Sharlto Copley: A villain for all seasons

2013-09-01 14:00

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It’s a surreal moment: sitting in a New York City cinema watching an imperious Jodie Foster summon a menacing mercenary called Kruger, who comes complete with a South African accent one critic has called “as thick as the fog on Table Mountain”.

In Elysium, Foster plays a defence secretary determined to protect the privileged rich living aboard a space habitat far from the poor on Earth.

She will do so at all costs – even if it means ordering her underlings to “Activate Kruger”. And in strides Sharlto Copley, the Pretoria-born actor who made his name in Elysium director Neill Blomkamp’s debut movie, District 9.

Once his peers were “Prawns”; now they’re Oscar-worthy Hollywood stars.

Surreal for us, maybe, but fast becoming familiar to 39-year-old Copley himself. “Most of the time it’s normal. Then I have these odd little moments of: Oh my God, what has happened to my life?”

His trademark laugh, the same deep chuckle that endeared District 9’s antihero, Wikus van der Merwe, to millions, booms down the phone line.

Four years ago I was interviewing Copley – clad in a Springbok jersey – in a Beverly Hills hotel on the eve of the Oscars. District 9 had earned four nominations. Now he’s calling from Los Angeles, hours after returning from Russia, where he’s due to make his eighth feature film, Hardcore.

District 9 was the little movie that could. It was a massive hit worldwide, has been dubbed into several languages and raked in $210 million (R2.1 billion) at the box office after costing just $30 million to make.

It also spun Copley and his childhood friend, writer/director Blomkamp, straight into fame’s irresistable orbit. While Copley went on to be part of The A-Team remake with Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper, Blomkamp beavered away on Elysium.

Expectations were high about their reunion, but Copley’s not overly stressed. “The pressure wasn’t really on me,” he says. “I’m playing a relatively smaller ... supporting character.”

There’s one similarity that is unavoidable: Copley is playing a South African again.

“I was worried about making my character South African. Neill and I joked we were about to undo all the good we did for white South Africans with Wikus, where he basically does the right thing at the end of District 9. With Elysium, we’re going back to the South African being the villain again.”

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