Mel Gibson in ‘The Road Warrior’ (Everett)
As far as unlikely film trilogies go, there’s nothing quite like the Mad Max series. The original 1979 movie didn’t exactly have the hallmarks a global phenomenon — it was a post-apocalyptic Australian action flick made on a tiny budget with unknown actors. But that’s just what it became, thanks to brutal, daredevil stunt sequences and a baby-faced lead named Mel Gibson. Six years after the film’s release, director George Miller had made two sequels — 1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome — and Gibson was on the verge of superstardom. The story of Mad Max was written.
Or so it seemed. This Friday the fourth installment hits theaters. To get geared up for Mad Max: Fury Road, we revisited the first three films and dug through director’s commentary and old interviews to compile this list of little known facts. Read it before you hit that Road one more time.
Mad Max (1979)
1. Director George Miller was a medical doctor who began taking film classes in his down time. Much of the physical violence in the movie was informed by what he learned treating car-crash victims.
2. Miller has said when he set out to make Mad Max, his goal was to make a modern silent film with sound. “The kind of movie that Hitchcock would say, ‘They didn’t have to read the subtitles in Japan,’” he says.
3. Gibson’s story about how he landing the role of Max starts with him showing up at the audition bruised from a bar fight. The filmmakers, he says, invited him back a few weeks later because they were “looking for freaks.” When he returned, healed and handsome, he won the leading role. According to TCM, that story has been refuted by everyone else at the audition, who say Gibson was immediately seen as leading-man material.
4. As Miller remembers it, he first tried to cast Max with an American star, but quickly found out he couldn’t afford one. So he began auditioning Aussie actors. After running through dozens of young men, Gibson arrived. “I remember watching through the video camera lens as he’s running this scene, and I suddenly started to believe it. And I thought, 'Oh my God, there’s something going on here,’” Miller says.
5. Rosie Bailey, the actress originally slated to play Jessie, was injured in a motorcycle accident four days before the start of shooting. Joanne Samuel was a last-minute replacement. Stunt coordinator Grant Page was also hurt in a pre-production motorcycle crash. He reported for duty anyway.
6. Production was pushed back a month because Gibson’s professors at Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art wouldn’t let him out of classes early.
7. Writer James McCausland, an economist whose ideas were influenced by the 1973 oil crisis and looming fears of peak oil, makes a cameo as the bearded cook outside of Fat Nancy’s Cafe.
8. The red, yellow and blue Main Force Patrol cars were V8-equipped Ford Falcon sedans that had all been police cars. There were only three used for the film and Miller often had them strategically moved around so it would look like there were more of them.
9. The supercharger poking through the hood of Max’s black Police Interceptor, a Ford Falcon XB Coupe, was just for show. It didn’t actually work.
10. The motorcycles driven by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays Bryne) and his gang were donated by Kawasaki, which sent them to the actors a month before production so they could practice riding.
11. Because Miller couldn’t afford to fly the Toecutter and his gang from Sydney to location in Melbourne (the budget was only $350,000), they rode their motorcycles and “rehearsed being a bikie gang on the way down,” Miller says.
12. Members of the Hells Angels and Vigilantes bike gangs played extras in the Toecutter’s gang.
13. Of all the outfits in Mad Max, only Mel Gibson’s was made from actual leather. The rest were vinyl, which was more affordable, but also required constant sewing because it ripped easily.
Mel Gibson in ‘Mad Max’ (Everett)
14. Much of the film was shot using old lenses that Sam Peckinpah used to shoot The Getaway with Steve McQueen in the early '70s. Miller says the busted-up lenses were dumped in Australia, and they were his only option for shooting in wide angle.
15. Miller was forced to shoot in a guerrilla style, without permits, because, “there was no one to go to really get a permit.” The production actually got help from police though: Miller says they took an interest in the movie and would often block traffic for the production.
16. The fire that comes shooting out of the Nightrider’s car — a former Melbourne taxi — came from a Naval booster rocket. The rocket produced 6,500 pounds of thrust over 1.8 seconds and sent the car 400 meters off course, leading everyone to believe that the shot was ruined. After watching it back though, the production team discovered it was clearly a keeper.
17. The blue van sent spinning through the street near the end of the Nightrider’s joyride belonged to Miller’s father. The engine was taken out so it would bounce around better.
18. The scene in which the Toecutter’s gang chases down an innocent couple and ravages them and their car was edited out in some countries because it was too graphic.
19. When Max visits Goose in the hospital after his crash and subsequent immolation, the charred hand that appears from under the hospital sheets belonged to Sheila Florence, the actress who played May Swaisey.
Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley in ‘Mad Max’ (Everett)
20. Cundalini’s hand, which Jessie finds hanging from the back of the family station wagon, was a five-dollar prop bought from a novelty shop with a piece of pork attached to attract the dog.
21. To outfit the ice cream shop where Jessie and Sprog grab a snack before meeting the Toecutter’s gang, art director Jon Dowding stole signage and milk crates from a store near his house. He returned it all the next day when shooting was complete.
22. Max’s son is named Sprog, which is an Australian slang term for child.
23. Max Fairchild, who played Benno, the mentally-challenged adult in overalls, is the only actor other than Gibson to appear in the sequel The Road Warrior, where he’s credited as “Broken Victim.”
24. The scene in which the Toecutter’s gang siphons gas from a moving tanker was shot without harnesses or anything else to protect the actors.
25. The close-up of Max’s knee getting shot is not Gibson’s knee. It belonged to special effects guru Chris Murray. And the close-up of Max’s arm getting run over by a motorcycle was actually stunt coordinator Grant Page’s arm. He cut a hole in the asphalt to make sure he wasn’t hurt.
26. Though persistent rumors say otherwise, the biker hit in the head with a flying motorcycle during the climactic chase did not die. In fact, he got up and walked away right after the sequence.
Watch the ‘Mad Max’ trailer:
27. The semi-truck that killed the Toecutter had its front end covered with a giant metal plate on which lights and a grill were painted, because the trucker didn’t want to let a motorcycle destroy his ride for the measly $50 he was getting paid.
28. A latex rig stood in for the Toecutter’s face for the shot of his eyes bulging out of his head just before hitting the truck. The eyes on the rig, which was shot in a studio after principal photography, were spring-loaded.
29. The Toecutter’s epaulets were made of possum fur.
30. When it was originally released in the U.S., Mad Max was dubbed with American accents, possibly because Australian accents were then considered too hard for American audiences to understand.
31. Beer was currency on the set: An ambulance driver and tractor driver were among those paid by the case.
32. After the film was finished, Miller said he was so dissatisfied with it that he couldn’t bring himself to watch.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
33. In fleshing out the Mad Max character for The Road Warrior, Miller consulted with the works of Joseph Campbell, a mythology scholar. Max became more of an archetypal hero.
34. Mad Max 2 was known as The Road Warrior in the U.S. because Warner Bros. assumed no one would watch a sequel to a film they had never seen in the first place.
35. A good rule of thumb for determining whether a car was moving during production is to look at the road. If you can see the asphalt speeding by in the shot, the car is moving. If you can’t, it’s not.
36. Max’s dog was chosen from a local pound, which was set to kill him the next day. (The role was originally written for a three-legged dog, but producers couldn’t find one.) On the dog’s first day on set, he “disgraced himself” in Max’s car after being frightened by the loud noises. From then on, he wore makeshift earplugs fashioned from cotton balls.
37. Miller used an already-dead kangaroo for a scene that called for carcass and built a fur harness for a scene in which a rabbit was shot with an arrow. The rabbit solution was devised partially because actor David Slingsby (Quiet Man) said he wouldn’t do the film if they planned to actually kill a rabbit.
38. Bruce Spence’s character, the Gyro Captain, was written specifically for the actor.
Watch the ‘Road Warrior’ trailer:
39. Kjell Nilsson, who played the Humungus, was a former Mr. Sweden. The character was imagined as a former military man who suffered severe burns, which is why he wore the hockey mask. The bald-head prosthetic, complete with throbbing vein, broke during production. That’s why it’s seen throbbing only once.
40. While getting his hair cut for the film, Gibson insisted on helping out, indiscriminately hacking off large chunks and pieces of his eyebrows to make Max look weirder.
41. Costumes were made from old football pads, interesting pieces found at S&M stores, and other “bits of junk,” according to Miller.
42. Costume designer Norma Moriceau had previously lived next to Malcolm McLaren. She was an early photographer of his and Vivienne Westwood’s punk-rock clothing designs. Her work caught the eye of musicians Billy Idol and Duran Duran, who wanted her to dress them. She declined.
43. Miller was given to forcibly shaking the camera during action sequences to make the movement look more frenetic.
44. Director of photography Dean Semler followed the tanker in the first chase. It was such an intense ride, and he was being pelted by so many rocks, that he had to take his eye away from the camera’s viewfinder and just point it at the action. That footage found its way into the final cut.
45. During the climatic tanker chase, Miller was in costume, driving a dune buggy. After he proved himself incapable of operating the on-board camera, he was taken off.
46. Also during that chase, two people strapped to the front of a car slam into the back of the tanker and their heads explode. Those heads were actually watermelons with wigs.
47. All told, Mel Gibson has only 16 lines of dialogue in the whole movie.
48. Years later, Gibson would say The Road Warrior was his favorite of the three films. “It still holds up because it’s so basic,” he told Playboy. “It’s about energy — it didn’t spare anyone: people flying under wheels, a girl gets it, a dog gets it, everybody gets it. It was the first Mad Max, but done better. The third one didn’t work at all.”
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
49. After concocting the idea for a third Mad Max, producer Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash in 1983. Miller says he was reluctant to continue after that, but ultimately decided to press on as a way to cope. He also decided to split directing duties with George Ogilvie, a theater veteran who handled the dramatic scenes, while Miller directed the action.
50. The movie’s working title was Desert World.
51. Spence plays a different character in Beyond Thunderdome than The Road Warrior. Here, he’s credited as Jedediah the Pilot.
52. After considering Jane Fonda and Lindsay Wagner for the role of Aunty Entity, Miller saw Tina Turner on TV talking about her desire to act. The character was then written with her mind.
53. Aunty’s iconic costume was a “70-pound soldered amalgam of dog muzzles, coat hangers and chicken wire, the whole overlaid with gleaming chain-mail butcher aprons,” according to Rolling Stone.
54. Turner had to shave her head for the Aunty wig to fit.
55. At least three camels died on set and crew members regularly suffered from heat stroke during the hot summer shoot in Australia.
56. A former brickworks in Sydney served as the location of Bartertown, while Underworld was built in a facility typically used for bull sales.
57. Underworld was home to 600 pigs, which the production crew rented from a pig farmer.
58. In order to learn to hunt, climb and work with primitive tools, the children of the Crack in the Earth spent two months in training.
59. Borrowing a technique from Mary Poppins, special effects supervisor Mike Wood shot Max and Blaster around the Thunderdome with hand-controlled compressed air cannons.
60. The film’s final shot of Sydney was a scale model that covered some 3,000 square feet.
Watch our interview with ‘Mad Max’ director George Miller below: