To Cast His Wild ‘Furiosa,’ George Miller Had Just One Rule: Only Warriors Need Apply

George Miller keeps a photo on his phone. Taken somewhere in the ’70s, it’s a picture of Craig Hemsworth — back when the father of Chris Hemsworth hung out with the same gang of motorbike riders that appeared in the original “Mad Max.” He even knew Wonder Dog, that film’s cycle-riding canine. And of course, the younger Hemsworth is a dead ringer for his dad.

“[Chris] dug deep,” Miller told IndieWire of his “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” star. “He is highly considered on anything and everything, multi-dimensional. And he has wisdom. He is just 40. Now, at that age, if I only had half his understanding of the world at large, his place in it, the connection to family and the way he wants to conduct his life!”

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We’re in Cannes and it’s the day before the festival’s out-of-competition world premiere of “Furiosa,” the fifth installment of his 45-year-old franchise. Miller was 34 when the original film debuted in 1979; now 79, he still loves sharing his vision of this dystopian universe.

Odds are, audiences will feel the same: “Furiosa” is an eye-popping dynamic thrill ride that does not disappoint. Audiences in Sydney got to see it first, along with some press in L.A. Responses were excellent, but Miller pays that no mind.

“That was a false reading, because people were enthusiastic,” he said. “You don’t get an accurate reading until you see it with a paying audience. I go about once or twice, and then it’s goodbye for good.”

Before “Furiosa” could become a screenplay, Miller and co-writer Nick Lathouris began with a whiteboard that Lathouris turned into a novella. “We were trying to get it down so we could pass that on to everyone working on the film,” said Miller at Cannes, “Nicholas wrote it quickly as a novella not intending to publish it, just as a tool for us to work.”

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’Warner Bros.

It required about 1,000 people to create this iteration of Miller’s Wasteland, many of them returning veterans; the director’s marching orders were to keep it fresh. In addition to new new rigs, costumes, and locations, the cast includes Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa, Hemsworth as villain Warlord Dementus, and Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack, who forms an intense bond with Furiosa. The veteran British actor is perhaps best known for his role as super-cad Anthony in Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir” films, which Miller loved. He said he never considered anyone else for the role. “He is very skilled,” said Miller.

Taylor-Joy, like Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron before her, was miserable while shooting. Miller is fine with that; he believes the best actors internalize their characters. “They have to have great athletic, intellectual, and emotional skills,” he said. “They’re warriors. I remember Jack Nicholson warning Heath Ledger about playing Joker: ‘It gets inside you.'”

As the “Mad Max” franchise advanced, Miller took advantage of new technology and the younger people who knew how to deploy it. They include his “Fury Road” and “Furiosa” action designer and second unit director, Guy Norris, and his son Harlan Norris, who could pre-vis elaborate stunts that were once impossible to storyboard.

‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’
‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’

For Miller, Cannes is a second home. He most recently debuted out-of-competition “Three Thousand Years of Longing” in 2022, but also served on the competition jury three times and served as its president in 2016. In 2015, he premiered “Mad Max: Fury Road,” also out of competition; it earned 10 Oscar nominations and won six.

“It’s a strange ritual,” said Miller of preparing to see “Furiosa” into the world. “It’s like saying goodbye to something with which you’ve been involved so intimately, in such a small, tiny, granular way, for so long. And then handing it over to the audiences to see what they make of it.”

AWarner Bros. will release “Furiosa” in theaters on Friday, May 31.

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