Tom Hardy was only six weeks old when filming on the first Mad Max movie began in 1977.
Now, 37 years later, the Englishman finds himself playing the eponymous anti-hero of the dystopian world created by director George Miller in his hit trilogy of Mad Max films from 1979 to 1985.
Even though Hardy is acknowledged as one of the most gifted dramatic actors of his generation, he tells reporters in Los Angeles he never expected to land the iconic role made famous by Australian star Mel Gibson.
Like many others, he assumed Australian writer-director Miller would look for another Aussie to fill Gibson's shoes in his long- awaited fourth film, Mad Max: Fury Road, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.
"When it popped up on the circuit that Mad Max was being cast, I didn't think I'd be in the running for that because I was working with Joel Edgerton at the time," Hardy says, referring to his Aussie co-star in the 2011 mixed martial arts drama Warrior.
Another reason he thought an Aussie would be picked: Like the earlier films, Mad Max: Fury Road is set in a desolate post-apocalyptic world that Miller originally envisioned as Australia in the not-too-distant future.
But Miller obviously saw something in the stage-trained Hardy.
The actor has earned widespread acclaim for his thoughtful and visceral performances in films such as Warrior, Bronson (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Locke (2013), where he has excelled at playing dark, tortured characters.
"When Tom walked into the room, he felt so much like the character to me," says Miller, whose films follow the adventures of Max Rockatansky, a man trying to survive a cruel world overrun by gangs and warlords. "And I'd seen him in movies like Bronson and the wonderful miniseries Stuart: A Life Backwards, and began to realise this guy will take on anything."
Hardy, on the other hand, never assumes anything when he tries out for a role. Even after appearances in action blockbusters such as Inception (2010) and The Dark Knight Rises, where he played the masked villain Bane, he says imagining he will be given "the opportunity to play the lead in a huge movie is kind of beyond me".
"I'm still coming from a place where I will do anything and I'm very grateful just to be working, as a working actor."
Nevertheless, he and co-stars Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult jumped at the chance to audition for roles in the franchise, which has been credited with influencing an entire generation of film-makers and other artists with its quirky, neo-mediaeval dystopian imagery. It pioneered this and many other tropes of the apocalyptic genre, its distinctive visual style and ground- breaking action sequences also widely copied.
Hoult, the 25-year-old British star of X-Men: First Class (2011) and X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014), was too young to realise where a lot of these ideas and images originated.
"I hadn't seen the original Mad Maxes, then I watched them before I auditioned with George and was blown away by the fact that so many of the things I had seen in popular culture were based on this world that George created. And they stood the test of time," he says.
Hardy agrees, noting that "a lot of popular culture has been affected by what was clearly this seminal work that George created" with the original Mad Max film in 1979. "Computer games have been completely inundated with the imagery from George's mind," he says.
At a press conference in Hollywood to promote the film, he and the other actors are clearly in awe of their director - a mild-mannered, grey-haired 70-year- old whose eclectic body of work also includes family films such as the animated hits Happy Feet (2006) and Babe: Pig In The City (1998), which he wrote and directed as well.
Theron had been wanting to work with him for years. "I have found myself talking with other directors whom I hold in high regard and I've heard them talk about George too."
The 39-year-old South African actress (Prometheus, 2012; Monster, 2003) was also drawn to the fact that in this new instalment, Miller created a female protagonist Furiosa, her character, who is more than a match for Max as the pair team up to defy a tyrannical warlord.
"That there was going to be this awesome female role and that she would stand next to Max - I was intrigued by all of that," she says.
Hardy reveals that he, too, was won over after meeting the director: "We sat down and talked for hours about theatre, analysis and people."
The actor delivers a heartfelt plug for the film, noting that as an action movie, it is entirely original rather than being adapted from a superhero comic book as many action franchises today are.
"What's really lovely about this movie is it's a fantastic epic spectacle and super-movie. It's relentless and it's live action, but it's underpinned by a huge mythology which has been around for about 40 years and steeped in all kinds of human-condition tales from Greek tragedy all the way through to modern socio-political symbolism.
"But at the same time, it's about the cars, explosions and stunts. So if the kids want to go out and watch a movie that's epic, then go watch this instead of something which they can play on their Xbox."
Even more impressive is that these stories and characters - each of whom has a detailed backstory created by Miller, the cast reveal - were all conceived in the brain of one man.
"It's all from his head, just one man. I'm quite blown away just by that, really, and proud to be a small part of a very big engine," Hardy continues.
"It just has to be seen because it's head and shoulders above probably any epic superhero movie that's out there. I can certainly speak because I'm not attached to one right now."
Mad Max: Fury Road is out in Singapore tomorrow.