Nicholas Hoult runs wild across the African desert
Most modern filmmakers would employ an abundance of CGI to shoot an epic-length chase movie through a barren sci-fi wasteland, but actor Nicholas Hoult says the team behind "Mad Max: Fury Road" did things the old-fashioned way.
"We'd all drive out an hour into the desert each day and as far as you could see on the horizon, it was completely flat with nothing around," Hoult says. "And then this whole village of 700 people would be there — hundreds of vehicles and this well-oiled machine of a film crew all pulling together to make this."
The film, opening Friday, marks writer-director George Miller's first return to his legendary dystopian "Mad Max" franchise in three decades. With Tom Hardy taking over Mel Gibson's role as the titular vigilante biker, "Fury Road" plays as a modern continuation of the Gibson character's story, rather than a full-blown franchise reboot. Hoult plays Nux, a member of a fanatical horde of mechanics known as War Boys, in the film. The British actor says that even three decades after Miller set the template for countless post-apocalyptic flicks with the original "Mad Max" movies, the director is still meticulous in realizing his lunatic vision.
"George and I spent a fair bit of time together bringing this character to life and discussing all manner of things, essentially to make it feel as real and detailed as possible," Hoult says. "George has had these films in his mind for so many years now that he knew my character's back story from the moment he was conceived up until the moment you meet him in the film."
That said, you won't hear much of that back story in "Fury Road." The film's running time is overwhelmingly devoted to high-tension car chase and action sequences, as Max and the rebellious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) flee the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The relentless action constantly incorporates moments of striking visual beauty that seem painstakingly choreographed, but Hoult says the location shoot in Namibia was actually "quite free-rolling."
"Once we actually got shooting, we'd do quite long takes where the armada of vehicles would all roll out into the desert," he says. "We'd just keep shooting and rolling and running scenes."
The film's outlandish creatures and massive vehicles stand as the most eye-popping designs yet in a consistently outrageous franchise. Hoult says even just walking on set to work each day was frequently awe-inspiring.
"All these engines are fired up and there's flames and explosions and you have hundreds of War Boys all around, geared up and ready for the scene," he says. "You'd get a burst of adrenaline. It was the first time I think I've been on a set where I got chills before beginning takes."
Hoult's original breakout role came in 2002 as Hugh Grant's young co-star in "About A Boy." He also notably starred in the successful 2013 young-adult novel adaptation "Warm Bodies" as the good-natured zombie R. If "Fury Road" proves successful, "Mad Max" could become the second legendary franchise on Hoult's resume alongside "X-Men," for which he's currently filming his third appearance as the Beast.
Hoult says he's not sure if he could juggle both franchises, but he'll wait to make a decision until he hears news of creators' future plans for both series.
"I'm lucky to have been in two," he says. "Only time will tell on that front."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer