Exclusive: Mad Max's Josh Helman Is Not Your Average Villain
Though he’s only been on the American film scene for less than five years, Josh Helman has taken a massive bite out of Hollywood. Starting out as a television actor in his native Australia, I first saw Helman when he made splashes in the Oscar-nominated film Animal Kingdom and the Tom Cruise led thriller Jack Reacher. Since then he has quickly positioned himself as a force for villainy. Last year, he appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past as the fearsome antagonist William Stryker, and most of the world became horrified (myself included) as lizard-man Slit in this year’s smash Mad Max: Fury Road.
I very recently had the pleasure of working with Josh on set when I got cast last minute. I texted Josh something about being nervous, to which he responded, "Don’t worry mate it’s a fun, casual set." He was right, it couldn’t have been more of a fun and casual experience. Tons of laughs. In person, Helman is nowhere near as intimidating as his recent roles would have you believe. He is very selfless and considerate and won’t hesitate to smack you on the bum after a good take. I sat down with Helman to shoot a roll of black and white film and to discuss his recent incredible film roles, his philosophy on villainy, and his devotion to his pet cats.
So what’s your idea of a perfect day?
It starts with espresso, and it finishes in bed with my girlfriend Jen. I like to be surprised by what comes in between.
You’re pretty damn Australian. How did you land in New York?
First time I ever went, in 2008, I hated it. Turns out I just didn’t get it. I didn’t know that many people and was scared to explore it. I settled in LA when I moved to the US in 2010, then a few months later I went to visit New York again, and all of a sudden I got it. It felt like home. So I went straight back to LA, grabbed my bags, and moved east.
Okay let’s talk about ‘Mad Max’. Everyone is raving about it. The stunts are wild and you all have great bodies. Was there an insane training process for all of that? What was it like?
It was totally fucking bananas. I didn’t want to be too muscled for it, because who’s chugging protein shakes in the post-apocalyptic wasteland? All I really did was stick close to the stunt team, who were amazing. They whipped my arse into shape right smart. And we had a really helpful rehearsal process with George, Nico Lathouris and the cast. That’s where I found something kind of lizard-like for Slit. I initially thought he might have been dog-like or vulture-like, but I got on the full Slit prosthetics one day and played around with George and this lizard thing started happening, and he said, “that’s it right there.” And we built Slit up from that.
Your character is vocally and physically terrifying. Does looking so crazy in that makeup make you feel extra crazy as an actor?
The prosthetics helped a huge deal. I had two wonderful prosthetics artists, Sean Genders and Jess Reedy, whose only job was to work on Slit. It was a two and a half hour process every morning, and I couldn’t have asked for two better humans to spend it with. They helped me get into the mindset every morning. What also helped was just stepping out into the world that George had created, which felt completely real when you were there amongst it. You didn’t have to do much imagining – most of it was there in front of your eyes.
This is your second time working with Nicholas Hoult, right? Bromance or what?
If I could work with Nick on anything, I would. I love that boy. When we were shooting Max I came up with a whole movie that I wanted to direct with him as the lead. We’ll see if we can get it made one day. I should write it first, I guess.
So, you are also General Stryker in the new X-Men movies. Do you like playing bad guys?
They’re never bad guys to me. Stryker is a patriot. Slit is a fundamentalist warrior protecting his ideals. Quote-unquote ‘bad guys’ are fascinating to me because their emotional engine is fired by something incredibly powerful. It’s my job to find out what that is and build that internal world. That is very fun to me. The worst thing you can do with a beautiful character like any of the ones I’ve played is mistreat them by not going into them deeply. I’m guilty of that sin, though – I just try not to do it anymore.
Your scene in ‘Jack Reacher’ is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. You have an American accent, there is a pretty girl, a cool fight sequence outside of bar. All of that. But really. Did you meet Werner Herzog? And if you did – what is he like?!
I did not meet him, regretfully. I would have loved to. I am a huge fan of him as a director, and after Reacher as an actor too. I thought that was fabulous casting on the part of Mindy Marin and McQuarrie. Did you see Herzog on Parks and Recreation? I could watch him deadpan for hours. But yeah, I love that scene in Reacher. I have such respect and admiration for Chris. What a lovely human being. And he directed the SHIT out of that movie. Have you seen the trailer for MI:5? I would pay $15 just to watch that trailer for two hours.
Ok, switching topics a bit, but tell me about your cats.
They’re brothers. Oli and Miles; Oli’s grey, Miles is black. They give zero shits about anything except sleeping, eating, and chasing each other around the house. I love them.
If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?
Jen and I figured out that I’m definitely some kind of cat. I’m always trying to get Jen to scratch my head and back, and I kind of purr when she does it. I like the idea that I’m some kind of big cat that doesn’t know its own strength. It seems to fit. Also I’m super hairy.
Josh Helman photographed and interviewed exclusively for Milk Made by Danny Lane