"Mad Max" director George Miller was "heartbroken" over Mel Gibson's string of scandals in recent years. But he says that isn't why he recast the lead part in the post-apocalyptic auto action franchise.
Gibson was simply too old.
The Australian director helped launch Gibson, now 58, to stardom three decades ago in the trilogy featuring stark desert landscapes, intense car chases and a bleach-blonde Tina Turner.
Miller, 69, originally hoped to bring Gibson back as Max Rockatansky for the fourth film. As he developed the story over the last decade, Miller hatched plans for a second trilogy instead of just the one new film. Concerned that Gibson wouldn't be able to commit to three more movies, he asked Tom Hardy, 36, to step into the road warrior's black leather boots.
"I have a great affection for Mel. I was really heartbroken to see him go into (the scandals)," Miller said in a recent interview. "But it's a new time. I hope Mel gets to act in more movies because I think he's a wonderful actor. But I think he's an amazingly good director."
Miller describes "Mad Max: Fury Road" as an extended chase taking place over three days. The movie, due out next summer and also starring Charlize Theron, features minimal dialogue. The screenplay consisted of storyboards — sketches of each planned shot — rather than a conventional script.
"You're picking up the characters and the backstory as you go," Miller said. "And in order to create that backstory, we found ourselves having written two other screenplays. One of them is completed. The other one is in the form of a kind of unedited novel. So by the time we got there, we realized we've got a couple more Mad Max stories to tell, and that ... required us to cast someone who was younger."
Miller showed the first footage from "Mad Max: Fury Road" at the recent Comic-Con fest in San Diego and got an enthusiastic response from attendees. He's still finishing work on the movie, his return to live action after directing the animated "Happy Feet" in 2006 and 2011's sequel.
"Roman Polanksi had a saying, which is that there's only one perfect place for the camera at any given time. And I learned that on the animations," Miller said. "You can move the camera wherever you like. But to tell the story — it was interesting how much you could influence the story by simply shooting from another perspective."
There is, of course, a heightened sense of danger when you're moving said camera through a high-speed motorcycle and dune buggy chase in the harsh Australian outback — not circling cute dancing penguins via computer software.
"Particularly a film like this where we wanted to shoot like real, old-school," Miller said. "Every car you see smashed is a real car. Every stuntman you see is a real person, and in many cases the cast. ... It's like being in the middle of a real-life video game getting that footage. One, two inches too far one way or the other or a miscue and you've got disaster on your hands. It was both exhilarating and very wearying."
There were only minor injuries during the shoot, Miller said. "Mad Max: Fury Road" will roll into theatres next May.