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Hard at work in Moscow, Russia, shooting director Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore, Sharlto Copley took some time out to do his publicity work for Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, which opens this week in South Africa
Sharlto Copley (pictured) should be in Moscow for another six weeks, working with the first-time feature film-maker who has gained a lot of notice for his music videos.
Copley says Hollywood got terribly excited when Ilya Naishuller received more than 15 million YouTube hits for his most recent video, Bad Motherf***er.
“If it works, it’s going to be the most different film,” Copley explained about the action movie which will be shot in the first person point of view style, like role-playing games, with him acting as a guide to the main character.
Life has taken a decidedly global path for the 39-year-old since he burst onto the Hollywood scene in District 9.
While he misses the Cape Town lifestyle, Copley is lapping up the exposure to different cultures and languages – a few weeks ago he was in South Korea trying to remember how to greet people properly and Elysium was shot in Vancouver and New Mexico.
He worked in Canada with director Joe Carnahan on the A-Team reboot as Murdoch and then teamed up with Embeth Davidtz and Michael Nyqvist in New York for the sci-fi thriller, Europa Report.
He has been to Hungary to shoot the horror Open Grave and New Orleans to work on Spike Lee’s remake of the Korean action drama mystery, Oldboy.
Copley really went after the King Stefan role in Maleficent, putting together a tape his agent managed to get into Angelina Jolie’s hands, and working on that one meant travelling to London.
“I feel very fortunate to play very different characters, though I have a sense of frustration at not finding a lead role. It’s a combination of not being offered something strong enough, or the projects people want me to do, there are bigger names ahead of me. So, it’s a very competitive situation,” he explained.
Copley is bemused by the insecurity inherent in the Hollywood system of using known names, despite film-makers noticing you specifically because you are new and different: “They’re tempted to go with you, but then they feel safer to go with a name they know.
“The more time I spend in Hollywood, the more I realise that District 9’s success was a big thing there. It came out of the blue and it was so different and to do as well as it did, it’s hard.”
Still, all these various roles can only be a good thing, at least to his mind.
No surprise then that he has again teamed up with director Neill Blomkamp on a sci-fi film. While District 9 interrogated how people feel about refugees and xenophobia, Elysium highlights the great divide between rich and poor.
Copley doesn’t think the film is meant to draw people’s attention to the divide as much as satirise how the world functions.
“People try different systems. You can see the remnants here in Russia, of how communism didn’t work.
“It’s a challenge. There are countries that have been more successful than others, there are countries that create a more equal distribution than others.”
In the film Copley plays a gun for hire called Kruger who works for the person in charge of Elysium’s security, but Blomkamp didn’t originally write the character as South African.
Both of them were wary of doing a South African villain after the anti-hero Wikus character in District 9, but having tried various Eastern European, British, American and three different South African versions, the one character that worked was Kruger.
“It was entertaining – darkly satirical and funny with a dark, twisted sense of not taking himself seriously. I hope South Africa forgives me,” he chuckled.
“Kruger speaks with a south-of- Joburg accent and represents the worst aspect of that violent stereotype.
“The film is not a serious dramatic film that is trying to make big political points. It’s just a bit of skop, skiet en donder.
“I just wanted South Africa to root for a South African, and not Max.”
While his obsession lies with trying to entertain the audience, Copley says he’s had enough of playing villains.
“I’ve had a go at doing that, it’s stuff that was being offered and I wanted to be working.
“People talk about it being fun, and certainly the characters I have played are more layered, like in Open Grave, he’s an interesting sort of mixed character who turned out to be good in the end.
“But, I would prefer playing the good guy, villains are more removed from my natural energy and I’m not keen to go that dark, like for Oldboy, again.”
He will probably get his wish with his next Joburg-based project for Blomkamp, which won’t be a District 9 story, though he says there is already a “cool story treatment idea” in the offing.
Copley will be back in South Africa soon to start shooting Chappie (which takes its cue from the Tetra Vaal short film of 2004), in which he doesn’t have to play the villain.