11 Jun 2024

Mad Max Furiosa actor Quaden Bayles says he's 'a whole different person' four years after viral bullying video

8:05 pm on 11 June 2024

By Leisa Scott and Erin Semmler, ABC

Quaden on the Furiosa set, dressed as the War Pup who is in charge of engaging these deadly "bommy knockers".

Quaden on the Furiosa set, dressed as the War Pup who is in charge of engaging these deadly "bommy knockers". Photo: Supplied, Yarraka Bayles

Quaden Bayles has had his share of battles, but the day he emerged from a post-apocalyptic contraption after an epic road war in the Mad Max universe was one of his finest triumphs.

"I come out the war rig and everyone starts clapping for me," Quaden tells Australian Story. "Like wow, at least 100 people. Like, this is really cool."

There he was, wrapping up a scene on the set of Furiosa, the latest movie in the Mad Max franchise, and the cast and crew were applauding the 13-year-old boy like a Hollywood star.

Come the film's release, he'd be hanging out with actor Chris Hemsworth at the after-party and getting hugs from Furiosa herself, Anya Taylor-Joy.

Quaden rubs shoulders with Chris Hemsworth and Anya Taylor-Joy at the Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga premiere.

Quaden rubs shoulders with Chris Hemsworth and Anya Taylor-Joy at the Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga premiere. Photo: Supplied, Yarraka Bayles

Even better, filmmaker George Miller says he'd happily work with Quaden again.

"I've been lucky enough to meet quite a number of exceptional people," says Miller, "and he's among them."

Like millions around the world, Miller first saw Quaden when a video his mother, Yarraka Bayles, took of her then nine-year-old son, sobbing inconsolably in his school uniform, went viral in 2020.

Quaden Bayles has tears in his eyes in a screenshot from a video his mother, Yarraka, posted on Facebook showing him talking about how he is bullied.

Quaden Bayles has tears in his eyes in a screenshot from a video his mother, Yarraka, posted on Facebook showing him talking about how he is bullied. Photo: Supplied, Yarraka Bayles

The Indigenous boy, who has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, had been bullied. Again. His anguish, his pleas to be released from the torment of relentless teasing unleashed the good and the ugly - and a phone call from Miller's camp.

Before long, Brisbane-based Quaden was the War Pup, in charge of engaging the lethal "bommy knockers" at the back of the war rig as he hurtled across a dystopian wasteland.

Much has changed for Quaden since his mother took that video. His dad, Quaden Georgetown, and older brother, Marc-Anthony Georgetown, are now living back home, and that's made "everything cool and better".

He's settled into a new flexi-school where "I've got a lot of good mates".

And he's given testimony at the Disability Royal Commission, with a simple message: "Just be kind."

"You would think being a young kid like me," Quaden says, "just going through stuff in life wouldn't really make it. But one day I just had this one thing and my whole life just changed like that. It's just crazy."

He doesn't like to watch the video but he's glad his mother recorded it.

"I'm happy that we got it out there and everyone understands we've had enough now," he says.

"I just want to live life, you know? The video changed me a lot but what changed me the most was the acting," he says. "I'm always going to be Quaden and I'm always going to have the same vibe, the same me. But when it comes to that industry, I'm a whole different person. I'm ready to act. Put me on. I'm ready right now."

Lights, camera, action: Quaden in his element

Quaden is choosing a suit coat for the film's premiere, dismissing a red velvet option for classic black because "it just flows with my flavour".

Yarraka allows her young star to make his choice, a mother-of-three who believes in raising "autonomous, independent, free thinkers".

But when he slips on his yellow Crocs and declares they look good with his black and white ensemble, she draws the line.

"You're not wearing Crocs," she says. "You're going to wear a nice pair of shoes."

A few weeks later, Quaden is strolling the red carpet (in white lace-ups) posing for photos with all the stars, and being called over for interviews.

"That was cool because they're like, 'Over here please, over here, over here, come to me'," Quaden says. "It was really unbelievable for me to be there."

For Yarraka, it was "an out-of-body experience".

"I was just happy to see him in his element," she says. "I don't think I could wipe the smile off my face the whole time … Just seeing him on stage, seeing how far he's come and how he's been able to overcome all of that adversity and use that as ammunition. It was very surreal."

The stories tumble out of Quaden now. Like the first time he saw Hemsworth and sidled over to say, "What's up, Chris?" Or how he had his own trailer, with people coming by to let him know lunch was ready. Or describing the bommy knockers - "big, big wrecking balls, with all the spikes on it and they were really fast spinning" - that the War Pup controls.

Quaden Bayles says he's grateful to be part of Mad Max.

Quaden Bayles says he's grateful to be part of Mad Max. Photo: Supplied, Yarraka Bayles

His biggest scene is when it's time for the War Pup, "a freaky little fella", to release the bommy knockers. The war rig is thundering across the desert in a chaotic battle as the War Pup holds up a hatch - his head bald, torso and face painted white, dark black shadows under his eyes - and, with a fierce look, shouts "Now?"

It's so compelling, it's on the trailer. "I seen it today," Quaden says excitedly. "I just keep seeing it all over, like on Kayo and just normal TV. That was pretty cool to see."

He was a little nervous at the start of the film, he says, but once he got in the groove, the nerves disappeared. "I believed in myself," he says. "Like just had passion. I had faith in myself. I know I can do this; I know I can."

Calmness and charisma were the qualities that struck Miller when he first met Quaden. This isn't their first film together: Miller cast Quaden in a small scene in 3000 Years of Longing, a 2022 release starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. Miller was so impressed, he recalled Quaden for Furiosa.

Quaden Bayles says he's grateful to be part of Mad Max.

Quaden Bayles says he's grateful to be part of Mad Max. Photo: Supplied, Yarraka Bayles

"A lot of acting is about being able to be relaxed and responsive in the moment and somehow that comes naturally to Quaden," Miller says. "It's not a bravado, it's a quiet confidence.

"Film sets are chaotic … there's the lighting, the cameras, a lot of people running around and he has that ability to be calm at the centre of that."

'I never scammed nobody'

Quaden is well-practised at being in the centre of chaos, unfortunately. The social media storm, the vilification and abuse that hit after Yarraka posted the video of her distraught boy, was unhinged.

It began positively. Actor Hugh Jackman posted an encouraging video, NRL superstar Johnathan Thurston got in contact and people from around the world offered love and support.

But when Brad Williams, a US actor with dwarfism, decided to set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to get Quaden to Disneyland and donations came pouring in, it went sour.

Trolls attacked the family online - and in public. "In a shopping centre, you don't expect people to just come and punch you in the face," Yarraka says. "And that's happened, unfortunately, on three occasions."

They received death threats.

The lie that Quaden was an 18-year-old actor spread like wildfire, with false allegations Quaden's distress was fake and the fundraising was a scam.

The hate was so great, Yarraka decided not to accept the Disneyland trip, and the bulk of the US$450,000 (NZ$735,000) raised was distributed to charities, with a small amount kept in trust for Quaden.

It was a lot for a young kid to endure but Quaden - who declares "I never scammed nobody" - now tries to make light of it. "I would be wearing Gucci right now," he says, with a cheeky grin. "I'm wearing a Target shirt … and these pants are from Rebel, like 20 bucks."

The truth is, Quaden has endured major surgeries, including spinal, and lives with pain every day from early onset arthritis. He's under palliative care because, says Yarraka, "he goes into respiratory failure every time he falls asleep", and needs a machine to provide oxygen.

"They can't tell me how long he's got to live," she says, fighting back tears.

She prefers to concentrate on the positives. "I just think … he can walk, talk, feed himself. He is so blessed."

She credits much of her strength, and Quaden's, to the staunch role models in her Indigenous family. Her late father, Tiga Bayles, with whom Quaden had a strong bond, was a prominent Aboriginal activist who, with his mother, Maureen Watson, set up Sydney's Radio Redfern.

Many of their family members live in Redfern, and it's where Quaden feels most comfortable, even spending a few months there after the video furore. It helped him rekindle his relationship with his father, who lived there before moving to Brisbane to co-parent with Yarraka.

"There's nothing else that can beat Redfern," Quaden says. "I can't go any other place in Australia that has the same feeling as Redfern. Like it doesn't matter where you're from, [they're] nice people, don't disrespect."

Outside the protective realm of Redfern, though, Quaden still gets stares and jibes, still has people photographing him and laughing.

He asks this of parents: "As your kids get older, you should tell them, 'When you go out in the world or the streets, there might be new people that you've never seen before and they might look different … [but] don't stare. Don't always look back. Just be nice, you know'."

George Miller is 'a cool guy', Quaden says

George Miller can see parallels between the battles Quaden has had to fight and the message at the core of Mad Max films.

"This Mad Max world, it's all about conflict and what conflict reveals. It reveals some essence of the human being," Miller says. "And everybody has to endure the darkness, in a way, for there to be change and light. And I think Quaden's story is a little mini version of that."

George Miller (centre) says Quaden "has a career ahead of him" in the movie industry.

George Miller (centre) says Quaden "has a career ahead of him" in the movie industry. Photo: Supplied, Yarraka Bayles

The world-renowned director is still chuffed by the heartfelt farewell he received from the War Pup at the end of filming. "He said three words. He said, 'Thanks'. He said, 'You're cool,' and it blew me away," says Miller. "I've been lucky enough to have compliments from actors, but that was the one that stuck in the memory."

Before he became a movie star, Quaden had no idea who Miller was, had never seen a Mad Max film, but he was a fan of Miller's animated children's movie, Happy Feet. "That was one of my favourite movies as a kid," Quaden says. "When they do that little foot dance, yeah, that was funny."

Now, Quaden is firmly on 'Team Miller'.

"What a guy," he says. "George Miller's a cool guy, man. Probably stay with him for my acting career … he's like the best. Best producer. Best everything."

He's got big plans for his future.

"Acting will always be my main [job]," he says. "But if it wasn't acting … I'll be a comedian, just go on stage and make people laugh." Or maybe, says the rugby league and basketball fan, he might become a sports commentator.

Quaden knows, though, that acting and the media industry can be fickle so he's factoring in a back-up. He used to love watching his father work with a power company, fixing power lines, and reckons he'd like to give that a shot, too.

"That would probably be my little thing, like a side hustle," he says.

Yarraka can't wait to see what her smart, funny, resilient kid will do next. "[He's got] the biggest, brightest future, times 10," she says. "Now that he's got a few movies on his resume, I know he's just gonna take that and run with it.

"I always say, 'The world is your oyster. Whatever you want to do, you can do it. Don't let society put those limitations, don't even let the doctors put those limitations on you, you will continue to defy the odds and prove those statistics wrong,'" she says.

"He'll show the world how it's done."


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