Shiny and Chrome

“It Was Horrible”: Inside Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy’s Mad Max Feud

In an excerpt from Kyle Buchanan’s Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, cast and crew recall the feud that nearly derailed the Oscar-winning film.
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© Warner Bros/Everett Collection.

Mad Max: Fury Road was a critical and commercial triumph, grossing nearly $375 million worldwide and earning 10 Oscar nominations (with six wins). But its path to the big screen was torturous and winding, as Kyle Buchanan shows in his oral history Blood, Sweat and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, out Tuesday. In the exclusive excerpt below, the film’s cast and crew recall one of Fury Road’s biggest hurdles: the bad blood between stars Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (“The Splendid Angharad”): It was very interesting to sit in a truck for four months with Tom and Charlize, who have completely different approaches to their craft.

Kelly Marcel (screenwriter and friend of Tom Hardy): Tom is very physical and all over the place and would try very different things. Charlize is cerebral and very consistent in the way that she approaches a character. They’re both powerhouses, but in their very different ways of working. Which, weirdly, is why the film works: It’s all pouring out on the screen.

George Miller (writer/director, Fury Road): The story is all about self-preservation: If it’s an advantage to you to kill another character, then you should do it and you don’t think twice about it. I think that crept into the actors.

P. J. Voeten (first assistant director, Fury Road): It seemed to implode in preproduction. We weren’t even shooting and there seemed to be this animosity.

Petrina Hull (production and development executive, Kennedy Miller Mitchell Films): And as we got into the shoot, those things became difficult.

P. J. Voeten: At some stage, the Wives didn’t like Tom, and one day, they didn’t even disguise it: They were just yelling at each other in front of us.

Nicholas Hoult (“Nux”): It was a tense atmosphere at times. It was kind of like you’re on your summer holidays and the adults in the front of the car are arguing.

Charlize Theron (“Furiosa”): He’s right, it was like two parents in the front of the car. We were either fighting or we were icing each other—I don’t know which one is worse—and they had to deal with it in the back. It was horrible! We should not have done that; we should have been better. I can own up to that.

Ricky Schamburg (first assistant camera, Fury Road): Tom is very provocative. Charlize isn’t. And it was a clash.

© Warner Bros/Everett Collection.

Richard Norton: (“The Prime Imperator”): Tom would want justification for every bit of choreography, not just in the actual action but in the pre-setup of the action and everything else. Charlize, her basic want is simple: I just want to fucking kill him. Let’s shoot it.

P. J. Voeten: The day that we were rehearsing the fight scene when they first meet, you could see the tension in the air. It was unbelievable.

J. Houston Yang (editor, Open Road Entertainment): We get dailies sometimes for specific sequences if we need to cut a shot longer, and some of that was the chain-wrench fight by the tanker. And boy fucking howdy, was it clear that those two people hated each other. They didn’t want to touch each other, they didn’t want to look at each other, they wouldn’t face each other if the camera wasn’t actively rolling.

Charlize Theron: I don’t want to make excuses for bad behavior, but it was a tough shoot. Now, I have a very clear perspective on what went down. I don’t think I had that clarity when we were making the movie. I was in survival mode; I was really scared shitless.

George Miller: Many years ago, I had the privilege of working with Jack Nicholson on Witches of Eastwick, where he was playing the devil. And he said, “You know, we think as actors that we don’t bring it home at night. We think we just leave it in the trailer when we walk off set. But the truth is, if you’re doing your job properly, you do bring it home.” And that was one of the dynamics that was happening in the film.

Charlize Theron: Because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, “Fuck, this is scary for you and it’s scary for me, too. Let’s be nice to each other.” We were functioning, in a weird way, like our characters: Everything was about survival.

Mark Goellnicht (camera operator, Fury Road): Between Tom and Charlize, it was literally the most contrast I’ve ever seen between two actors.

Samantha McGrady (key second assistant director, Fury Road): Charlize is the easiest person to deal with in terms of, Okay, we’re ready. Sometimes I would just call her and say, “We’re going to be ready in an hour,” and I knew she would always get in the car, get her makeup on, and get on set.

Matt Taylor (stunt driver, Fury Road): And when you’ve got someone like Tom who’s a larrikin and is late and very Method in his performances, just in sheer personality, there was always going to be a clash.

Tom Clapham (production runner, Fury Road): Tom was more in his trailer a lot of the time and would come out for the takes—and sometimes not on time, either. You’re like, Come on, it’s midnight and we want to go home.

Eventually, veteran producer Denise Di Novi was dispatched to Namibia to mediate the conflict between the film’s two stars.

Charlize Theron: I don’t want to rehash things, but it came out of a really bad moment where things kind of came to blows between me and Tom.

Mark Goellnicht: I remember vividly the day. The call on set was eight o’clock. Charlize got there right at eight o’clock, sat in the War Rig, knowing that Tom’s never going to be there at eight even though they made a special request for him to be there on time. He was notorious for never being on time in the morning. If the call time was in the morning, forget it—he didn’t show up.

Ricky Schamburg: Whether that was some kind of power play or not, I don’t know, but it felt deliberately provocative. If you ask me, he kind of knew that it was really pissing Charlize off, because she’s professional and she turns up really early.

Mark Goellnicht: Gets to nine o’clock, still no Tom. “Charlize, do you want to get out of the War Rig and walk around, or do you want to . . .” “No, I’m going to stay here.” She was really going to make a point. She didn’t go to the bathroom, didn’t do anything. She just sat in the War Rig.

Natascha Hopkins (stunt double, Fury Road): She was a new mom, and she just wanted to get to set, work, and take care of her kid.

Mark Goellnicht: Eleven o’clock. She’s now in the War Rig, sitting there with her makeup on and a full costume for three hours. Tom turns up, and he walks casually across the desert. She jumps out of the War Rig, and she starts swearing her head off at him, saying, “Fine the fucking cunt a hundred thousand dollars for every minute that he’s held up this crew,” and “How disrespectful you are!” She was right. Full rant. She screams it out. It’s so loud, it’s so windy—he 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.

© Warner Bros/Everett Collection.

Charlize Theron: It got to a place where it was kind of out of hand, and there was a sense that maybe sending a woman producer down could maybe equalize some of it, because I didn’t feel safe.

Kelly Marcel: There’s something that you can’t put your finger on unless you are inside it and you know what went on there. It was a really intense, intense, intense period in an intense, intense place. Family was made there, and family loves and hates each other.

Charlize Theron: I kind of put my foot down. George then said, “Okay, well, if Denise comes . . .” He was open to it and that kind of made me breathe a little bit, because it felt like I would have another woman understanding what I was up against.

P. J. Voeten: She was sent out to help try and smooth that relationship out. As nice a lady as she was, nobody could really turn it around because it was that entrenched. Whatever it was that they were going through wasn’t going to get fixed easily.

Charlize Theron: She was parked in the production office, and she was checking in with me and we would talk. But when I was on set, I still felt pretty naked and alone.

Kelly Marcel: Doug [Mitchell, producer of Fury Road] wouldn’t let Denise actually be on the set. He’s a bulldog, he’s going to protect George no matter what, at all costs. And you can send your producer, you can do whatever you want, but if you’ve got Doug standing there, there’s absolutely no point unless he wants you there. He was never going to allow anybody to interrupt this world, no matter how fraught the world was.

Charlize Theron: Looking back on where we are in the world now, given what happened between me and Tom, it would have been smart for us to bring a female producer in. You understand the needs of a director who wants to protect his set, but when push comes to shove and things get out of hand, you have to be able to think about that in a bigger sense. That’s where we could have done better, if George trusted that nobody was going to come and fuck with his vision but was just going to come and help mediate situations. I think he didn’t want any interference, and there were several weeks on that movie where I wouldn’t know what was going to come my way, and that’s not necessarily a nice thing to feel when you’re on your job. It was a little bit like walking on thin ice.

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George Miller: There are things that I feel disappointment with about the process. Looking back, if I had to do it again, I would probably be more mindful.

Tom Hardy (“Max”): 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.

Mark Goellnicht: That scene where you see Tom with Charlize on the bike and all the Vuvalini and the Wives behind, intermingled—that scene was probably the biggest change in seeing Tom really soften to Charlize in real life. We were all unprepared for how he performed that, and then I walked off and Charlize was walking back, and I said, “Geez, Charlize, that was amazing. Did a light switch go off? He was great.” She was quite taken aback by it, too. But it was great because that’s when you can see that Max and Furiosa really are a team.

The day we shot that, I got such goose bumps. You really felt this change in their mood. Just the way that they were talking to each other when they were off camera, I went, What the fuck? Who gave them molly? They were really civil and nice. He was a different person by the end—a lot easier to deal with, a lot more cooperative, more compassionate. He’s such a Method actor that I think he took the arc in the literal sense.

Petrina Hull: Overall, the feeling of their relationship did mirror the arc of the characters, and that they had that prickly thing of two people trying to understand each other and clashing and then somehow learning a mutual sort of respect, ultimately. That’s what Max and Furiosa come to in the end: It’s a version of love where you can only really get to regard. It’s not touchy-feely.

Iain Smith (executive producer, Fury Road): I think that the tension between them actually underscored the love that existed between the two of them within the movie, and that sometimes happens. The worst thing is indifference, and believe you me, there was no indifference between the two of them.

Kelly Marcel: I don’t know anyone that didn’t lose their temper on that set, including myself. It was fraught and frantic, and you had this overbearing pressure the whole time that you were going to get shut down. You had a studio out in L.A. who did not understand what was being made, and the people who were there on the ground couldn’t really tell them what was being made, either.

Chris O’Hara (on-set second assistant director, Fury Road): People have written things about Tom and Charlize’s relationship. It was just two people trying to do the best job they could.

Adapted from Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, by Kyle Buchanan. Copyright © Kyle Buchanan 2022. Reprinted with permission from William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

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