Eyes, physics and pyrotechnics | Inside Furiosa’s 78-day set piece

Furiosa Action sequence
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Never knowingly upstaged, George Miller’s latest Mad Max film features the franchise’s biggest stunt yet. Here’s how the Furiosa team pulled off the War Rig chase.

“If we were gonna make an action film”, production designer Colin Gibson said of Fury Road, “This was gonna be the last great action film”.

Six Oscars, $400m and almost a decade later, Gibson found himself and the Mad Max team back in the desert. Their mission? Make the last great action film. Again.

True to the series’ unsubtle ideology, almost everything about Furiosa is bigger. It’s 28 minutes longer, for a start, more a decade-spanning odyssey than Fury Road’s comparatively low-key 3-day car chase.

Its biggest stunt sequence, too, dwarfs anything in the last film. Shot over roughly 78 days (accounts vary on the exact number) with 200 stunt performers trying very hard not to get run-over or blown up, Furiosa’s War Rig battle takes place at roughly the film’s halfway point, with Tom Burke’s Praetorian Jack driving an 18-wheeled behemoth across the desert as cackling scavengers ambush it from the skies.

Most filmmakers would take advantage of modern tech to avoid skyrocketing insurance premiums. But George Miller has proven time and again that he is not most filmmakers. And not least when he made Happy Feet.

“We had to work out how to do it for real,” Miller told The Telegraph, “Because the brain is very good at gauging physics. If the movements of those vehicles aren’t totally genuine, your audience is far less likely to buy into anything else.”

This is, understandably, much easier when the vehicles aren’t supposed to explode. But more than spectacle for its own sake, the chase plays an important role in the story, according to Taylor-Joy.

“You see an accumulation of skills over the course of a battle, and that’s very important for understanding how resourceful Furiosa is,” she told Total Film.

These skills include, but aren’t limited to, hanging from the Rig’s undercarriage, gunplay, hand-to-hand combat and driving the 18-wheeled monstrosity. This last one might just have been the most dangerous – even now, two years after filming wrapped, Taylor-Joy still doesn’t have a driver’s license.

Read more: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review | An odyssey of blood and oil

Thankfully, not every shot required the War Rig to be travelling at speed. Hydraulics allowed the set to simulate bumps in the road while stationary, though even the occasional shots making use of green screen often involved pyrotechnics and stunt performers on wires.

When the vehicle needed to move, though, it was far from alone. A huge mobile scaffold, complete with harnesses and “flying” contraptions, surrounded the Rig as it hurtled along, destined to be airbrushed away by the VFX team in the editing suite.

With so many moving parts (literally and figuratively) that the three months or so went without serious incident feels like a minor miracle. The secret, counter-intuitively to the series’ seat-of-your-pants aesthetic, is good ol’ health and safety.

“You have to be obsessive about safety – physical safety, as the shoot goes on and fatigue sets in, but also psychological safety,” Miller told The Telegraph. “It’s not like the wild old days” (according to Miller and Max author Luke Buckmaster, said old days involved boiling dead dogs for set dressing and taking chunks out of a set with a shotgun).

On top of the physical exertion, though, the sequence provided a unique acting challenge for its stars, particularly its avenging-angel lead. Months of the shoot went by without the Last Night In Soho star uttering so much as a single line, Taylor-Joy told the New York Times.

“He [Miller] had a very, very strict idea of what Furiosa’s war face looked like, and that only allowed me my eyes for a large portion of the movie” she said. “It was very much ‘mouth closed, no emotion, speak with your eyes.’ That’s it, that’s all you have.”

anya taylor-joy in furiosa
Credit: Warner Bros UK

Tom Burke seemed to relish the challenge.

“It was my favourite bit”, he told Chris Evans of the film’s centrepiece. “Occasionally they’d go, ‘We think [we] might give you a line. I said: ‘I don’t need a line. I’m really enjoying just the looks and the gear stick and the wheel!’”

Still, making a Mad Max movie isn’t something most actors take on likely. Fury Road’s production has become infamous for the animosity between stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, and according to Anya Taylor-Joy, she understands some of their struggles after months in the Australian desert.

Again, though, Burke seemed to find the War Rig experience easier than his co-star: perhaps speaking to the chalk-and-cheese chemistry Miller has got into the habit of eking out of his actors.

Speaking again to Evans, Burke said: “The guy who is the big stunt coordinator and the second unit director… He goes, ‘You must be very frustrated.’

“I grabbed his arm at one point. I said: ‘I’m loving this! I would do this forever! Please, I don’t want this to end.’”

Furiosa is in UK cinemas now. Our review is here.

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