“It’s like Bafana Bafana making it to the finals of the World Cup. You know the odds are very much against you, but that’s not going to stop you from cheering for your team,” District 9’s Sharlto Copley had always been very matter-of-fact about the South African Sci-Fi’s chances at this year’s Oscars. He knew even before The Hurt Locker swept the board to win six golden statues, including two of the ones District 9 was up for, that the chances of the low-budget SA movie winning best Picture were not that great. But that doesn’t seem to matter that much. Win or lose, it really has been about how the game has been played.
I meet Copley at the Beverly Hills Wilshire where Pretty Woman was filmed, and where both Elvis and Warren Beaty lived at different times in their lives. Guests who’ve stayed there have included the likes of Al Pacino, Beyonce, Dustin Hoffman, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Douglas. And now the prestigious hotel can add another name to that list – a Prawn called Wikus van der Merwe. And Copley, dressed in a Springboks jersey, his hair recently cut short, can now add to his list of growing admirers one of those hotel guests.
“At the BAFTAs in London, Dustin Hoffman was talking to me for about five minutes, telling me how amazing the film was, how he loved it,” says Copley. “That’s been the most bizarre thing – meeting people in Hollywood who are congratulating me. I was taken aback with Dustin. I mean, I’ve done one film. He’s one of my greatest all-time living actors. It was very unexpected. I didn’t ever expect that people who were in the business would be so complimentary.”
Complimentary is not the word. Everywhere I go in LA, people start talking about District 9 when they hear I am from South Africa. Indeed, in an interview with Morgan Freeman and co-producer Lori McCreary, Freeman says he liked the allegory of the film, and McCreary tells me the movie made her cry (no mean feat, this seasoned Hollywood businesswoman tells me). Has all this settled in for Copley? “Yes, I suppose since last year’s publicity tour – when it really took off and the surreal-ness of it all was happening it hadn’t. But now I feel more prepared – the publicity tour, the hotels, the travels.”
And the parties? After all, before, during and after the Oscars, partying is a key part of it all. “There are parties all over the place – people are always having one for some or over thing. But I am not really a party person,” Copley reveals. “I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I have had a girlfriend for the past 10 years, so there are very few reasons for me to go to the parties. I used to go to them to schmooze people and luckily, I don’t really have to do that anymore.” Indeed with his latest turn in The A Team coming out in June, Copley’s star power is certainly on the rise, and should see more people approaching him for roles.
Whatever happens, Copley seems to be enjoying the ride. “Neill (Blomkamp, District 9’s director and screenwriter) and me and the other guys who worked on the film are close friends. We don’t take this kind of stuff very seriously. It’s more just a kind of fun, and we’re here to see how it all works.”
Like he says, win or lose it truly was about the fact that South Africa had a presence at this year’s Oscars. “It’s a great experience, and a great time. To have two films in the running, that’s a big deal. Since Tsotsi, when the country won Best Foreign Language, the film’s have become more mainstream – and that’s where the real competition is. It’s fantastic that we are there as a country.”
E! Entertainment’s resident movie guru is just one of many industry insiders to echo this. “It shines a spotlight on South Africa – for films to be set there, for films to be cast there and for local crews to be used there. The country doesn’t only have the Oscars in which to shine, but also the 2010 World Cup. But the Oscars is a pretty great way to kick it all off.”