The New York Times brought the cast back together -- including Theron, Hardy, Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley -- for an oral history of the epic movie, in which they candidly discussed mounting tension between 44-year-old Theron and 42-year-old Hardy while filming.
"There was a lot of tension, and a lot of different personalities and clashes at times," Huntington-Whiteley recalls. "It was definitely interesting to sit in a truck for four months with Tom and Charlize, who have completely different approaches to their craft."
Theron and Hardy clashed particularly over how they approached working with director George Miller.
"All of those young girls kind of turned to me as someone who would problem-solve for them, and this is not anybody's fault -- I only say this now because I know George and I've experienced this with George, so I'd fully trust him," Theron says. "But I've also trusted directors fully when I didn't comprehend what they were trying to do, and it just turned into a mess."
Meanwhile, Hardy explained his concerns while filming.
"Because of how much detail we were having to process and how little control one had in each new situation, and how fast the takes were -- tiny snippets of story moments were needed to make the final cut work -- we moved fast, and it was at times overwhelming," he says. "One had to trust that the bigger picture was being held together."
According to Kravitz, Hardy made his frustrations well known on set.
"Tom really had moments of frustration, of anger," she says. "Charlize did, too, but I feel like he's the one who really took it out on George the most, and that was a bummer to see. But you know, in some ways, you also can't blame him, because a lot was being asked of these actors and there were a lot of unanswered questions."
Looking back, Theron says she could have tried harder to understand where Hardy was coming from -- specifically, the pressure he was under to take on the iconic role of Max after Mel Gibson's legendary 1979 performance in Mad Max, which was also directed by Miller.
"In retrospect, I didn't have enough empathy to really, truly understand what he must have felt like to step into Mel Gibson's shoes," she says. "That is frightening! And I think because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, 'This is scary for you, and it's scary for me, too. Let's be nice to each other.' In a weird way, we were functioning like our characters: Everything was about survival."
For his part, Hardy agrees.
"I think in hindsight, I was in over my head in many ways," he acknowledges. "The pressure on both of us was overwhelming at times. What she needed was a better, perhaps more experienced, partner in me. That's something that can't be faked. I'd like to think that now that I'm older and uglier, I could rise to that occasion."
In 2015, Theron told Esquire that she and Hardy "f**kin' went at it" while filming, but that she respected him as an actor.
"I'd rather have that honesty working with someone than someone who fake-smiles through something -- especially for actors, when your job is to go for the emotional truth," she said at the time. "When you're with somebody and you don't feel like you're in their emotional truth, then you don't trust them. I think good actors go all the way. If you want to be a safe actor, and you emotionally protect yourself from things getting out of hand, the performance will show all of that."
"From what I hear, he's not like that on every movie -- I hear he's had good experiences," she said. "Maybe the movie is what it is because we struggled so much with each other and those characters had to struggle so much with each other. If we were chum-chum, maybe the movie would have been 10 times worse."
"It was daunting [and] a bit intimidating to step into an iconic character's role and shoes," Hardy said. "My job is to transmute George Miller's vision. And ultimately he created Mad Max."
He later told ET that he actually met with Gibson, and gave him a bracelet he made himself. He also made a fitting gift for Theron -- a painted basket that she previously told Esquire was inscribed, "You are an absolute nightmare, BUT you are also f**king awesome. I'll kind of miss you. Love, Tommy."
"I just got into a bit of a painting frenzy for a while, and I made one for Charlize," Hardy said.