From a government agent exposed to a race of aliens in his feature film debut, to assuming the role of "Howling Mad" Murdock in a remake of 'The A-Team,' to chasing after Matt Damon as a sci-fi assassin, Sharlto Copley is anything but typecast. The South African-born actor, 39, is constantly shedding his previous roles to become something audiences have never seen from him before, and to him this is an exciting and blessed experience.
"I think there’s very few actors who get the opportunity to do that kind of massive range in performance," he told ScreenCrush.
For his next transformation, Copley tackles an American remake of a South Korean classic in Spike Lee's 'Oldboy,' based on the Park Chan-wook film and the original manga comic. Josh Brolin stars as a man spiraling out of control when he is unceremoniously abducted and locked away in a windowless hotel room for 20 years. When he is abruptly released back into the world, he sets out on a vengeful mission to find the responsible party.
Copley is the responsible party. During the press day for this updated version of 'Oldboy' (in theaters Wednesday, November 27), Copley went into detail on his next out-of-the-norm character, as well as his ever-changing road ahead.
The Voice on the Other End
The role of Adrian -- who for a portion of the film is simply a sinister voice on the other end of Brolin's phone, prodding him forward and threatening those he loves -- seemed like a difficult one to cast. Christian Bale, Colin Firth and Owen Wilson were all offered the villainous role, though all ultimately turned it down. But where others didn't tread, Copley stepped up.
"One of the things that attracted me – one of the main things – was the role in the sense that it is so different from something like Murdok in ‘The A-Team,’" he said, "... to try and go into a very different direction from anything I’d ever done before."
Lee was another reason to tackle 'Oldboy.' Copley spoke of his first meeting with the director, whom he says was a "real surprise." After a fruitful connection, the two worked together to create this new version of Adrian.
"Spike had said that he thinks Adrian should be English, he should be upperclass, and then kind of left it to me to start developing things," said Copley. "If you’ve seen the film, you’ll see that I've sort of given him a bisexual edge, given what had happened to him in his life, things like that. So with the look of the character, I decided to grow the nails, the beard – sort of everything else, he pretty much left to me."
Blomkamp's Good Ole 'Chappie'
Copley and director Neill Blomkamp have been two peas in the same cinematic pod. After both broke out in 'District 9,' the two reunited for 'Elysium,' and now they will once again join forces for the highly anticipated, star-studded 'Chappie' -- and this time Copley will become a robot.
Filming is currently underway in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Dev Patel, Jose Pablo Cantillo and Brandon Auret. Copley, being understandably hesitant, didn't divulge much information on the secretive film. "Neill and I are trying to reveal as little as possible and the studio is trying to reveal as much as possible," he said. "I’m hoping that something will be able to be a surprise."
What we do know, however, is that Copley will be voicing the character of Chappie and bringing him to life through, what the actor calls, a "poor man's motion capture." The character is kidnapped at birth by two criminals and becomes the child prodigy of a dysfunctional family -- and, of course, he's a robot.
"What I’m excited about with ‘Chappie’ particularly is it’s extremely original. I think it’s an extremely original combination of elements that is perhaps a little bit closer to the vein of ‘District 9’ in terms of, you know, things that are familiar to you, in some ways, [are] in a very unfamiliar setting, situation. So, I’m very excited about it; I’m having a lot of fun playing this role – again, something very, very different for me."
“Finally I’ll be in a film that my nephew can actually watch,” joked Copley, referring to the upcoming Disney film ‘Maleficent.’ "I’ve ended up doing so much R-rated stuff, so that’s refreshing for me."
Angelina Jolie stars in the title role of this ‘Sleeping Beauty’ retelling that delves into the origin of the evil witch. Copley takes the male lead of King Stefan, father to Princess Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) and whose slight of Maleficent provokes the witch to curse his child.
"I thought the story had a real heart to it in addition to incredible visual spectacle, which you sort of know you’re gonna get in this type of Disney movie, like a ‘Wizard of Oz’ or ‘Oz, The Great and Powerful’ or ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ This I think goes even further off, with an Oscar-winning production designer, and just created the most incredible world and characters."
Waking Up in an 'Open Grave'
One of the longterm benefits of acting in 'District 9,' other than completely changing his life, as Copley said, was that the star walked away in the best shape of his life. "After I did ‘District 9’ and did ‘The A-Team’ as an action film, I sort of realized I’d have to keep myself in pretty good shape," which was what allowed him next traverse the horror-thriller genre in 'Open Grave.'
As the film is officially described:
A man (Copley) wakes up in a pit of dead bodies with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Fleeing the scene, he breaks into a nearby house and is met at gunpoint by a group of terrified strangers, all suffering from memory loss. Suspicion gives way to violence as the group starts to piece together clues about their identities, but when they uncover a threat that's more vicious—and hungry—than each other, they are forced to figure out what brought them all together—before it's too late.
The "demanding shoot" took him all the way to Hungary to work with an ensemble cast, but his intense training for 'Elysium' already prepped his body for the horrors to come.
"I was interested to try and do something a little bit different, and it has a real almost European art house sensibility take on the thriller-horror genre. And, again, just trying to do something different than what I’d done before and a very different character from what I’ve done before."