And so these stories are allegorical in the same way one could say as the American Western has been. They are a much more reduced elemental world in which you can play out stories in much more clear, less kind of chaotic fashion, if that makes sense.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, George Miller, it has been so much fun talking with you. Thank you very much.

MILLER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: He co-wrote and directed "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Megan Lim
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.