George Miller’s illustrious career is currently undergoing a resurgence due to Mad Max: Fury Road, but the director has always held the mantle for being one of the most versatile directors in movies today. Best known for his violent, bloody Mad Max quadrilogy, the Australian director has also helmed much friendlier fare such as Babe and Happy Feet. In the wake of Fury Road, he is currently looking to choose a low-key project before returning to the franchise that made him a household name, but back in the ’80s, he didn’t always have his pick of the crop when it came to Hollywood projects.
In 1987, George Miller took the helm on supernatural fantasy-comedy The Witches of Eastwick. Starring Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Cher, and Michelle Pfeiffer, the film was a moderate success and well received by the critics, garnering two Academy Award nominations in the process. However, Miller didn’t enjoy the filmmaking experience on the movie for various reasons, and has revealed that, during development, he received some critical career advice from none other than Jack Nicholson himself.
In an exclusive interview with the Hollywood Reporter, George Miller sat down to speak about his extensive career thus far. While discussing his past — highlights featured multiple private conversations with Stanley Kubrick about Babe, among other things — Miller discussed his miserable experience on the set of The Witches of Eastwick. He was so unhappy with the film that he tried to quit on two occasions, and explained that the film producers didn’t live up to the friendly, easy-going hype of his previous film experiences. When asked why the experience was so unhappy, he revealed the following.
“Because it was a chaotic production. I’m not even sure what happened. I’d had a really fantastic experience working on the Twilight Zone movie with Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall and Kathy Kennedy and a whole crew that had come off E.T. And it felt like very much at home. I thought, ‘Oh, this is Hollywood.’ You know, all these stories about Hollywood being chaotic [weren’t true]. And I didn’t pay enough attention — when I read this wonderful screenplay Witches of Eastwick — to the crew and how the film was to be made. I thought, ‘Oh, it’s just going to be like working with Amblin and that whole cohort.’ And it wasn’t. I didn’t cast enough of the crew properly. There was some of the producers who were very chaotic in their thinking.”
Miller went on to explain that Jack Nicholson would mentor him through the shoot, providing him some sage advice going forward. Miller has always identified with being a nice guy, despite his reputation for creating tough characters on-screen, but Nicholson warned him his friendly nature could be misconstrued as something else.
“That was really interesting. And I was always seen as being very polite. And they mistake politeness for weakness. That’s what Jack told me. He said, ‘Be careful. They mistake your politeness for weakness.’ And he said, ‘You’ve got to make them think you’re a little bit crazy.'”
During the meeting, Miller was happy to cut his personal trailer from the budget for the simple reason that he didn’t need one. His shoots on Mad Max tuned him to a very hands-on approach to his movies, one that had him mixing with the cast and crew to actually create the film and ensure the best final product. As a result, the accountants saw someone who would fold on anything and buckle under the pressure, and tried to take advantage. Thanks to Jack Nicholson, this was nipped in the bud early.
Nicholson has always come across as a little bit crazy on his film shoots — his reasoning implies this could be a potential act on his part; he won’t be complaining, he made a lucrative career out of it — but it’s nice to see the veteran actor sharing his knowledge with his fellow men. For evidence of his on-set lunacy, you only have to see his antics on the set of The Shining, as revealed by Bloody Disgusting.
George Miller doesn’t go into detail about the advice, and whether he adhered to it or not is debatable, but he now seems to be having fun with the projects he undertakes. Miller’s latest film, Mad Max: Fury Road, broke records worldwide and is currently on the nomination list for an Academy Award for Best Picture. With this success boosting a career that is already 30-plus years old, hopefully this will encourage one of the more versatile directors of our generation to keep up the good work, and release more thrilling, exciting movies.
Mad Max: Fury Road is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.
[Image via Warner Bros. Pictures]