Filmmaker George Miller has made a number of notable movies in the past. But it is with his Mad Max franchise that Miller has found enduring cinematic acclaim. Recently, the world mourned the passing of actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the role of Toecutter in the original Mad Max, and Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road. Speaking to IndieWire, Miller remembered the actor as someone who taught him the most about acting.
"[Keays-Byrne was] the glue that held the first 'Mad Max' movie together. At first I found him formidable to the point of being scary because he was so into the role. The truth is he is a warm and sweet person and so embracing of everybody...I learned acting from him, probably more than anybody else that I worked with."
Back in the 1970s, Hugh Keays-Byrne was an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was touring the world as part of the ensemble of Peter Brook's stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The actor was in Australia for his final shows, when he got in touch with Miller, who was looking to fill the roles of a gang of post-apocalyptic biker desperadoes for his low-budget movie Mad Max. As George Miller recalls, Keays-Byrne and his company of actors found ample opportunity to form the real-life biker crew that would eventually become Toecutter and his gang.
"The 'Mad Max' budget was so low we could only afford actors from Melbourne where the film was being shot. Hugh was from Sydney, and the group of actors he was with were from Sydney. We said, 'Look, we can't afford to fly everybody down, and Hugh said, 'Well, can you send the bikes up and we will ride down?' We put the bikes on the train and they rode down. It took them two days to ride down from Sydney to Melbourne and during that time they became the Toecutter biker gang."
After Mad Max became a hit, Miller continued to look for ways to include Keays-Byrne in his projects. A voice role in Babe did not materialize, but the filmmaker was all set to cast Keays-Byrne as the Martian Manhunter in his doomed Justice League: Mortal superhero film.
After that project also fell through, Miller found the perfect place to reinsert Keays-Byrne into the world of Mad Max as Fury Road's main villain Immortan Joe. According to Miller, the actor was perfect for the part of a fearsome warlord who has his face obscured by a mask at all times, yet manages to be terrifying on the strength of the power in his eyes alone.
"The eyes! His eyes carry that power. There's no other way to describe it. The stature, the demeanor, and the voice. Hugh embodied all that. If he was with you right now, you would feel that natural charisma that he had. People tended to come around to him in some way. To think that presence is no longer available to the world is very sad."
This news was first reported at IndieWire.com.