The World’s Most Famous Guitarist: An Interview with iOTA (Mad Max’s The Doof Warrior)
If you haven’t already, go watch Mad Max: Fury Road and don’t read this interview. Stop reading. If you continue beyond this point, you will impede your enjoyment of one of the greatest characters in cinema history. That is not overstatement. I do not want to ruin this, one of movie history’s most delightful theater experiences, for anyone.
Now, for those of you in the know, it shouldn’t be hard for us to all agree on some superlative designation for The Doof Warrior, Fury Road‘s flame-throwing battle guitarist. Greatest non-speaking character of the current decade? Cinema’s effort to correct the existence of Jar Jar Binks? If you’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road, then likely, none of these proposed distinctions will seem hyperbolic.
Now a week removed from my first exposure to the film, I haven’t spoken with anyone who’s seen this movie without the character being brought into the conversation within the first three exchanged sentences. So, I was absolutely delighted to be given the opportunity to speak to iOTA, the Australian-based musician who played The Doof Warrior and who grinded guitar anthems that defined the energy of modern cinema’s most delightfully insane action adventure. You can read the entire interview below (unless you haven’t watched the movie, in which case, please stop reading and go watch the movie first).
David Shreve, Audiences Everywhere: Let’s just jump right in. Did you ever dream this is the manner in which you’d become the world’s most famous guitarist?
iOTA: [Laughing] No. Isn’t that bizzarre? I always sort of wanted to be one of the members of KISS really. I’ve always been a big KISS fan. But it’s close. It’s pretty close if not better, right? I grew up with the Mad Max films. Mad Max 2 was the first film that I saw at the drive-in with my dad. And it became part of my life. And it became part of my imaginings. To actually have been sitting up… well, hanging up in the the middle of the desert with all of those trucks tearing around me. It was just unbelievable. I was excitedly pinching myself constantly the whole time. I’m so lucky.
AE: Do you want to talk for a second about how you landed the role?
iOTA: It was just a basic screen test with my agency. The brief was… they were looking for a guitarist somewhere between Keith Richards and a scarecrow. I dressed up in my best Mad Max outfit, and I hailed a cab, took my guitar in there, and played a tune. A very loud, angry tune. And I got the part.
AE: As an Australian, what were your expectations going into a milestone Australian film series that was thirty years removed from its last chapter?
iOTA: I was just so excited. But I was afraid also. Like, what if it’s not what I wanted it to be? Because I’m a fan with high expectations. But I just had faith. I got there, saw the countryside, the cars and the trucks, and all the stunts happening. I saw my truck and my character. And I just put faith in the director. And he certainly came up with the goods.
AE: From what I’ve read, your performance is very real. The flamethrower was controlled by a wah pedal?
iOTA: From a whammy bar.
AE: And you were actually suspended from a moving truck?
iOTA: Yes. It’s all real.
AE: And that’s a playable guitar?
iOTA: Yeah, Well, it made a noise. You wouldn’t want to do an album with it. It was pretty shit. It made a great sound and, to me, it felt perfect for the environment. In the sun and the dust in the cold, it was perfect. But it was always going to be a bit shit.
AE: Were you given liberty to play what you wanted to play?
iOTA: You just sorta go for it. I mean, really… You’re up there for 8 hours so you just sort of go. Go hard or go home. And I did. And it was fun.
AE: You mentioned always wanting to be a member of KISS. I noted when watching, if you trace from KISS to AC/DC to Slipknot and on into the apocalypse, Coma Doof seems right in line with that evolution into the post-apocalypse. Did you have any input in the character in the concept design?
iOTA: Coma didn’t really have a costume, as such. So there was lots of trying stuff on and I remember thinking that an old farcical onesie would be good with the butt flap hanging out the back. The mask was something that was worked on and influence came from everyone. And certainly Angus and AC/DC was an influence.
AE: I’ve read George Miller mapped every character’s backstory prior to production. Were you aware of Coma’s backstory and how much did you keep it in mind as you filmed?
iOTA: Yeah. I knew that George had said that Coma was found by Immortan Joe in a Cave and taken under his wing and he learned to be a musician. I kind of embellished that for myself. Basically, my story was that Coma was found with his mother’s head, after she had been killed, and he was clinging to it and Immortan Joe came and found him and Coma took her face off and made the mask out of her face, to honor her when he went to war.
AE: That’s your touch? And what you kept in your head as you went out to film?
iOTA: Yes [laughs].
AE: How tempting is it for you now to demand that you’ll never take the stage again unless your guitar has flames shooting out of it? You certainly pull the weight to make that demand.
iOTA: I would do it every time that I can. Yeah. Bring it on. Any time.
AE: I haven’t encountered anyone who isn’t completely enamored with this movie. And, beyond that, I don’t think anyone was ready for how perfectly insane this movie is. So what was your first watch of the movie like?
iOTA: I still don’t feel like I’ve seen it! It was such an assault on the senses and…When people first see a movie that they’re in, you kind of look for where you’re going to show up, and then you’re looking for your friends, and you look for cars and moments you remember. I still… it just rushed by me. I’m trying to make time so I can see it again. I know it was a really intense full-on action film. That’s what I’d hoped it would be as a fan and I knew that it would be as I was there.
AE: And what’s it like being in a movie with superstars like Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and supermodels like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz? Did you know your character was going to be equally popular?
iOTA: Not to this extent. I kind of look at the character and think, “That’s really cool.” I had a feeling people were going to like him. For me, it’s just a big surprise. He’s hardly in the film. He certainly has a great entrance and presence. I kind of get it.
AE: So you never thought while filming that you’d be an icon? Because you’re now an icon in action movies.
iOTA: [laughs] Well, I don’t think I ever really thought that to myself. But I knew he was cool. I knew people would get into him. I’m really happy this is happening.
AE: The minute after the movie premiered, there was speculation and announcement regarding a growing Mad Max universe?
iOTA: I… [hesitates] I can’t answer that.
AE: Do you have any preference for what you’d like to see happen or not happen with the character?
iOTA: I guess there’s a good backstory there, but maybe this is enough. Maybe any more would ruin it… I’m just really thrilled for fans of the first Mad Max film, and the second film and third film. In a way it feels like a great comeback for Max. And for action movies. It’s really stepped it up. It’s like… What the hell is this going to create?