The Inverse Interview

How to Become a History Man

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga actor George Shevtsov tells Inverse all about his character, The History Man.

History Man in Furiosa
Kennedy Miller Mitchell
The Inverse Interview

If the post-apocalypse scenario laid out in George Miller’s Mad Max movies actually happened, what would you do to get by? What profession or trade would you take on in the Wasteland? If we’re being honest, most of the options aren’t great and for most of us, the answer to this question is probably “I’d be dead.” But in Furiosa, the director revealed one career path that seems slightly more attainable: The History Man.

“He survives to keep history and memory alive,” George Shevtsov, who plays The History Man in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, tells Inverse.

Shevtsov actually auditioned for the original Mad Max back in 1979. Almost 50 years later, he finally made it into the franchise with Furiosa. But considering the role he got to play, perhaps it was worth the wait.

Covered in tattoo text that reveals the history of the pre-apocalypse world, The History Man is one of the last things linking the characters in Mad Max to a time before the Wasteland. This makes him not only a useful tool for whoever he serves, but also an obvious choice to narrate Furiosa, which he does at several points throughout the movie, breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience.

But while The History Man reveals plenty within the movie’s runtime, what isn’t he telling us? To find out, Inverse reached out to George Shevtsov to ask how he got involved in Furiosa and what he learned about the world of Mad Max along the way.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Kennedy Miller Mitchell

How were you cast in Furiosa? What was the audition process like?

I was cast in George’s wonderful film 3,000 Years of Longing which he made just before Furiosa. I played The Storyteller. Six months later, I was asked if I wanted to do the History Man. Apparently, the work I did on that role was one long audition for The History Man.

How did you prepare to take on the role?

We started with general discussions about the character, the story’s link with Fury Road, and his place in the story of Furiosa. There seemed to be many facets to his character. We had countless Zoom meetings discussing history, the nature of a narrator; sometimes he takes on the role of a praise singer, at other times he tries to give advice, other times he can entertain Dementus and his gang with stories and details from his prodigious knowledge. The reason he is tattooed and his clothes are covered with hieroglyphics and memory aids and so on. Discussions that involved production design, costume, etc.

“If I had to shoot the next day, my makeup was left on. I slept on silk sheets to minimize any damage.”

In between, I did a lot of thinking about everything that came up in these conversations, asking questions, exploring, reading, imagining different versions of what his backstory might be and gradually building on this.

The preparation is so thorough working on a George Miller film that when you get on the set you are so well prepared. And then with George’s guidance and direction during each take, the character and each moment in the scene find their place in the story.

Was the costume and makeup process for your character difficult?

The makeup was an extension of the costume. There being nowhere else to record knowledge and history in the Wasteland, the body was the only surface left. Way before filming began I had my body digitally scanned. The stencils were made to fit my face, neck, and arms. Fortunately, being covered by the costume, not all my body had to be stenciled.

In pre-production, it took three-and-a-half hours to apply my makeup. By the end of the shoot, we got it down to just over two.

If I had to shoot the next day, my makeup was left on. I slept on silk sheets to minimize any damage and next morning I only needed touching up. If I had to film three days in a row then they would take the makeup off and do it all again on day three.

Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) with Furiosa and the History Man behind him.

Kennedy Miller Mitchell

Your character acts as a sort of narrator for the movie. When did you find out you’d have that role?

The History Man always was defined as a narrator. Apart from his determination to keep knowledge alive — not to forget the past — he is the chronicler of the history of the Wasteland and it was because of his special relationship with Furiosa that he tells her story.

You narrate the war that takes place near the end of the movie. Was there anything interesting in your monologue that didn’t make the final cut of the film?

A number of elements did not make it into the final cut, and not only in the war narration but other scenes as well. I was very attached to the beautiful last line of the film, which I originally was to deliver but the decision to have Furiosa say it, on reflection, is absolutely the correct choice.

“He survives to keep history and memory alive.”

It seems like the History Man switches sides during the war and aligns with Immortan Joe? Is that accurate? If so, why do you think he abandoned Dementus?

I think it’s more the case that Dementus abandons the History Man. Dementus’ world is beginning to fall apart. He cannot keep his men under control. Anarchy and chaos reign. The History Man is no longer of any use. But the History Man doesn’t switch sides, it’s just that the historical circumstances have changed and he survives to keep history and memory alive.

“It was because of his special relationship with Furiosa that he tells her story.”

Kennedy Miller Mitchell

How do you think audiences are supposed to interpret your narration at the end of the movie?

That is up to the audience. For me, it completes and reveals the extent of Furiosa's thirst for vengeance. The story of the peach you see her plucking at the beginning of the film comes full circle in the most perverse and epic manner — the stuff of legend and myth.

Is there anything you know about The History Man that nobody else knows?

Well, I know his backstory. The viewer is given the space to wonder about The History Man’s past, where he came from, and how he got to where you meet him in the film.

“What a privilege to be in what may be his last Mad Max.”

When discussing certain aspects of the story with George prior to filming, trying to argue for extra detail for the History Man on screen, I realized later that it was all there. Everything does not need to be clearly explained. The story flows seamlessly, effortlessly, without having to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. A look can tell a whole story — connect the past with the present.

If George Miller makes another Mad Max movie, would you want to return?

Of course. That goes without saying. If not as the History Man then as another character.

I auditioned for the first Mad Max film but didn’t get the gig. What a privilege to be in what may be his last Mad Max. Who knows? I am very grateful!

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