NEW YORK, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Australian film director George Miller says he is eager to get back to work on his "Mad Max" franchise, but Mother Nature hasn't been cooperating.
"We were to shoot at the beginning of this year in Australia. Actually, I was meant to finish on 'Happy Feet Two' more quickly and start shooting 'Mad Max' and then unprecedented rains came and the whole desert where we were to shoot is now a flower garden," Miller told UPI in a recent phone interview.
"It was the first big rains to come there in 75 years and the great salt lakes in the center of Australia where we were to shoot are now filled with pelicans and fish," Miller explained.
He said since both "Happy Feet" and "Fury Road," which is "Mad Max 4," are Warner Bros. productions, the studio told him to put "Fury Road" off for a year and finish "Happy Feet."
"The water table hasn't dried off," Miller said of his planned shooting location. "It's good for Australia, but not for 'Mad Max,' so we're going to Namibia in the middle of next year. We've got all of our vehicles built, we've got our cast, we've got our film designed, so we'll be out in Namibia about May."
Miller said he has had a script he liked for the futuristic action picture for more than 10 years, but couldn't film it right away because of security issues in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States and subsequent economic troubles around the world. Fortunately, he has had the animated films "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet Two" to keep him busy until the opportunity to work on "Mad Max" again arose.
"Fury Road" was "prepared very rigorously," Miller said, noting he never truly stopped working on the fourth installment.
"All this time, I worked really hard to get the screenplay right and really prepared the film very well," he said.
He also found a new actor -- "Inception" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" star Tom Hardy -- to take over the franchise from Mel Gibson, who first played the character of Max Rockatansky in 1979, then reprised the role in sequels released in 1981 and 1985.
So, will it be sad making a "Mad Max" flick without Gibson?
"We were going to do it in the past, it was getting to the point, he was in his 50s and this isn't the story of an old character," the director noted. "It's not one of those like 'The Unforgiven,' where you play a character at the end of his life or career. It's not that kind of story."
Miller admitted casting a new actor in the iconic role was "very exciting."
"Tom and Mel have met and had a chat about it," the filmmaker recalled. "Mel has been very generous in his comments and so on. All the stuff that's happened to him makes me very sad. To see him in all that pain and turmoil is very sad because there's a really fine person there."
Gibson, a once-beloved film star and Oscar-winning director, has been in the news more lately for his legal and personal woes than for his craft. The "Lethal Weapon" star and "Braveheart" director has battled alcoholism for years and was widely criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks during a 2006 drunken-driving arrest. An ex-girlfriend last year accused him of verbally and physically abusing her. He pleaded no contest to a battery charge and was placed on probation. Audio allegedly of Gibson making racist comments during a fight with the woman were leaked on the Internet, further tarnishing his public image.
Despite Gibson's recent troubles, Miller said he thinks the actor-filmmaker can make a career comeback if he focuses on his work.
"I think what will help him is he's a wonderful filmmaker," Miller said. "I think if he puts himself into that, there's going to be a lot of great stuff to come out of him. I thought 'Apocalypto,' in particular, was a brilliant piece of work."
Miller's blockbuster "Happy Feet Two" is in theaters now.