Charlize Theron Vs. Tom Hardy and the Importance of Asserting Agency in the Workplace

Inspiring Stories

The speculation can come to an end: Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy did indeed clash on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road

Rumors had been swirling for years about their reported issues, but no one was able to confirm anything, and the two actors naturally remained too private to delve into the drama themselves. In Kyle Buchanan’s new book Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, which dives into how the iconic film was produced, filmed and received, we get insight into what really happened between the lead actors, and how the incident helped shape their professional conduct in the years since. 

Their row doesn’t just reveal volumes about their contradictory approaches to conflict, it teaches an important lesson about how women can and should assert their agency in the workplace. 

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron: The Power of Assertiveness ove Aggression

(Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for CTAOP)

The book chronicles Charlize and Tom’s rocky dynamic through a series of in-depth interviews with Fury Road’s cast and crew. 

The first assistant director, P.J. Voeten, said that the animosity between the two had emerged before the filming itself, so when the shooting commenced, “those things became difficult.” Their co-star Nicholas Hoult described the tension as “your summer holidays, and the adults in the front of the car are arguing,” whereas the editor J. Houston Yang said, “And boy f***ing howdy, was it clear that those two people hated each other.”

We were either fighting or we were icing each other — I don’t know which one is worse — and they had to deal with it in the back. It was horrible! We should not have done that; we should have been better. I can own up to that.

Charlize Theron on Blood, Sweat and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road via Vanity Fair

The rancor among the two was apparent to everyone from the very beginning, but there was one incident, according to camera operator Mark Goellnicht, which escalated the hostility into a full-blown screaming match. “I remember vividly the day. The call on set was eight o’clock,” he said. Charlize came to set on time and “sat in the War Rig,” knowing full well her scene partner wouldn’t show up on time. Tom Hardy was known for being tardy, especially if he was required in the morning. “If the call time was in the morning, forget it — he didn’t show up,” said Goellnicht. 

The hours passed, and Tom still hadn’t arrived. The crew asked Charlize if she wanted to leave the Rig, walk around, or just find a way to pass the time until Tom came. She refused. “No, I’m going to stay here.” She was really going to make a point. She didn’t go to the bathroom, didn’t do anything. She just sat in the War Rig,” recounted the camera operator. 

When Tom did turn up in the desert nearly three hours later, all hell broke loose. “[Charlize] jumps out of the War Rig, and she starts swearing her head off at him, saying, “Fine the f***ing c*** a hundred thousand dollars for every minute that he’s held up this crew,” and “How disrespectful you are!” As one can imagine, both Tom and Charlize launched into a fiery altercation, tossing insults back and forth in front of everyone.

Their heated exchange marked a “turning point” in the production, as thereafter, Charlize requested a female producer to accompany her at all times as “protection.” 

It got to a place where it was kind of out of hand, and there was a sense that maybe sending a woman producer down could maybe equalize some of it, because I didn’t feel safe. 

Charlize Theron on Blood, Sweat and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road via Vanity Fair

Tom Hardy Recognized His Toxic Behavior with Charlize Theron – and Changed

Tom Hardy Charlotte Riley
(Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Over time, the environment did improve, and Charlize’s insistence on maintaining decorum and punctuality on the set paid off, to everyone’s surprise. Goellnicht revealed that Tom did “soften” to Charlize by the end of filming, and the relationship between the two mirrored that of their characters. Petrina Hull, the production and development executive, said that Tom and Charlize “had that prickly thing of two people trying to understand each other and clashing and then somehow learning a mutual sort of respect, ultimately.”

Tom, for his part, acknowledged his toxic behavior. “In hindsight, I was in over my head in many ways.” The pressure he felt was reportedly “overwhelming at times” and that he needed to be the “better, perhaps more experienced” partner Charlize both wanted and deserved. He said he hoped he’d be able to rise to the occasion if the situation repeated. Charlize also said she could take ownership of her role in the strife (“We should not have done that; we should have been better. I can own up to that”), but also noted how she didn’t possess sufficient clarity back then. She was “scared s***less” from her perspective; in such a mindset, you have to do the best you can do to protect yourself and your mental wellbeing. “You understand the needs of a director who wants to protect his set, but when push comes to shove and things get out of hand, you have to be able to think about that in a bigger sense,” she said in the book. 

Because of my own fear, we were putting up walls to protect ourselves instead of saying to each other, “F***, this is scary for you and it’s scary for me, too. Let’s be nice to each other.” We were functioning, in a weird way, like our characters: Everything was about survival.

Charlize Theron on Blood, Sweat and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road via Vanity Fair

Charlize Theron Showed Why Women Should Express Themselves Assertively

charlize-theron
Photo Credit: taniavolobueva / Shutterstock.com

In hindsight, especially with how the #MeToo movement panned out a few years after her incident with Tom Hardy, Charlize’s assertion at demanding professionalism from her co-star, even at the expense of her own reputation and livelihood, is nothing short of remarkable. Women need to recognize when they’re being mistreated and demand access to resources to help them mitigate these challenges.

Even as a multimillion-dollar actress, Charlize Theron felt terrified about her safety in the workplace. Being able to express her rage towards Tom and then ask for a female producer as “protection” is a fantastic example of how women can assert their agency and power in their workplace; it lays the groundwork for how we can channel our anger and frustration into creating a comfortable, safe and ultimately more effective workplace. 

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