I don’t know that you could speak to a more enthusiastic celebrity than Sharlto Copley. Completely convinced of his own good luck and thrilled to be involved with everything he’s doing, he has a truly infectious enthusiasm. I had the chance to speak with him concerning the impending A-Team DVD (he plays the insane quarter of the team, Murdock), as well as his other projects and ambitions. It will later be joined by an interview I conducted with Joe Carnahan just today, as well as a DVD Review war for the A-Team and a mysterious competitor, which will hit next Tuesday. Until then, enjoy our chat!
R: Considering you were involved so much in producing and visual effects and music videos, how has your life changed since acting became such a central part of it?
S: The most interesting part about it is that I’ve sort of gotten access to people that I never had access to before. I always had ideas and was always working on one or another project related to the business- I had various companies, like a production company, a visual effects house in Cape Town- but aside from the fact that it’s obviously a different discipline, acting, I would say the biggest difference is just the access to the creative people that are doing amazing work in Hollywood, and I’m really excited about that.
R: So as you go from District 9, which is a big-budget film but produced in its own self-contained environment, to The A-Team, which is pretty quintessential blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking, how was that change in tone for you?
S: It was radically different, probably the biggest difference for me was that the film wasn’t on my shoulders. As it were, Murdock was the smallest role of the four, so I had a lot of free time, a lot of time to spend [chuckles] in my luxurious trailer, which was pretty cool. In a way I suppose the A-Team was just sort of fun. There wasn’t nearly as much pressure on me personally, just in terms of my time and how hard I was working, etcetera, the demands on me physically, mentally- you know, the Murdock role was very fun and light.
They both had their own advantages- District 9 was kind of grueling in a lot of ways, but it was extremely fulfilling because the project was so close to me personally, and so artistic. Where, as you say, A-Team was more a traditional Hollywood film. I think there’s upsides to both.
R: You were a fan of the A-Team before you became involved, weren’t you?
S; Yeah, I was a huge fan. I was telling everyone on the publicity tour, I had an A-Team gang in school, sort of a gang when we were 12 years old where we were the A-Team and sort of a rival gang were another little A-Team in our class. We decided there could only be one A-Team so we went down and had little fights, a little war against the other gang, and we won!. We played A-Team for a year or two and so I had a whole bunch of the merchandising as well.
R: What sever as your gang’s vehicle? Did you ride bikes, or did you have like a wagon or something that was the van?
S: You know, that’s a good point! We used to ride BMX bikes to get everywhere, but we never sort of played the van, as it were, or made like a wagon the van. [laughter]
R: What was the tone on set in terms of balancing reverence for the source material, and the production doing its own thing?
S: Well I came into the movie very late, I got there a couple of days before they started shooting- I was the last person to be cast. Because I was such a huge fan of the show, I was quite adamant about trying to make Murdock in many respects as close to the original Murdock as possible, so that was really my focus. In terms of the overall balance, that I just really left up to the studio and the filmmakers, and the decisions that the director made, and the powers that be would make. As far as an actor goes, when I’m wearing that actor hat, I just try to bring as much as I can to that function almost, because I do come from a filmmaking background it can be quite tempting to become involved in decisions that are happening, and want to express your opinion about them. I really didn’t feel most of the time that that was something I wanted to get involved with. I really just wanted to make a Murdock that I would be proud to see as a fan of the show, and it seems like most of the fans of the show appreciated it, so I’m very grateful for that. Dwight Schultz as well, himself, kind of signed off on the character, that was important to me.
R: What’s your personal preparation for playing insane?
S: It’s a very in-the-moment thing, and I think to be honest, I’ve watched actors in other projects over the years try and bring to life or reinvent a famous character that somebody else did in the 60s or whatever and I often used to wonder, “Why would they do that?” -especially when the original guy was so good. But bizarrely, as soon as this opportunity came around it just felt like such a natural step for me since I was so inspired by Dwight’s character as a kid, and I’ve spent my whole life doing characters and voices as a kid, even though I wasn’t pursuing acting. I made a lot of little movies when I was a kid and I was often in those little… sketches, more like, than proper films- doing different voices, different characters. So there was a kind of energy that Dwight had when he played that character, which I later on recognized in people like Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy, and Jim Carrey. So that’s where I pulled it from, that place in me. Not so much a technical thing as looking at, “Oh, Murdock does this, or he does that,” so much as the feeling. It’s very much just going from a feel, and trying to stay in the moment when the cameras are rolling as much as possible.
R: Going back to the multiple hats you wear as a creative person, especially as a successful commercial actor with more projects lined up, what sort of balance are you seeking to strike in your life? What are your ultimate aspirations, in terms of what you’d ideally be doing?
S: I think I’m pretty much there! [laughter] My ultimate aspiration you know, was to just make movies that I would kind of consider “Hollywood” movies, that reached a lot of people. Having done that just with District 9, and now the A-Team as well, I feel like that’s happening. As for the different hats- it would be cool to direct something I’m in, or write and direct something I’m in, and I think I definitely will do that- it’s just kind of a given for me that I’ll go back to that area, because it’s so much a part of me. I do feel just very very grateful that I’ve gotten this chance already to do these films and whatever happens in the future, I feel like is very much a bonus, I’m just having as much fun as I can and trying to work on things that I feel inspired by, in whatever the capacity.
R: So I know you’ve been spoken about in conjunction with Men In Black III? Is that something you’ll be involved with?
S: I’m not actually confirmed on Men In Black III, that was one of those rumors that began. We are talking about it, but we haven’t confirmed anything.
R: In the event that a sequel to A-Team were to happen, where would you like to see that go?
S: Well I’m very much such a fanboy of the show that I’d really like to see the guys help someone, very much like you used to see on the show. Obviously this was an origin movie, this went back before even, in theory, before the show started. I definitely think you could get away with that idea now, that there are actually four guys you could actually hire in Los Angeles if you had a problem, and I think that could be kind of awesome. To see the way they used to kind of “test out” who was hiring them, make sure it wasn’t a set-up, and then sort of go a very simple -kind of the opposite of the first movie- very simple kind of mission to help someone, from the experience of the four different characters. I think the stuff I enjoyed most when making the film or even watching it was when the four characters were together responding to a situation because they’re such interesting characters.
R: You mention being cast late in the process and coming on only a few days before they started shooting. What was your experience “catching up” with the momentum of the production? Was that a challenge at all, or were you able to roll right into it?
S: I didn’t find it particularly challenging, it was something where I felt very clear with what I wanted to do with Murdock. I had already shot, you might have heard of them, I shot a series of scenes in my hotel room called, “Things that could happen to Murdock in a hotel room,” and I put those together and sent them to Joe Carnahan. And that was just a whole bunch of improv stuff with Murdock, so I felt like I had a really strong hold on the character, and the next step was just to see if the chemistry was going to be there with everybody. But once we had done the first scene together, we felt it, we really felt like, “yeah, wow, this is working.” Particularly Rampage and Bradley and myself were doing a lot of improv, and Liam was sort of working a little bit more traditionally, sticking to the script, but he would bring that sort of center to us. We would go off in a million different directions, and he would sort of hold the tone and the storyline in a given scene, so it worked pretty well. I think we all had a feeling form the first scene of, “yeah, we’re the A-Team. This is happening.”
R: It’s kind of funny you say that about Liam Neeson. It’s so appropriate for his character that he would be doing that same thing on set that he’s doing in the movie.
S: Yeah, yeah! It just worked out like that, you know. The three of us were more, sort of the crazy kids doing our thing and he was the more, sort of “hold it together” guy. But then he definitely had his moments towards the end where he would start to choose his improv lines really well and throw in the odd priceless gem.
R: Joe Carnahan is one that has worked on action films of pretty much all scales, and for this big one- where was his head at? Was he focused on keeping that dynamic strong, or just keeping the whole ship running?
S: What I really enjoyed with Joe was the fact that he was really comfortable with the improvisation, so he would give me rope to improvise with, or he would even come up with lines in the middle of a take. Or at the end of take he would keep the cameras rolling and he’d be like, “brother, brother, brother, say this! say this!” and he’d have a line for me or something that he’d throw out. So the two of us worked really well to get in that way, and I really enjoyed working with him. He created a really amazing atmosphere on set, he always had music playing, he had them set up speakers wherever we went, he would talk over the PA system, he kind of did the voice of god where he would make comments every now and then. He was an intense personality and he was the right kind of guy to hold together the energy and lead a bunch of alpha male guys to start with.
R: Do you see any kind of smaller, less effects-driven film in your future, anytime soon?
S: I really just look for stuff that resonates with me, and make decisions on that- sort of whether it is big, whether it is small, I’m not making my decisions in that way yet. I suppose there may come a time when I start doing that- “Oh well I better start playing this kind of role because I don’t want to be typecasted,” but I’m not really at that stage of my career. I’m really trying to make choices that I really feel this project and this character more than anything, and do I think I can give the audience something entertaining with the character. My thing is I do like to reach lots of people or as many people as I can, and that may change. Again, I might do something say, that I know is an arty movie that no one is really going to go see, but if it’s a beautiful film and I’d like to do it… I just tend to gravitate towards things that I think could be more commercial, and that is something that I’m interested in. Not so much in, “do this and you’ll get critical acclaim or awards.” I’m really about the audience and just entertaining people.
R: Well I’ll be interested as you go forward to see the stuff you generate outside of acting. I’m always interested in the people wearing many hats.
S: There’s a few things that I’ve got going now, so probably in the near future I’ll be able to talk a bit more about that side. I’m definitely getting back into that zone and I think they’ll help each other, the knowledge of the various areas can help you when you’re working behind the camera, and when you’re acting knowledge of what the crew is going through, the director is going through, producers, writers… I’m looking forward to going back behind the camera again at some point.