Listen: Mrs Mad Max, aka Joanne Samuel, chats to Hope 103.2’s movie critic Mark Hadley
When most Aussies think of the 1979 film Mad Max, we think of a fresh-faced young Mel Gibson, hooning in a cop car through the desert.
But for Blue Mountains-based Joanne Samuel, the memory of Mad Max is much more potent and personal. She’s the actress who played “Jess”, Mad Max’s wife— the one famous for meeting her fate while running down a desert road, holding her baby (thus causing Max to go “mad”).
It just so happens that Hope 103.2 has a family connection with Joanne; she’s the mum-in-law of radio presenter Nick Bennett who you often hear on our airwaves throughout the week.
So that made it all the more easy for Hope movie critic Mark Hadley to catch up with her, for a chat marking the release of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mad Max A “Miracle” Career Break
Joanne told Hope 103.2 that scoring her role in the George Miller movie was “something of a miracle” for her. The part was originally assigned to actress Rosie Bailey, who was involved in a terrible road accident while travelling to the filming location. So Joanne got the call that would kick start her movie career.
She said playing opposite the famous “road warrior” in the iconic film, and being Mel Gibson’s first big-screen “wife”, was an amazing experience.
“The script was nothing like anything I’d seen before,” she said. “I’d come out of theatre, very early in my career, and then television. So when I read the script, it was quite different to any other script. It was very visual.”
“There was that apocalyptic feel to the whole thing.”
To this day, Joanne still finds herself being introduce as “Mad Max’s wife” at times.
“I went to Japan recently and that’s where Mad Max took off, so there I am a star,” she said.
On Mel Gibson And Their Off-Screen Friendship
Watch: Studio 10’s interview with Joanne Samuel.
As for her leading man Mel Gibson, Joanne told Studio 10’s Craig Bennett in an interview (above) that it was clear he had the “X Factor”.
“He had “it”—your eyes went to him,” she said. “He was a lovely actor, a classically trained actor…but he did have that wonderful presence on screen that set him apart.”
Joanne formed a great friendship with Gibson that remains to this day. They’ve kept in touch even through the controversy that has surrounded him, including his struggles with alcohol, and domestic violence and racism allegations.
She said those allegations didn’t paint a picture of the Mel she knew.
“He’s always been a really nice, friendly gentle person, lots of energy and great fun,” she said. “We emailed a little bit [in the middle of his 2010 controversies] to say that I’m there with him. We share the same faith so I’ve always really believed that God’s been with him.”
An Imperfect Human: Like The Rest Of Us
She said the pressures of worldwide fame made it hard for celebrities to lead a normal life.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Mel Gibson in Hollywood—it would have its downsides,” she said.
“None of us are perfect, we all say things and do things that we might regret. You’ve got to cut him a bit of a slack—he’s a human being. And we all blow it from time to time. We’re not all Mel Gibson, with people recording us and editing and putting things to together to make us look bad.”
Mel’s Offer To Help With Cancer Treatment
Some years ago, when Joanne found out she had bowel cancer, Gibson offered to help.
“He offered that I go over [to the USA] to get treatment, and offered to be there and help,” she said. “But I think I needed family and friends around me. So I thanked him very much but decided to stay here.
“He is so kind and so generous and a lot of people don’t know that, because he doesn’t spruik it.”
The End Of The World – Why So Popular?
In her Hope 103.2 interview, Joanne talked about the Mad Max phenomenon in light of her deep Christian faith. She said the apocalyptic element seemed to draw people into the story.
“From a Christian perspective, I guess we know that there’s going to be a time when the Lord comes again,” she said, “and maybe it’s innate in all of us, whether you’re a believer or not, that all good things come to an end—and how that will play out is left up to our imaginations so much.”
“What is going to happen at the end of this world, at the end of civilization as we know it? It does get down to us as individuals and how much we care for one another.”
The Bible – A Great Source Of Fascinating Stories
Joanne added that the many fascinating movies based on Bible narratives showed the way in which God teaches through story.
“In the scriptures, the way the Lord uses parables, I mean how many films are in the Bible really when you look at it, and think about it,” she said.
“Mel’s doing The Passion [movie] was a great example of that. And then he looked at doing the Maccaabees which is part of the Apocrypha of the Catholic scriptures, and that’s an amazing story.
What’s Joanne Samuel Doing Now?
These days Joanne Samuel teaches acting to children with her own drama school, the ‘Three Sisters Youth Theatre’, in the Blue Mountains.
“I have 31 students that are doing theatre this year,” she told Hope 103.2. “It’s gone from strength to strength.”
“I just see drama as a way of being able to connect with kids that may not want to play soccer or cricket or footy or anything like that; their love is for the performing arts.
“So I do love to be able to supply that opportunity for those children to be on stage. To get all the bells and whistles, to get the lighting guys, the sound techs, and to really know what it means to stand in front of an audience.”