The Inverse Interview

Immortan Joe’s Glorious Return

Furiosa actor Lachy Hulme goes deep on becoming the ruler of the Citadel and what it takes to make a Mad Max movie.

Immortan Joe
Warner Bros.
The Inverse Interview

George Miller didn’t want to recast Immortan Joe.

When the acclaimed director behind the Mad Max movies (and Happy Feet) set out to make Furiosa, there was just one problem: Hugh Keays-Byrne, the actor who brought the iconic villain to life in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road (and played a character named Toecutter in the original Mad Max), had passed away in 2020. Miller’s initial plan was to cast a silent look-alike for the prequel movie and figure out a way to replicate the voice later. Then, Lachy Hulme threw his shiny chrome hat into the ring.

Hulme tells Inverse he’d already won the role of Rizzdale Pell (the one-eyed deputy leading Dementus’ horde of motorcycle riders) when he raised an innocuous question. Here’s how that conversation went, according to the Australian actor…

Hulme: “Out of interest, who's playing Immortan Joe?”

Miller: “Well, at this stage it'd probably just be a body double and do some fake stuff and maybe get a voice actor in."

Hulme: “With all due respect, mate, I could do it.”

Miller: “Really?”

Hulme: “Yeah, I could play both roles. I think Hugh needs an actor to step into it. Not a bloody double, and no technology.”

Miller: “Let me think about it.”

Hulme at the Australian premiere of Furiosa.

Brendon Thorne/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

So Miller thought about it… and decided not to recast Immortan Joe. Hulme assumed that was the end of the conversation, but after he wrapped filming for his character Rizzdale, he got an unexpected call from the director. Miller had changed his mind.

“He said, ‘I agree with you, we really need an actor,’” Hulme recalls. “And this sounds like I'm blowing smoke up my own ass, so forgive me, but he said, ‘I need an actor with a lot of presence, a tremendous amount of presence. That's you.’”

And so Lachy Hulme became Immortan Joe, the ruthless ruler of the Citadel. But to bring the character back to life, Hulme had to learn more about him than perhaps anyone else ever has.

The Secret History of Immortan Joe

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Warner Bros.

Immortan Joe’s backstory is actually hiding in plain sight in Furiosa — if you know where to look.

Stretched over a decade, Furiosa tells the origin story of its title character, but the movie also reveals the backstory of another character who’s arguably just as important to the plot of Fury Road: the War Rig. This massive 18-wheeler acts as the setting for some of the most exciting moments in the two most recent Mad Max movies. By the time we see it in Fury Road, it’s been worn down by countless trips across the Wasteland, but in Furiosa, we watch as the War Rig is constructed as a giant, glistening tribute to the Citadel’s ruler.

“The entire story of Immortan Joe is actually embossed into the rig as a picture book.”

If you’ve seen Furiosa, you probably noticed the engraving of Immortan Joe on the side of the War Rig, but there’s much more to it than that.

“The entire story of Immortan Joe is actually embossed into the rig as a picture book,” Hulme reveals. “So it starts from the collapse of civilization, or The Fall, where he's a general and leading an army wearing a gas mask,” Hulme continues. “And it shows all the exploits all across the side of the war rig, all the battles, the growing army. And then, at the other end of it, it's him as Immortan Joe standing on a mountain of skulls.”

Lachy Hulme as Immortan Joe.

Warner Bros.

Immortan Joe’s real name, as it turns out, is Colonel Joe Moore. He was a member of the Australian Defense Force and served alongside the parents of Praetorian Jack (played by Tom Burke in Furiosa).

“So with his two idiot sons,” Hulme says, referring to Rictus Erectus and Scabrous Scrotus, “it's actually Praetorian Jack who he sort of views most as his son.”

Sure, much of this information can be found in the various supplementary comics and video games that flesh out the world of Mad Max (or read on the franchise’s wiki), but hearing it straight from Immortan Joe feels somehow more legitimate — especially when you understand what Hulme went through not just to get the role but to truly become Colonel Joe Moore.

Becoming Immortan Joe

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Warner Bros.

Even with George Miller’s blessing and the backstory down pat, stepping into Joe’s boots was easier said than done.

“Hugh's whole performance in Fury Road is so iconic,” Hulme says. “He does a thing that actors refer to as pushing through the costume — just using his eyes to tell the whole story.”

There was no way Hulme could replicate the original performance, but luckily, he didn’t have to. As the actor points out, the version of Immortan Joe we meet in Furiosa isn’t exactly the same guy who chases Max across the Wasteland in Fury Road.

“In Fury Road we see him at his absolutely depraved worst,” Hulme says. “He's full of vengeance and hate and anger. So we know that side of him exists, but in Furiosa, the side we see is much more of a corporate CEO. He's got an empire to run and he's trying to keep the ship together. He has to think strategically. Immortan Joe is not insane. He's a military man who is ruthless, but the whole name of the game in the Wasteland is survival. And he's figured out a system of survival that benefits more people than it hurts. So I really leaned into the sort of corporate CEO side of the character.”

George Miller, Hugh Keays-Byrne (center) and Robert Rodriguez at the premiere of Fury Road.

Gary Miller/Getty Images

Even if this version of Immortan Joe is perhaps a hair more relaxed and calculated than the one who meets his violent end in Fury Road, the most important thing about the character is arguably his outfit, which went unchanged between the two movies. Between his bulletproof chestplate (complete with a Batsuit-style sculpted six-pack), his flowing white hair, and his complex breathing apparatus, simply getting into costume is an ordeal in itself.

Hulme sometimes had to get to the set at 2 a.m. so he could be camera-ready in time. Not that he’s complaining, mind you.

“I felt a bit like the Frankenstein monster as I was lumbering around.”

“You don't wear the costume, the costume wears you,” he says. “It's very heavy. The fake abs, the boots, and the skirt collectively weigh about 30 kilo [66 pounds]. In Fury Road, you see Hugh Keays-Byrne running in that costume. How he was running in it, I have no idea. And also with the wig and everything, the peripheral vision is very limited. You could just topple over backwards. I felt a bit like the Frankenstein monster as I was lumbering around.”

But on his first day filming Furiosa in full costume, something clicked. Miller had reunited much of the team behind Fury Road and the previous Mad Max movies, and as Immortan Joe lumbered across the set, the emotion was palpable.

“Some of them had known Hugh extremely well for a long time as well,” Hulme says. “When they were confronted with Immortan, you did get some people bursting into tears. We had people gasping.”

“An incredibly supportive environment”

George Miller at the Toronto premiere of Furiosa.

Jeremychanphotography/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Gasps and tears aside, Hulme describes the atmosphere on set as positive and professional.

“When you are working on a Dr. George Miller movie, there's no pressure on you because you're in an incredibly supportive environment,” the actor says.

In case anyone you’ve forgotten, Miller really is a doctor. He studied medicine at the University of New South Wales and worked as a physician for several years. Turns out, in a movie franchise known for outrageous stunts, it doesn’t hurt to have a director with a medical background.

“That's the advantage of having an actual doctor as the director and producer,” Hulme says. “If anything goes wrong, he's always the first on the set.”

“People would literally jump off a cliff for him.”

Case in point: During pre-production, Hulme fell off a motorcycle while practicing for a scene as Rizzdale Pell. After that, Miller decided all the actor’s bike riding would be performed by his stunt double, Chris Matherson. It’s that devotion to his crew that’s earned Miller the type of loyalty needed to create some of the Mad Max movie’s most bombastic set pieces.

“People would literally jump off a cliff for him,” Hulme says.

But it’s about more than just a devotion to their fearless leader. The cast and crew of Furiosa all understood that the work they were doing was part of a grand tradition dating back to the earliest days of blockbuster cinema.

“Stunts are really the original special effects in motion pictures going right back to the silent days of Buster Keith and so forth,” Hulme says. “It's just been elevated to an art form on the Mad Max films.”

“We have a no dickhead policy.”

It probably also helps that the movies have, as Hulme puts it, a “no dickhead policy.”

“Because it’s predominantly an Australian cast and crew, the manner in which we go about our business making movies and television and whatnot is we value professionalism and politeness and esprit de corps, a good sense of humor, above everything else. Having worked on big American projects before, egos are always the biggest problem. Whereas on Australian projects, we don't tolerate that.”

What’s Next?

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter in Mad Max (1979).

Kennedy Miller Productions

The future of Mad Max feels disturbingly unclear at the moment. Despite earning rave reviews, Furiosa bombed at the box office. To be fair, this isn’t uncommon for the franchise. Each new entry typically finds its footing over time to become a cult classic, but in an era where the entire movie theater industry is on shaky footing, George Miller’s plans for another prequel titled The Wasteland seem particularly at risk.

Perhaps channeling the confidence of Immortant Joe himself, however, Hulme isn’t worried.

“There's never been a film in the Mad Max franchise that's shot straight out of the gate and gone to number one, making a hundred gazillion dollars in the first weekend,” he says. “It's always been word of mouth. I just know it'll find its audience. And so I'm not too concerned about the Memorial Day box office.”

And once the Hollywood suits finally do come to their senses and commission the next Mad Max movie, one thing is certain: Lachy Hulme will be there.

“If it happens, I'll come back and play three characters in the next one!”

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is currently playing in theaters.

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