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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga's Tom Burke on action films, guns and acting

What's it like to star in the prequel to a true modern action film classic?

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga's Tom Burke on action films, guns and acting

Tom Burke is an action hero, and perhaps an unexpected one.

He played Orson Welles in Mank, he’s been private detective Cormoran Strike in J.K. Rowling adaptation Strike. He even danced to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance in a 2020 episode of The Crown.

But now it’s full pedal to the metal. Burke plays Praetorian Jack in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Trailers may have had you believe this character simply sits in the shade of the mighty Furiosa, but he’s a hardened, gun toting, War-Rig-driving hardhut in his own right. How else are you going to survive the wasteland?

We talked to Tom Burke ahead of the release of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga to find out what it’s like to be part of one of the most anticipated action films of the year. And more besides.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga's Tom Burke on action films, guns and acting
Image Credit: Warner Bros

In Furiosa: A Max Max Saga, your character Praetorian Jack is a total badass. Did you have aspirations of becoming an action star before this film?

"I certainly did in the sense of working with somebody like George Miller. One imagines one has to tread a very particular path to get to that, and maybe at the sacrifice of, you know, doing Strindberg or something. And I always thought, no, I'll follow my own path of obscurity. And so it’s very strange that it somehow led me here."

How does it feel to unexpectedly be in that kind of action role then?

"It's funny because I look back on it and I go — that should have been terrifying. Not in terms of the action stuff per se because I've actually done quite a lot of that over the years here and there. And on some jobs, because action takes longer than shooting the dialogue, it actually feels like a bigger part of the job.

"But, credit to George, I never walked on that set and thought — and this only occurred to me in the last day or two — "Oh, I've got to be cool. I've got to be macho.” I’ve got to be this, got to be that.

"Instead, I walked on set and I was thinking about everything we talked about in rehearsal, everything we talked about in terms of the beats of that storyline with Jack and Furiosa, and how that needs to work so it doesn't preempt itself. It felt very much like doing a lot of other kinds of movies that are very different, in the final expression."

You drive the war rig in Furiosa, but did you actually get to drive it?

"Most not, no. You have to have some sense of what it actually is, to approximate it when it's completely stationary because there's fire or there's another car going over the bonnet or whatever.

"I guess the more kind of hands-on stuff was the handling the guns and that kind of thing. I put a lot of work into that."

What does that look like?

"It’s learning exactly how you hold them. Or deciding what are the choices to be made. Are we saying that this person is military or ex-military, and if they are ex military then what era?

"Even if you're ex military, is that how you'd handle this gun? Is it more of a hunting rifle? It might be or it more of one thing or another.

"There was there was lots of decisions to be made about which weapons they were. And then it's like, how do you move with it? And a man called John Iles, who is also in Fury Road, was really helpful with all that stuff. Really helpful."

(Editor’s note: Jon Iles plays one of the key War Boy roles in the film)

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga looks like it was shot our in the middle of nowhere. Was it?

"Yeah. For a lot of it we were out in the middle of Silverton, near Broken Hill, which is the kind of main town.

"I did a tour of the local history, and I think Silverton's where they initially thought there was a load of silver and then realised that wasn’t. And Broken Hill was where they realised there was a lot. Silverton's ostensibly a kind of desert. But we actually stayed in Broken Hill."

Do you have any abiding memories of the shoot?

"You never know what the local reaction is going to be going into a place like that when you're doing a film. But because it has such a history with this franchise, there was a real feeling of pride in that town anyway. It is part and parcel of their kind of cultural identity now. There’s that association and so it felt like a warm welcome."

(Editor's note: Mad Max 2 (1981) and parts of Mad Max 3 (1985) were also filmed in the area. Silvertown even has a Mad Max museum.)

One of the most talked-about parts of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is an epic 15-minute action scene known as stowaway to nowhere, which took 78 days to shoot. What was that like?

"When I think back to the job, a lot of my memories are associated with that period, mainly because it was so long. But I really enjoyed that stuff. I really enjoyed that. You know, I had very little to say in that stuff. It was all just physical."

We get to see a lot more of locations that were secondary elements in the world, Bullet Farm, Gas Town and the Citadel. What were they like in person, and were they part of the Broken Hill area too?

"Those are studio sets. Bullet farm is on a quarry. I think Gas Town was was also a quarry, but a different quarry. And most of what you see in terms of the immediate structures, I think all the structures there, were actually built.

"I think there are bits of certainly Gas Town that the were added on after [in CG], but all the kind of stuff in the immediate surroundings was there and towering above you."

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most celebrated action films ever. What was it like to join such an illustrious series?

"A huge privilege. I love Fury Road. I think the way it weaves together action and the emotional storyline is really quite singular. I can't think of another film like it. And it's kind of like one breath, isn't it, when you're watching Fury Road. *gasps* And it’s over.

"Furiosa breathes a bit more and has these lyrical moments. You have a moment where you say, we're not trying to remake Fury Road in the way that some sequels or prequels often feel like. This is its own thing, it has nice overlaps with Fury Road, which should keep people happy who want that kind of stuff again. But it has other stuff too, and really lyrical passages."

A lot of your previous work has been in TV, including 2014’s brilliant Utopia and the more recent Strike. Do you have a preference between the cadence of film-making and TV-making?

"I got really into TV and got very happy being a TV actor. I still felt there was a kind of wall I kept hitting with TV in terms of getting cast in certain things, but it felt like there was more opportunity.

"I mean, I was getting offered films, but they didn't feel right a lot of the time. They felt like some kind of repetition of something. And I have always had this sort of instinct to keep people guessing a bit."

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in cinemas now