Tom Hardy is known for playing strong and relatively silent types, in everything from "The Dark Knight Rises" to "Warrior."

He's a natural pick to take on the iconic Mad Max mantle from Mel Gibson, of course, as the road warrior is a famously circumspect, vengeful figure.

But interview the 37-year-old English star of "Mad Max: Fury Road," opening Friday, and you quickly find that he's nothing like those characters.

Maybe it was excitement over the sterling response greeting co-writer and director George Miller's return to the popular action franchise after 30 years, or maybe Hardy's just a genuinely gregarious type, but he was more than happy to share with amNewYork about the "unbelievable surrealism" of a movie he describes as "like watching Cirque du Soleil ... and Hells Angels rip across the desert, blowing [expletive] up."

 

Were you a "Mad Max" fan growing up?

I was too young, actually, to be a fan. I was born the year George made the first one. And I was probably nine, I think, when "Thunderdome" came out. It's funny, without actually watching them at a tender age, because my parents wouldn't let me -- I wasn't quite grown up -- I still knew who Mad Max was growing up. I remember the imagery and iconography -- the dog, the leather jacket, the shotgun, white streak in the hair, the V8 interceptor -- very much without even seeing the movie. ... So I didn't actually watch the movies until I was a bit older, to be fair. I watched them then, when I got the job.

 

To what extent do you make Max your own, versus maintaining what Mel Gibson did?

Of course you have to consider the legacy. It's not only George's legacy and Mel's legacy, but it belongs to the people by now. You put something out there, it belongs to the people, even if you can't really own intellectual property like that. People become familiar with their icons, it's like that. If it's not Mel Gibson, then it's just not Mad Max, so the initial port of call for anybody who's inherited a character that belongs synonymously with somebody who profoundly impacted them, it's like walking into a family that already hates you. Because you've replaced mom. Now you're the stepmom, and everyone's going to judge you on that.

 

How do you respond to that?

The initial response is a kindness and open-minded sensibility to say, "I'm not here to take Mel from you; I'm not here to take Mad Max from you. I've been asked to come here by George to continue a journey which is George's meditation on a journey and a landscape that he created more than 30 years ago. He had Mel as Mad Max synonymously and that's that. There's no gray area there. This is something utterly different. It's not like a reinvention or remake. We're doing a continuing meditation and show-and-tell and immersion in an ever-developing world in his mind, which he decided to go back at again and he teamed up with who he chose, so ultimately I'm there to transmit George Miller's vision.

 

This feels like an evolution in what he's been doing with this series since 1979.

He's reinvented it in a way that's developed it further and pushed it further into other areas and pioneered even further again the filmmaking, as a visionary director having come from his humble roots of the original "Mad Max" and passed through "Babe" and "Happy Feet" along the way. That's a lot of information and skills and there's something deeply profound and engaged within him, an imagination which he's translated in full relentless reality to the big screen for this generation.

 

To give a filmmaker who is this creative and original a budget in the nine figures is relatively unheard of.

There's a very small amount of people who would ever be allowed that kind of opportunity to flesh out a huge imagination and vision into an intellectual property that has commercial value, where people have to make their money back and then some. To allow an avant-garde pioneer artist to then take x amount of millions of dollars at his disposal ... it's a huge gamble.