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Anya Taylor-Joy on slipping into title character in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga releasing May 24

After its screening at Festival de Cannes on May 15, the film releases in cinemas on May 24. Anya Taylor-Joy — whose turns in Peaky Blinders and The Queen’s Gambit, among others, have received all-round praise — speaks about playing Furiosa

The Telegraph Published 18.05.24, 11:56 AM
Anya Taylor-Joy in George Miller’s action film Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Anya Taylor-Joy in George Miller’s action film Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Anya Taylor-Joy slips into the fiery skin of Imperator Furiosa in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, the fifth instalment in the Mad Max franchise, serving as both a spin-off and prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), with veteran George Miller directing. After its screening at Festival de Cannes on May 15, the film releases in cinemas on May 24. Anya Taylor-Joy — whose turns in Peaky Blinders and The Queen’s Gambit, among others, have received all-round praise — speaks about playing Furiosa.

Thinking back, can you remember what filled your mind when you first read the screenplay for Furiosa?


I have always believed that certain characters are meant for one and if they are not meant for you, it is your responsibility to almost catch and release, so that they can find their proper owner. I remember reading Furiosa and thinking: ‘Oh, I feel this character already. And I know this is going to be a very intense experience.’ It just rang true for me.

We know the script was incredibly detailed — director George Miller included illustrations, book passages — but there is an alchemy to turning words into a living character. What for you were some of the keys to finding Furiosa?

It was fascinating because more so than any other project, when you work on a George Miller script, you approach it almost academically for the first two weeks to a month before you even set foot on a set. You are discussing everything. And that precedent was set by, maybe in our second conversation, George saying to me: ‘Well, why are we making this movie? Like, pitch me this movie, why do we have to make it?’ And I think that the Mad Max films, while wildly entertaining, really serve as a cautionary tale of what happens to people when they are pushed to these kinds of extremes.

George has complimented you on the richness of your collaboration and what you brought to the character. How did that play out as you both went on this journey together?

I feel if you are lucky enough to work with auteurs, you have to learn how to speak their language and I very much enjoyed learning to speak George Miller. And what I realised in that was there were a couple of things that I felt unbelievably strongly about being in the film. I really, really felt that they had a place and that they deserved to be there. And what is interesting about George is that you plant a seed months before the scene, then you check in on that seed every day. Sometimes you leave it alone, sometimes you give it a bunch of water. And if it makes it onto that screen, you feel a huge sense of accomplishment because you know that your argument for why it should be in the film was well-rounded enough that your university professor was like: ‘Yeah, you are right, it should be in here.’

What was it like to walk around in this world that George Miller has been constructing for more than four decades?

It was unbelievable. While I was obviously very focused, there were multiple times throughout every single day when I would snap out of wherever I was in Furiosa’s mind and look around and think: ‘As a kid, this is all I wanted’. If I could travel back in time and tell my eight-year-old self: ‘This is going to be your legitimate job, this is going to be something that people ask you to do, this is going to be your nine-to-five....’ It was just my dream. And I think the richness of the world and the unbelievable builds that we have on this movie — the unbelievable rides that we have — all just allows you to walk around, not only as a performer, but as a fan. I had my film camera with me the whole time and took some unbelievable photographs — I was really just geeking out.

Furiosa is badass. And you also fill her with countless layers of nuance and these little choices that make her endlessly compelling. There are these huge action sequences, and then there are these amazing quieter moments. How did you balance both with this character?

I think one of the biggest challenges of playing her is George had very specific images of what he wanted Furiosa’s face to look like. And what that allowed me as a performer was to convey everything with my eyes for a large portion of it. That can feel very challenging as an actor because you are hoping that you are able to convey through your eyes everything that you are feeling. But it also just really reinforced the moments that I felt like you needed to see something bigger from her because George’s point is completely correct. I think the Wasteland is not a place that accepts any kind of vulnerability or any big show of emotion. And so I feel like it made those moments even more hard-won and satisfying when they came around.

What does Chris Hemsworth bring to Dementus? What was it like to create a dynamic between this mercurial warlord and this warrior in the making?

I feel so lucky that my relationship with Chris is nothing like Dementus’s and Furiosa’s relationship. We, luckily, are very supportive friends and really respect one another. And I was so excited to hear that he was going to be taking such big swings with the character. I think it speaks to him as an actor and it was really fun to watch him. I don’t know how much fun he had being in the make-up chair four hours every morning but he is a real trooper and he doesn’t complain. I also felt a kinship in that. I think that we are both not ‘precious’ actors and I like working with not precious actors. I like people who put the work ahead of anything else.

You talk about there being no room in the Wasteland for any vulnerability, and yet Tom Burke, as Praetorian Jack, seems to be an emotional oasis for Furiosa. What was it like to work with him in that role?

I adore that man and it almost makes me emotional because I feel like he is the rare flower that blooms in the Wasteland and it is because he is decent. Praetorian Jack has a decency and dignity to him, along with a pure heart. I think when Furiosa first encounters that, she can’t really believe it… but you need it in this Wasteland. You need it amongst all of these mad people. You need a shred of dignity and decency to kind of carry you through.

You may be a licensed driver by now, I’m not sure…

Not yet. I am never in a place long enough while not working to get my bloody driver’s license!

Well, I want to be there when you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, because if you do a 180 in your car (like Furiosa), I think they will hand it to you right away...

Exactly. I am like: ‘Screw parallel parking!’

How long was the preparation? What what was it like?

It was so exciting. One of the first questions George asked me was: ‘How much of the stunts are you willing to do?’ And I said: ‘Anything and everything you will let me do, I want to do it.’ And so that meant that the first thing I ever learned how to do in a car was a juicy lift 180. And it was also very gratifying to learn motorbikes and cars at the same time. Because it meant that anything that I learned to do on the motorbike, the car felt so safe in comparison — I was like: ‘Oh, I have got this! This is fine, I have a shell.’

Can you talk to me about the evolution of her look? Why is that intrinsic to the character?

I was so excited to shave my head for this. I was so ready to do it. And then in true George form, he saw me touch my hair and went: ‘Oh, it’s beautiful, we can’t.’ And I was like: ‘Wait, what?!’ But he made a very good point — we were telling a story that takes place over 15 years and an easy way to show time moving is through losing hair, growing it back. And what I took from it was that I think there is a part of Furiosa that believes for a large portion of this film that she will still be able to return to the Green Place as she was and that this world won’t have changed her in any way. And I think what that allows — by the time you see her transform into the character that we know and love — is a real loss of innocence and a loss of hope, in a certain way. That, no, she will not be able to return to the Green Place as the girl that she was, being able to hold onto this. And so that’s the symbolism that I attached to her hair.

What do you want audiences to take from this amazing odyssey?

I think what’s incredible about the Mad Max movies is that they are wildly entertaining but they are also cautionary tales. They present you that we are not a superhero movie — we are a movie about people pushed to extremes. And I think them having an emotional journey within this mad, mad world, I hope that they feel every emotion under the sun.

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