Did you know the actor who played the very first main villain in the Mad Max franchise also played the chief antagonist in the most recent feature film in the series? The late Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne — who portrayed the ruthless Immortan Joe of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road — also appeared 37 years earlier as the gang leader Toecutter in 1979’s Mad Max.
The late Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne played both Toecutter of 1979’s Mad Max and Immortan Joe in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.
Considering it’s the Oscar-winning George Miller who directed all four Mad Max films (and the upcoming prequel Furiosa), you might be surprised that he would bring Keays-Byrne back to play a different character. Or maybe this factoid might inspire you to theorize Toecutter and Immortan Joe are secretly the same dude.
But no — Toecutter’s literally crushing death is about as definitive as it gets. Miller’s rehiring of Keays-Byrne is explained much more simply: not only was Keays-Byrne perfect for the role, but Miller harbored great love for Keays-Byrne and since first working with him was constantly trying to find roles for the actor in his projects.
“I learned acting from him, probably more than anybody else that I worked with.”-George Miller on Hugh Keays-Byrne
For example, Miller tried and failed to find Keays-Byrne a role in Babe (yes, the same guy who directed all the spectacularly violent Mad Max movies co-wrote Babe and directed the sequel Babe: Pig in the City). He also cast Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter in his aborted Justice League: Mortal.
After Hugh Keays-Byrne passed away peacefully at the age of 73 in 2020, George Miller talked to IndieWire and had no shortage of incredible things to tell them about his late friend. “There are those people who completely fill the world when you’re with them. He was certainly one of those,” Miller said of Keays-Byrne.
Miller admitted that, at first, Keays-Byrne was so thoroughly invested in the role of Mad Max‘s Toecutter that the director found him intimidating. Eventually, Miller said, the actor proved to be “a warm and sweet person and embracing of everybody.” Of the actor’s impact on Miller’s craft, the filmmaker said, “I learned acting from him, probably more than anybody else that I worked with.”
Hugh Keays-Byrne Outside Mad Max
Besides the Mad Max films, Keays-Byrne and Miller’s only other cinematic collaboration would prove to be 1980’s The Chain Reaction, on which Miller worked as a producer. The film starred other Mad Max alum, including Mel Gibson himself.
Much better known in Australian TV and cinema, Hugh Keays-Byrne nevertheless enjoyed some other non-Mad-Max work overseas. Farscape fans may remember him as the untrustworthy Grunchik. In the 1998 Moby Dick miniseries — starring Star Trek‘s Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab — Keays-Byrne played the Pequod‘s second mate Mr. Stubbs.
Upon hearing of his death, Keays-Byrne’s Mad Max: Fury Road co-star Charlize Theron wrote of him, “It’s amazing you were able to play an evil warlord so well cause you were such a kind, beautiful soul.