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Image / Living / Culture

‘I didn’t feel safe’: Tom Hardy’s treatment of Charlize Theron on ‘Mad Max’ says a lot about toxic masculinity


By Sarah Finnan
17th Apr 2022

IMDb

‘I didn’t feel safe’: Tom Hardy’s treatment of Charlize Theron on ‘Mad Max’ says a lot about toxic masculinity

Finding out that co-stars didn’t get on is always a bit jarring, but Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron have made no secret of the fraught nature of their relationship.

Both a critical and commercial success, Mad Max: Fury Road is still widely considered to be one of the greatest action films of all time and one of the best movies to come out of the 2010s. Praised by critics for a myriad of different factors including its direction, cinematography and musical score, it’s really the actors’ performances that continue drawing people in – particularly those from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron who star as Max Rockatansky and Imperator Furiosa respectively. 

Despite initial hostility, the two eventually become allies who team up to flee from cult leader Immortan Joe and drive The Five Wives (Immortan Joe’s female concubines or “breeders”) to safety. Well, that may be how their onscreen story plays out, but it’s no small secret that the actors actually have a much rockier relationship in real life. In fact, rumours of a “feud” between Hardy and Theron have been swirling around for years at this point, but we finally have more detailed information on the matter courtesy of a new book called Blood, Sweat, and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road

Brought to us by pop culture reporter Kyle Buchanan, the book includes input from both Theron herself as well as some of the movie’s crew members, all of whom seem to corroborate the story that there was quite a bit of tension on set. According to one recently published excerpt from the book, the two had “very different approaches to their craft”. Tom is “very physical and all over the place”. He liked to try “very different things” to see what would stick. Charlize, on the other hand, is more “cerebral and very consistent in the way that she approaches a character”. So, they were opposites from the get-go. Add to this the fact that Hardy was always late and Theron was always on time, and you’ve got prime conditions for disagreement. 

However, things ultimately came to a head when Tom arrived to set several hours after call time. Hardy was due on set at 8am (along with the rest of the cast and crew) and producers even made a “special request” for him to be punctual. However, he was still more than three hours late, all the while Theron – a new mother whose baby was in childcare nearby while she worked – was punctual. 

Explaining what went down, crewmember Mark Goellnicht recalled that Theron had been sitting ready and waiting for her costar for three full hours before he finally arrived to work. “She’s now in the War Rig, sitting there with her makeup on and a full costume for three hours. Tom turns up, and he walks casually across the desert. She jumps out of the War Rig, and she starts swearing her head off at him, saying, ‘Fine the f*cking c*nt a hundred thousand dollars for every minute that he’s held up this crew’, and ‘How disrespectful are you?’. She was right. Full rant,” he continued. 

“She screams it out. It’s so loud, it’s so windy – [Tom] might’ve heard some of it, but he charged up to her up and went, ‘What did you say to me?’. He was quite aggressive. She really felt threatened, and that was the turning point, because then she said, ‘I want someone as protection’. She then had a producer that was assigned to be with her all the time.”

Commenting that “it got to a place where it was kind of out of hand”, Theron said that she felt having someone else nearby would help. “There was a sense that maybe sending a woman producer down could maybe equalise some of it, because I didn’t feel safe,” she admitted. And so a female producer named Denise Di Novi was sent to the film’s set in Namibia. “[Her presence] kind of made me breathe a little bit, because it felt like I would have another woman understanding what I was up against,” Theron said. Producer Doug Mitchell barred Di Novi from being on set though, meaning that Theron “still felt pretty naked and alone”. 

“I don’t want to make excuses for bad behaviour, but it was a tough shoot. Now, I have a very clear perspective on what went down,” she later added. “I don’t think I had that clarity when we were making the movie. I was in survival mode; I was really scared sh*tless.”

First speaking about her fall out with Hardy two years ago in an interview with The New York Times, the actor confessed that she probably didn’t consider the pressure that Hardy was under in taking on a role previously played by Mel Gibson. “In retrospect, I didn’t have enough empathy to really, truly understand what [Tom] must have felt like to step into Mel Gibson’s shoes”.

“That is frightening! And I think because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, ‘This is scary for you, and it’s scary for me, too. Let’s be nice to each other.’ In a weird way, we were functioning like our characters: Everything was about survival,” she noted. 

Surprisingly, Tom echoed what Charlize said in that same interview. “I would agree,” he added. “I think in hindsight, I was in over my head in many ways. The pressure on both of us was overwhelming at times. What she needed was a better, perhaps more experienced, partner in me. That’s something that can’t be faked. I’d like to think that now I’m older and uglier, I could rise to that occasion.”

Also weighing in on how the actors interacted on set, editor of production company Open Road Entertainment, J Houston Yang, said that they barely made eye contact unless absolutely necessary. “Boy f*cking howdy, was it clear that those two people hated each other. They didn’t want to touch each other, they didn’t want to look at each other, they wouldn’t face each other if the camera wasn’t actively rolling,” he remembered. 

Apparently, they did eventually warm to each other though with Goellnicht saying that Hardy “was a different person by the end” and was “a lot easier to deal with, a lot more cooperative, more compassionate”. “He’s such a method actor that I think he took the arc in the literal sense,” he mused. 

Everyone on set – from fellow cast members to crew, producers and directors – was aware of the tension, with actor Nicholas Hoult likening it to being “on your summer holidays and the adults in the front of the car are arguing”. “It was horrible! We should not have done that. We should have been better. I can own up to that,” Theron agreed. 

Imagine for a moment if the roles had been reversed though. Would Theron have been given a pass had she been the one that was three hours late? Hardy kind of got off scot-free. Most people reacted with a very blasé attitude, simply shrugging his behaviour off and attributing it to pure “bull-headedness” on his part… which reeks of toxic masculinity and the pitiful rationale that “boys will be boys”. 

Even the fact that Theron actually had to ask for protection because she felt unsafe speaks volumes about the kind of atmosphere Hardy’s behaviour was fostering on set. No one was unaware of the situation and though, it never actually came to blows (thankfully!), it’s still kind of shocking that it was allowed to get to such a boiling point in the first place.