There’s something that happens to groups of people when you take them out of everyday society and throw them nature’s way, devoid of cell phone towers and Chipotle. As someone who’s been stuck in the woods, the only female among a buncha dudes for stretches of time, I can tell you that things usually go one of two ways: funny or ugly. Myself, I prefer funny, but apparently when the groups of people being set down in the wilderness are actors and directors, things seem to tend ugly, though not necessarily to Lord of the Flies levels. For instance, look at some of the tales of ego and infighting that occurred during the more than 40 days and 40 nights (more like 120) George Miller shot Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy called it a “logistical nightmare,” and the rumors he and Charlize Theron didn’t get along were rampant. Admitting he’d been “difficult,” Hardy even publicly apologized for ever having doubted Miller’s vision. Charlize also spoke about the difficulty of filming out in the desert:
“You couldn’t go home. You couldn’t really call anybody because you’re 12 hours ahead, or whatever the fuck it is. And you’re experiencing things that nobody can really relate to. They can’t even imagine where you’re at. I don’t like that. I didn’t enjoy that. I felt isolated. I can do anything for a couple of months but that was a lot. It was hard to remain happy on that movie.”
After Fury Road began screening, everyone began to forget how terrible their filming experiences were — Charlize and Tom seemed to end up mutually respectful, and Theron got right to the heart of the matter:
“There’s a real beauty to that kind of relationship, because it’s based on earned respect and trust.”
We all loved the end result, and seeing the scope and scale of what Miller and his cast and crew had accomplished only made us appreciate the film even more. So, when I read this headline today, How Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant Shoot Became “A Living Hell about Alejandro Iñárritu’s latest production — and thought about the excellent trailer we saw last week — it made me wonder if The Revenant’s and Mad Max’s similarities and shared nightmarish filming experiences will reward us with similarly wonderful results. Like Miller, Iñárritu has watched The Revenant go through a period of development hell, with leads swapped out several times. Though Max didn’t switch directors, the films also share a Theron and Hardy connection; Theron’s ex, Sean Penn was nearly one of Revenant’s leads, and Tom landed in the final cast of both movies. Fury Road’s budget was $150 million; The Revenant is said to currently be at $95 million, but it’s expected to “reach or exceed” $135 million. Where Max and company spent their isolation in the Namib Desert, Leonardo, Tom and friends headed to parts of British Columbia, and Fortress mountain in Calgary, Alberta, and Iñárritu is shooting in only natural light. Miller set out to do one long road trip; Iñárritu is shooting in sequence. Both directors wanted to use as little effects and green screen as possible. And as Iñárritu notes about filming out in the wild, at nature’s mercy, “After you see what these guys went through, you understand what pussies we are…Actors were not in sets with green screens and laughing. They were miserable! And they really feel the fucking cold in their ass! They were not acting at all!” (Perhaps because they were already friends, there have been no reports of DiCaprio and Hardy not getting along.)
As with Fury Road, when we saw that first Revenant trailer we were blown away. Noting their similar filming circumstances can we expect Iñárritu’s survival story to hold up against the non-stop thrills of Miller’s “western on wheels?” It’s not a guarantee, sure, but there is something about shared human misery, especially in the wild. The often-times amusing experience of basic training aside, going out into the woods with a group of people (even if only to play at war), you get an idea of what happens when the basic comforts are gone. When a few of you are continuously subjected to Mother Nature’s whims, with no food other than something (who knows?) one of you saved out of your last vacuum sealed packet or you’re the only one awake watching everyone else sleep through your hour of fireguard — those are the times you get to know the real people you went out there with (including yourself). That was the true Charlize and Tom we saw in Fury Road; that’s where they learned to break down, and how to trust each other. Friends or not, the Tom and Leo we’ll eventually see onscreen are the ones we’ve always wanted to know, and I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic when I say The Revenant will stand right alongside Mad Max: Fury Road.
“There was something very positive about shooting in those conditions…” [Alejandro G. Iñárritu]