There’s something quite surreal about sitting in a cinema in the middle of Times Square and watching Sharlto Copley channel a mercenary-like character who speaks with an accent from the south of Joburg in the latest blockbuster, Elysium. It’s even more surreal that two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster introduces his character onscreen with her stern order of “Activate Kruger.” But even more so, is the moment Sharlto’s Kruger character sings a well-known little Afrikaans ditty we all grew up knowing. When that happened, I let out a squeal that left my fellow American movie-goers wander what all the muffled fuss coming out of me was about.
After opening at number one in the UK this past weekend and earning a solid start in the US, the film finally releases in South Africa. I wrote about my interview with Pretoria-born Copley for this weekend’s City Press, but here are a few of my favourite snippets from the interview.
Copley on his life philosophy on life, and whether, looking back at how he left the budding TV channel etv in its early days for an unknown future in film, he believes in the old adage that things work out for a reason…
I still don’t know. I have ongoing theories on the universe – why things happen, whether it’s pre-destined and how much is luck and how much is talent. It’ll take too long to explain in an interview. But I certainly feel very lucky and I did feel have a strong feeling in me from an early age that I was going to do this work. Hollywood pulled me here. My brother came to visit me in LA and he looked around and said, ‘for as long as I can remember, you were saying you were going to live here,’ and I had sort of forgotten about that. Things do have a way of working out but I’m more than aware that for some they don’t. I just try be grateful for that every day.
The film role he thinks will most shock people…
[Spike Lee’s remake of the South Korean cult classic] Oldboy – it’s the most different thing I’d ever done, and the darkest. I thought, if I’m going to do some kind of dark and arty film, then this is as dark and arty as I’m going to get. My first love is comedy – it’s my natural place. When people ask me if I’m worried about getting boxed in as a villain, I say no. I have to work really hard not to be funny when I’m doing the villain. I’m having the opportunity now, which is a double-edged sword, that after District 9, I wasn’t being offered leads in films I wanted to do. There would always be four or five bigger guys ahead of me – the likes of Christian Bale and those who would get the projects I’d be interested in. So within whats available to me, I have to choose what’s interesting to me. I’d rather be a character actor than a movie star. Then the audience can’t really pin you down. It takes you longer to get known doing it that way but I think it gives you more longevity and that’s the kind of acting I want to do.
What Hardcore – the film he’ll spend 3 months after Chappie in Russia making – is all about…
Hardcore is just really, really me. It will be the most different film I’ve ever attempted, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s me and the director trying something people have never seen before. It’s a combination of video-game world with film. Hollywood’s very excited but everyone’s watching, saying ‘is this going to work? Is it watchable for 90 minutes?’ We’ll see. I’m always up for the challenge. This business really does need some real creativity to drive it forward. And the short that the Russian director [Ilya Naishuller] did [Short Bad MutherF***er] really illustrates what POV action can be like, and it really changes the whole experience of an action film…We’re focussing very much on trying to make entertaining characters but within an engaging story. There’s no doubt the action is going to be incredible…Of all the things I’ve done, it’s definitely allowed me to flex my acting muscles.
I suggested to Sharlto that his next role should be in the TV adaptation of The Shining Girls, the novel by Lauren Beukes that’s being developed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way and MRC, the company that co-produced Elysium and is also part of the upcoming Chappie. I think Sharlto could really own the role of time-travelling serial killer in the twisted tale. I put it out there, we’ll see where it goes. For now, he has Europa Report, Open Grave, Maleficent, Chappie and Hardcore to think about.
In the meantime, put aside those District 9 sequel expectations and go see Elysium!
Elysium hits the South African big screen this weekend.