‘Furiosa’ Star Tom Burke Isn’t Afraid to Crash an Audition He Wasn’t Invited To

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

Following in the footsteps of his actor parents, Tom Burke has spent the last two decades making his mark on British TV and film. Now, he’s taking on the major—and secretive—role of Praetorian Jack in George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (out May 24), the highly anticipated prequel to 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” opposite Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth. Here, Burke opens up about working with Miller and the time he crashed an audition early in his career.

What made you want to become an actor?

I was lucky because I grew up around it. And rather than going, I want to do that, it was a sense of identity that that’s what I was. When I was quite young, I spent a year with my parents [David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall] at the Royal Shakespeare Company. And at some point, there was a feeling of very much wanting to do what looked like the fun bit, which was dressing up and running up onstage, wielding a sword—or a flaming torch!

What performance should every actor see and why?

There are two, and I think [they’re] so great because it’s a relationship in a brilliant series. There’s just something so endearing about Zoe Kazan and Richard Jenkins in [the HBO limited series] “Olive Kitteridge,” and the way that they play off each other. I don’t like to read reviews, but I love hearing the word “chemistry”—because if [actors] are having an effect on each other, that’s the most important thing.

What do the best directors you’ve worked with have in common?

They’re not defensive. You [can] work with people who are not so secure in themselves, and they don’t let you in. Everybody on a film set has their own blind spots, and you work together to move forward to cover all those angles that you can’t see. 

George [Miller] really likes actors and the conversations about building the character…. So you feel very free to ask a question, and he’s really happy to go, “I hadn’t thought about that—let’s talk about it.” Sometimes you ask a director a question, and they just want to give you an answer. And you’re like, “I don’t need you to give me an answer—let’s find the most interesting answer.” With George, you felt like you had your own sense of ownership, even though at the end of the day, he’s the one going, “Yeah—but, no, it’s this.”

What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done for a role?

I crashed an audition once. There’d been a preliminary audition without the director, and I just wanted to be in a room with him because he was somebody I felt I could learn a lot from. I was just out of drama school, and I didn’t get a recall. But three people in my year were going in for a recall, so I knew where it was. And somebody happened to have not turned up, and so when I got to the desk, they just assumed I was this person who was a bit late! I didn’t feel cocky about it; I genuinely felt really nervous, especially knowing I might just get booted out the door. I didn’t get the job, but I’ve seen the director since, and he’s always like, “We must do something!”

What advice would you give your younger self?

Luckily, I had people [telling me] this…but of course, you forget: [Acting] is not a race or a competition; and if you make it either of those things, it never stops being that, and you never really get to enjoy it.

There are so many questions about your “Furiosa” character, Praetorian Jack. Has it been difficult to navigate the secrecy around your participation in the film?

I love that they’re doing that. Sometimes, you see a trailer and you’ve seen the whole film. I had an email from George…and he was talking about [the film’s premiere at] Cannes and the wide release, and it did suddenly feel very real—because it has felt slightly unreal. But, in a way, the whole job felt slightly unreal.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is considered a modern classic, but it was quite the infamous production due to its shooting conditions, protracted timeline, and on-set conflicts. How did you find your experience on “Furiosa”? 

“Mad Max: Fury Road” was amazing, and everyone involved with it is enormously talented; but it did sound like a very particular constellation of personalities, which maybe was not optimum for a sense of ease and calm. I wasn’t too nervous about that because most of my stuff is with Anya [who plays Furiosa]. My instinct was that we’d get on fine, and we got on great. She’s an amazing human being. 

And I got on great with [co-writer] Nico [Lathouris] and George, and I felt entirely trusting of their genius. But, in the back of my head, the one thing that was a little nerve-racking was when we were discussing the job, and my manager kept saying, “Obviously, [‘Fury Road’] went over [schedule].” Eventually, one day, I went, “How long did it go over?” And we actually couldn’t get a straight answer on this. 

We rang different people’s agents—somebody said two months, somebody said four months. And my manager went, “Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to know. You’re probably going to be out there six months—but it might be a year, might be two years.” And I went, “What?!” [Laughs.] And I think we finished exactly on schedule, or maybe even a little early.

What was beautiful about [the production] was, within the scale of it, there was this enormous attention to every kind of detail: every single gear stick, every single motorbike, every single costume. And then the attention on the emotional arcs in the story and the time put into that—not just in prep, but once we got onto set as well… The whole thing just stopped sometimes, and there [was] a preamble to get everyone imaginatively in the right place without the camera rolling anything. It takes as long as it takes—and that felt very unique to me.

This story originally appeared in the May 2 issue of Backstage Magazine.