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Interview | Tom Burke

June 10, 2024 7 min read

“We’re all dead proud of what we’ve done”:the actor talks Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga 


His first time in the driving seat of a big-budget blockbuster – the star relives the ride from working with Anya Taylor Joy to the eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes.





Tom Burke would have bet good odds that he’d be asked to play a gnarled, nasty, next-level abomination when director George Miller phoned about an upcoming Mad Max project. “I thought I’d be a baddie, as it’s just sheer odds that in any of those films you're going to play a baddie. I was very happy it was not that, actually.”
Rather than a reincarnation of his sinister role in The Souvenir or a rough-and-ready rider, Burke was presented with Praetorian Jack, a rig driver and diamond in the rough in the wasteland of men who savagely exploit the fearless heroine, Furiosa (Anya Taylor Joy). It was a welcomed change to play somebody who was “swimming up towards the light,” he says.
“It does take its toll a bit when you’re playing somebody who's very driven by compulsion rather than a sense of right,” he reflects. “I knew it was going to be five months and you don't want to be playing someone like that for that long.”
Miller’s dystopian prequel tracks the turbulent early life of Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in 2017’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The one-armed, rig-driving rescuer is hardened by the savage system and the prequel charts her near-impossible road to survival. It examines themes of identity, home, redemption and vengeance in a fractured world where trust is as rare a commodity as water.
The heart of this film is rooted in Furiosa’s relationship with Jack, as her only ally and semblance of hope in the chaotic hellscape that is the citadel on Fury Road. “It always grounds me when you can play something with someone else,” Burke says. “It's better to have your focus outside of yourself than inside. It's very hard when you're just trying to do it all in your own head.”
Betrayal is expected, a violent edge, a basic requirement. Jack offered a rare nuance for Burke to sink his teeth into as he grappled with what remained of his conscience to risk it all for the sake of someone else’s survival. “[Jack] wasn't somebody who was just a good person. He'd probably had to make all kinds of compromises to get by,” he says. “That was the darker side of the character, because survival is going to take the edge off your sense of integrity and humanity. I felt that he had been brutalised to a degree and that was really the journey - what happens to him as a consequence of meeting her, what she brings out in him.”
After years at the forefront of acclaimed independent films such as The Souvenirand The Wonder, the actor is conscious that his first franchise experience is entirely unique. Led by his curiosity rather than a specific next role, Burke has established an eclectic career and starred in hit TV series such as the period drama The Musketeers and the successful crime drama, Strike.
Read our full chat with Burke on his debut in the dystopian desert drama, working with Anya Taylor Joy, his next acting move and his apprehensions about taking on another franchise.


So how did you feel about playing the heroic lead in Furiosa?
Credit to George as I didn't get nearly as nervous as I think I could have done. Retrospectively, I came out of it going, ‘Oh my God, what have I just done?’ But given the scale of it, I'm amazed how nurtured I felt.

There’s always a physical demand with big scale action films. How did you prepare for this role?
The biggest physical scene was probably the Bullet Farm one as I knew they wanted me to just jump out of the rig and start taking out people and that it had to look like I’ve done it a million times before. I had to do it quite a lot and you have to get good at knowing how to do that so you’re not going to go over on your ankle if you’re doing it 50 times. It was about strength, but it was also mobility and being light on your feet.

I read that your final, drawn-out death scene was shot in one take. What was that experience like?
I think it was pretty much still edited in one take too. That was my first week and in the past, when I’ve had to come off a horse or something it’s like, ‘Well now we’re doing this wide shot, then a close-up of you landing’. But this was all one thing. I was a bit surprised as it was my first week. I thought if anything they might leave it to last! But it was a good deep dive into it.

What an intense start to the filming process! How do you break that tension when the camera’s stopped rolling?
The funny thing is when the stakes are high, it's almost easier to play. The scenes that have quite a lot of exposition are hard as there isn’t an immediate danger, so you have to start being very inventive and going, ‘Well, maybe he’s not slept the night before. Maybe he’s had a row with somebody’, and you’re giving yourself some context. When it’s life or death, it’s easier for your imagination to engage with it. I suppose laughter is the best banishing ritual, as it’s a physical way to release that tension.

Not only are the stakes high, but the scale is also epic. Did you enjoy the immense world building on this film?
I felt intimidated, but I've probably felt intimidated on every job I've ever done. But there’s always a moment on a job where you're knackered and the fairy dust settles and you're just thinking about what you want for dinner and just getting the day over with. It’s sad in a way, as it takes the edge of the inner child. But the nerves go after that too and then you go ‘Okay, I’m here to do a job,’ and with that you start worrying less about being sent on a plane home.

We also have to talk about the eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes! What was it like to see that audience reaction?
It was lovely. I felt so proud of everyone. I spent so much time with Anya, and she had always been doing much more physical stuff than me because a lot of the time I was sitting down. Anya was being thrown around everywhere with different bruises every day and was just such a trooper about it.

I suddenly remembered that Cannes is this thing where people can give a standing ovation or just boo, about halfway up those big red stairs. I thought about the scene in Apocalypto where the head is bouncing down the pyramid steps… but about halfway through the film, I thought, I’m pretty sure they're not going to boo, but I don't care if they do. We're all dead proud of what we've done.


After landing this role, are you keen to join other franchises or take on more action roles?
I’m a bit nervous about franchises because I know it was such a unique experience on this film in terms of it being George's vision. I haven't had any other experience in a franchise so I don't know if it feels much more fractured when there's so many more people involved. It hasn't put me off doing something on that scale. I also really love working with stunt people! I've never met a jaded stunt person, but I've met plenty of jaded actors over the years.

What kind of film would you like to work on next?
I always think you can't fake curiosity, and you never quite know what shape that's going to arrive in. Sometimes you're thinking, ‘I just need there to be one scene that has the right question mark, to get my head around it.’ Other times you read a script that's brilliantly written and you just know exactly how it's going to be filmed and exactly how they'd want it played and I don't know what I could bring to that to shake it up. You don’t like there to be so many questions that you don’t know where to begin, but enough to sustain my sense of curiosity, as that’s what keeps me going.

What was the moment that piqued your curiosity in Furiosa?
I think it was getting the relationship right and building it in the right way so that it didn't feel like a version of something else. I knew that the audience had to believe in their stakes in each other for it to work and that would only happen if it was done as a team with Anya.

It’s also nice to have a companion with you on the journey as well.
Totally. I think there's often a drive to be very self-sufficient as an actor because it feels safer, but it's much less fun and it feels special in that regard. A couple I know rang me and said the film was like an amazing album – I think George is often described quite musically and I often think of him as a musician – and the stuff in the middle between him and her was when the lyrics kicked in.


Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is out in cinemas now


Photography Tristan Fewings
Styling Christopher Brown
Grooming Chad Maxwell at Stella Creative Artists using Bumble & Bumble and Elemis

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