Creating an icon isn’t easy. As he began to design the world of Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller and his team experimented with multiple looks for Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. They scrapped an albino tribal vibe with platinum hair and periwinkle blue war paint. Ditto one with facial scarring. It was Theron herself who unlocked the image of the androgynous warrior—a woman who has escaped the fate of other women by erasing her gender.
“I just said, ‘I have to shave my head,’” Theron recalls. Furiosa is a war-rig operator living in a place where all other females have been enslaved as breeding and milking chattel. But Furiosa is barren and therefore of no value to the despot Immortan Joe and his soldiers. She is considered worthless. ”They almost forget she’s a woman, so there is no threat,” she says. “I understood a woman that’s been hiding in a world where she’s been discarded.”
Miller had conceived Furiosa as a narrative counterweight to an apathetic Max (Tom Hardy), a man who may be alive but who has abandoned all hope of ever living. Furiosa, by contrast, is seething at the ruler (and the culture) that rejected her, and is determined to build a new world for herself and her sisters. But her primary motivation is not some earth-mother altruism. It’s vengeance. “I didn’t want Furiosa to be this girl who saves all the young, pretty girls from their horrible state,” says Theron, who had lobbied Miller hard for the role from the moment she heard about it. “I wanted it to be way more personal than that.”
It is her rage, not Max’s, that drives Fury Road and sets Furiosa apart from other big-screen alpha women. “Ripley in Alien is probably close, but that’s so different,” Miller says. “All I know is, I cannot think of another female character in cinema who’s like her.” In other words, what looks like a testosterone fueled summer escape is actually a badass feminist action flick. The men do the damage, but the women restore humanity. “What runs loudly for me is the importance that women have in this world of survival,” Theron says. “I was very happy to be a girl with boobies and to be part of that.”