Sharlto Copley has a penchant for being one of the best parts in whatever film he’s in. Whether it is in one of his latest sci-fi allegories that he teams with fellow South African auteur Neill Blomkamp on—such as District 9 and Elysium—or even something as simple as The A-Team, Copley is a standout. And if you read my review of Oldboy here, you can see that he does it again.
It was in lieu of the opening of that film that I was able to sit down and chat with the actor over the phone about the project earlier this month. We also speak briefly about his newest Blomkamp collaboration, Chappie.
Den of Geek: Good afternoon sir, how are you doing?
Sharlto Copley: I’m good, I’m good man. Where are you calling from?
I’m in New York City.
Okay, great. I’m in Johannesburg, South Africa right now.
Well, I guess that’s a good place to be as well.
[Laughing] One of the most dangerous countries in the world, but you know, it still feels like home every time I’m here.
Well that is a good feeling to have, no matter what; as long as you’re safe.
So I’ll just jump into things with a question I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot; were you at all familiar with the original film in any way, before getting involved?
I had seen it and really liked it. I just thought it was something quite crazy [Laughing] and original. I like movies with big twists, so that was something that appealed to me in the original.
In terms of your character, it’s a very different portrayal compared to the original film, how much did you build toward working what you presented on screen?
The single biggest reason I wanted to do the film was just for the chance to play a character that was so different from anything I had done before. As an actor, I’m always looking for those types of opportunities and I think so far I’ve been very fortunate to go from something like Murdock [The A-Team] to the Oldboy villain is not something that a lot of actors get the chance to do. I worked quite a bit on making sure that I was doing something that was different, but would be entertaining. Things like growing the nails long for example. Those are actually my real nails [Laughing]. That was pretty tough, to live with those for a few months. The beard too, I’ve never done so much grooming on my self in my entire life. It’s actually kind of crazy.
I was speaking to Pom [Klementieff who plays the henchwoman Haeng-Bok] the other day, and she said you two worked out a whole backstory to your relationship; that she was with him for longer than people would suspect, for instance. Would you care to elaborate on what you two spoke about?
Probably not, it’s a little too dark and twisted [Laughing]. It was one of those things where everybody…just thinking about Pom again, and Spike. Spike was a real surprise to me because he has so much heart and real humanity about him. Often I found myself thinking how such likeminded people are making such dark material, but maybe it’s sort of our alter ego sides coming out.
Would you say Spike was different in a lot of ways compared to what you expected from him? In terms of being a director and a person?
Well, I really didn’t know what to expect from him as a director. I had a little bit of a sense of that. I suppose I was somewhat concerned being a white South African meeting Spike Lee who’s known to have that image of being a vigilant African-American if you will, or whatever that image is. You know, I had people saying things to me like, “be careful because Spike doesn’t like white people” or things like that. Nothing seemed further form the truth from the second I met the guy. He just treats you as a human being. I really enjoyed it, I really feel privileged to share that experience with him, and on a personal level, not just a professional one.
You’ve already mentioned the dark material of the film. Even though you were familiar with the original, did you look at the at the script and step back for a minute and think, “Maybe I don’t want to get involved with something like this, right now?”
I did wonder about it in the sense that…well I’ll say this; I don’t think I’ll go and play a character as dark as this again or in a form as dark as this again. It was just one of those things from a professional acting point of view, I thought, “Wow, this will be a real challenge for me.” So, it is something that I considered, but it took me quite a while to sort of decide that is was something I wanted to do.
Now, a lot of times, when people have the chance to play the villain, they do jump at the chance because they say it’s freeing in a way; you know they get to act out and see how far they can take it. Did you ever feel that way with this character?
Yeah, I’d definitely say that was not the case here. It’s never really been my experience with any villain that they’re, “more fun.” I suppose that a character like Wikus (Sharlto’s star making role in District 9) or Murdock in The A-Team—it’s so much fun playing those types of characters for me. I think my natural personality, I suppose I wouldn’t describe myself as a dark, brooding person that you might get in human nature. I tend to gravitate toward lighter stuff or more comedic stuff, just naturally. So it ways definitely a challenge for me and I think that was the reason it was worth attempting, professionally.
This is drama at its heart, both the original and this version really don’t have tons of action in the way of fighting, but what it does have is memorable, iconic scenes. Did you ever feel like you wanted to have a chance to join in more of those types of scenes?
I really left all of that to Spike and to the producers. In reference to the original film, the only sort of relevance for me, in this case—because Hollywood is doing all of its remakes, re-envisioning, rebooting, constantly—that, for me as an actor, it’s not really my place to comment on that as much as; “Do you want to do the role, can I do something with the role.” That is what’s interesting. “Can you bring to life an interesting role?” So with reference to the original, in the case of for example, The A-Team, I wanted to play Murdock very similarly to what Dwigth Shultz had done. I think he invented a very interesting character that I believe played in a similar way, wouldn’t date the performance as much as some of the other characters from the TV show would have. In the case of Oldboy, what Spike wanted to do was make him English. That was really the only input from Spike, but I realized there was an opportunity to make a very different character from what had been done in the original Korean film. I think you could take either approach and it would be as equally valid. I could do “your” version as I did with Murdock, or I could do a departure that is not pulling on anything from the original film or the original actor, if that makes sense, and treat it as an original character, and try to bring something different to it.
I know you have to go, but you have a lot of things coming up right now. You have Disney’s Maleficent coming up, and if I’m not mistaken, you’re actually on the set for Chappie [Neil Blomkopp’s new film] right now, yes?
I’m just trying to keep working right now [Laughing] and hoping that people give me the chance to play some interesting characters. This Chappie one is again, something very, very different for me. So, I’m having a really good time doing it. It’s a lot lighter, and a lot more fun.
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