Within the first few minutes of Mad Max: Fury Road, audiences have been reintroduced to the cult series’ antihero Max (Tom Hardy)—bearded, alone, and living purely off his instinct for survival.
They have breathlessly watched as he tries to escape a marauding party of War Boys in his beatup muscle car, seen him spectacularly crash, and cringed as his captors haul him off to serve as their “blood bag,” a source of clean organic fuel for their sickly bodies in the nearby Citadel.
“I’m in a state of shock because I have just seen Fury Road for the first time,” costume designer Jenny Beavan excitedly tells The Daily Beast.
Even for those who may not be fans of relentless, gearhead action films, Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute visual delight, carefully crafted so that each detail, each costume, each metal trinket says something about the world and characters who inhabit it.
The fourth Mad Max movie continues the vision of creator and director George Miller, who Beavan describes as an auteur, while hair and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt calls him a genius. While Beavan signed on to the film later in its production cycle after the series’ previous costume designer, Norma Moriceau, had to back out, Vanderwalt was at the oval table since 2003, workshopping ideas and constructing this mad, mad world.
The visuals have an impressive impact when watching the movie, but talking to the women responsible for the costumes and makeup is to realize that this is not your average action movie out for cheap, high-octane thrills. The world has been deeply thought out in a way that can sometimes be overlooked in the roar of diesel.
Three warlords control the area’s resources—Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), head of the Citadel, who sadistically releases a short flood of water to his utterly destitute people whenever he feels so inclined; the People Eater (John Howard), a gargantuan sloth of a man who counts every penny and runs Gas Town, where the area’s precious fuel is mined; and the Bullet Farmer (Richard Carter), a violent bully who leads Bullet Town, supplier of the never-ending stream of deadly ammo and inventive weapons.
Each leader controls a horde of fighters who follow them like gods, down to copying their style of dress and aesthetic look. They make up the relentless force deployed to retrieve previously high-ranking Citadel driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).
Take the War Boys, the expendable, half-life muscle of Immortan Joe’s army. They cover themselves in white dust to mirror the preferred stylings of their leader and carve intense—and one would imagine utterly painful—scars into their bodies.
These often take the form of engines and car details, the more intricate the higher their rank. But these markings aren’t just the result of sadistic rituals; no, this world is much deeper, much darker than that.
“Possibly they’d sit around with not a lot to do in their days, unless there was a trading run or some tribal war. They’d probably sit around carving themselves, a bit like kids used to do in the old days on wooden desks,” Vanderwalt explains.
“Our idea was that the War Boys, that was all they knew—their cars and the mechanics of cars. They knew how to make them work but, you know, they didn’t know how to make their ailing bodies work. So, they scarred themselves up like car pieces and car parts because they knew how to mend those.”
The job of clothing and transforming the cast of Fury Road wasn’t easy. Not only was this a crazy new world that needed the imaginative accoutrements and stylings to match, but the sheer number of cast and stunt men involved was daunting, and the conditions in the Namibian desert didn’t always make for smooth sailing.
“We had to not only double [every costume], treble it, quadruple it, we often had up to 20 of anything. Because what you don’t see is that every stuntman played every stuntman. Everybody was a Polecat, everybody was a Rock Rider, everybody was whatever, a War Boy,” Beavan says.
Vanderwalt describes how her team originally tried to take shortcuts in the scarification of the War Boys, using makeup and prosthetics for those who would be closest to the camera, but having the others slip on printed tinsley sleeves and T-shirts.
But after a trial run racing at high speed through the sandy desert, everybody came back tan, not ideal for the white sand-covered War Boys.
“There were issues like that [where] everybody just went one color. Everybody got hand-done every day [after that],” Vanderwalt says.
Charlize Theron, on the other hand, was able to make things a little easier for the hair and makeup team after she decided to shave her head for the role. Vanderwalt says she had originally discussed this option with the actress in 2010, but says she didn’t think Theron was ready to go for it at the time.
“But we kept talking about [how] she was in a man’s world, and she wouldn’t want to look at all feminine because she’d worked her way up…and got their respect,” Vanderwalt says. “I think it was like the day before she was due to come out or something, George came running to find me and said, ‘Look, look. Charlize has shaved off her hair!’ It was fantastic. She did it in L.A. before she got on the plane.”
Amid the hard world of constant war, the Immortan’s five wives, played by model-actresses Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton, are another visual wonder.
They step out of Furiosa’s mammoth black war rig in a delicate flutter of white cloth and swaths of pristine skin, a jarring contrast to the dirt- and oil-covered, gender neutral look of Furiosa.
Having spent their lives confined, they “didn’t need to wear anything, actually,” Beavan says. “There’s a simplicity, and they sort of just wrap themselves a little bit because it was organic and because it gave them a little bit of modesty, which I think most human beings have somewhere in their psyche.”
Despite this hellish vision for our future planet, both women describe the process of creating the movie as an incredible experience.
“[Namibia] is such a fantastic place where the sand dunes meet the sea. Just going hours into that desert every day, the sunset, the dawns, the sea mist rolling in, it was such a magical place,” Vanderwalt says. “And the first time ever that you saw the whole convoy of trucks, and they all started up, and the noise, and they went off across the desert, and you stood there and just had tears streaming down your face. It was so strong and emotional.”
Beavan laughingly jokes that the most memorable moment of filming for her was, “The dust, the bloody dust. The goggles.”
Then, she describes watching Hardy film the first scene, looking out over the desert before the War Boys descend. “I remember just standing up there, thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m lucky to be alive.’ I mean, we were in the most extraordinary country on earth filming this bonkers, bonkers story.”