Musical instruments have long supplemented the weapons of war. During the Revolutionary War, American and British armies would be marched into battle by the sounds of a fife and drum, for example. Irish and Scottish armies were often lead by the shrill, unmistakable melodies of bagpipes. So when director George Miller was casting Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie about warring tribes mercilessly battling for control of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, he couldn’t simply stick a little drummer boy or a man blowing air into a bellowing windbag. What he added to the film instead was Doof Warrior.
Doof Warrior is a blind, maniacal creature mounted atop a tremendous, speeding war machine equipped with a wall of amps and a small army of backing drummers. On this stage to which he is strapped in, Doof wails distorted metal riffs through a double-necked guitar which Miller told VICE was made of bedpans. Ah yes, and one more thing—the guitar shoots a powerful stream of flaming hellfire.
In a barren land of rust and sun-worn beiges, Doof stands out in a bright red jumpsuit. Looking like a rejected member of Slipknot, he is the focal point for the eye and fans of the movie have picked up on it. People immediately took to the internet after the Fury Road premiered, demanding to know more about this masked madman and his (real, working) axe (for which Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs provided some noises). Doof was so popular he even made it into the headlines of some of the reviews, even though his on-screen time probably only totaled to less than a minute.
To stand out in a movie like Fury Road is nothing short of incredible. In a film where the protagonist spends the entire first act being used as a helpless blood bag while strapped to the hood of kamikaze-mobile, where lactating women are pumped for their breastmilk, and where tremendous, thundering explosions are so constant that they’re practically lead characters, to be the element that moviegoers all want to talk about on Monday morning, without even speaking a line of dialogue, is impressive.
Doof is played by Sean Hape, or iOTA, as he is better known in Australia. A star of stage and screen, he has played Frank-N-Furter in productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and he even beat out Hugh Jackman for Best Male Actor in a Musical at the Helpmann Awards (which is sort of akin to the Tonys).
We talked to iOTA on the phone from Sydney about landing the role, the growing cult of his character, and the only thing that will endure the apocalypse: nü-metal.
Noisey: Tell me about yourself. Are you an actor, a musician?
iOTA: I’m an actor and a musician and an artist. I’m a painter, a performer, a writer, I sort of do lots of things. I do all of them so that when I get bored of one, I can do the other.
How did you get this role in Mad Max?
Just through my agency at the time. We knew Mad Max was possibly filming and I was very keen to just do anything to be a part of it. The role just turned up and they asked if I wanted to try it out. Of course I jumped at it. They gave me a brief that the character was somewhere between Keith Richards and a scarecrow.
Yeah, so I’d take my guitar and play a little Keith Richardsy and pulled off a couple of his moves and dressed up in my best Mad Max kind of gear.
Which was what?
There were leather pants, there were all these belts I put on and I had feathers on my shoulders and a black leather gimp mask turned backwards on my head. I had my eyes blacked out, brown on my teeth, my nails were blacked. I had chains and jewelry and stuff all over me. I thought I looked the part so I just went, “Hey guys, this is mine, give it to me.” [Laughs]
What were the filming days like? I understand it was six months out in the desert.
Yeah we were out there for six months. We didn’t know how much the character was gonna be doing, or when they were gonna need me, so I just spent a lot of time just hanging around in Namibia and waiting. I painted most of the time or wrote. I had a lot of time to myself to do my own thing.
What about the days when you were on set?
Early, of course. You’d be picked up at three or four in the morning and driven an hour and a half or two hours into the desert, get to base camp, get your kit on, eat breakfast, and then get up onto the truck. They’d strap me in and I’d just sort of be there for eight hours. [Laughs]
And you were really bungie corded and blinded for this?
Yes, I was up on the truck and we were tearing through the desert and I had bungies on my hips and the guitar had bungies on it as well because it weighs about 60 kilos (132 pounds). It’s impossible to hold up. I wasn’t blind until the mask comes off at the end of the film and I had a prosthetic on for that so I was kind of led around by the hands for a day or two.
What direction do they give you when you’re up there?
“Do your best,” I’m assuming.
In that situation, I don’t think there’s a lot of direction that you need. It’s one of the craziest situations you could ever find yourself in. There’s cars tearing all around you with dust and smoke, it’s very loud. I was just screaming my head off and being kind of like an animal, I guess. The character is supposed to be a really great musician who is a bit mute and a bit deaf, and quite blind. I think of him as sort of a Quasimodo-like character.
Did they tell you to play anything in particular or did you take it upon yourself to just start riffing?
Yeah, the guitar wasn’t… it wasn’t a great guitar. It spent a lot of time out in the desert, you wouldn’t want to record with it. Most of the time, I’d just try to make noise. I pulled out some AC/DC, some Soundgarden, some Zeppelin, but after eight hours, you do just start thumping on it for a while.
Director George Miller talking to Noisey's Kim Taylor Bennett
And the guitar really shot flames?
Yeah, it was gas and it was controlled by the whammy bar.
Are you aware that you’ve become a focal point in a lot of the discussions about the movie?
I sort of started to get a bit of a sense of it. A little bit, but I haven’t had much time to really think about it because I’ve been so busy with other things. But the more people I talk to like you, I’m becoming aware.
The character is an amazing element of the movie because it tells you a lot about the War Boys in that war is such an important part of their culture that having a dedicated guitar player is somehow a necessity.
[Laughs] Yeah, absolutely. He’s a valued part of the gang.
They’ve signed on to make a few more Mad Max movies. Would you answer the call to go back to the desert should you be asked?
Yeah, I’ll absolutely be there.
And would you hold a flaming guitar?
Oh, of course. Yeah. It was too much fun.
Dan Ozzi would also be glad to be in the next Mad Max movie in case George Miller is reading this. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi