READ THE UNABRIDGED INTERVIEW SESSION WITH SHARLTO COPLEY
Sharlto Copley talks about The A-Team and Hollywood success
By Daniel Dercksen
When meeting an actor the caliber of Sharlto Copley, who shot to fame with his praised performance in District 9 and now plays crazy H.M "Howlin' Mad" Murdock in The A-Team, it's great to find that he has not been tainted by stardom and the Hollywood system.
In fact, what's even more surprising, is that he is still very much the same humble and quietly reserved person I met 10 years ago working for the NTVA (National Television and Video Association), handing him several Stone Awards for his visual effect work at
Atomic Visual Effects.
For Copley, success has influenced his life in both positive and negative ways.
"I believe in life in general that everything has two sides to it," he says. "I've certainly found that to be true yet again with this measure of success in my career. On the one hand I have more career options, I have more money than I've had .. that's on a material level … on a personal level I feel very fulfilled having done a film like District 9 and now The A-Team."
He firmly believes that one can get stuck "trying to outdo yourself the whole time."
"Hollywood is very good at that, sort of saying 'Okay, you are going, but what are you going to do now?' There's an enormous amount of pressure that people put on themselves to keep trying to top themselves. 'Your next film must make more money!' 'Now you must win an Oscar and when you win an Oscar you must win two, because one is not enough!'"
For him, success has given him "a sense of fulfilment."
"I don't feel like I am chasing as much as I use to. It also brings a lot of harder things to deal with. It brings pressure on your relationships, on my personal relationship. It's an all consuming work; it takes up all my time."
"Success in acting is very self involved, it's not like before when there was a distance between me and my work. Now my work is kind of me. Its relentless Sharlto, Sharlto, Sharlto, Sharlo! I have now tried to make an effort to put time and energy into other people and other things in my life that's important to me so that it doesn't become to become too one-sided."
He also believes that there's a vulnerability that comes with success.
"You are exposed to the public as an actor. As an actor you have people judging what you say. I've become more known as a person now. Outside of District 9 I have become more of a public figure where people start forming opinions about you."
Before District 9 Copley co-founded his first company at the age of 19. Over the last 14 years, he has been responsible for co-founding and managing Channel 69 Studios (television broadcasting & production), Atomic Visual Effects (post production & visual effects), Slaves Talent Management (talent agency) and Inspired Minority Pictures (film production).
At age 24, Copley became the youngest executive in the history of South African television to own and control a daily five-hour block of programming. During this time he oversaw over 1300 hours of content and worked closely with Warner Brothers Television, a partner in the channel.
Copley's short film 2001: A Space Oddity, which he co-produced and directed, is South Africa's most popular short of all time, reaching over 18 million people on the Internet and continues to be broadcast on a range of platforms.
Copley's performance as Wikus Van Der Merwe received widespread critical acclaim and District 9 became the surprise hit of the summer - grossing over $200million worldwide - and garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The unlikely Wikus won the Favourite Hero award at IGN's Summer Movie Awards, a popular film website with several million subscribers.
His performance in The A-Team is sure to satisfy local fans.
He plays "Howlin' Mad" Murdock, one of the best chopper pilots to emerge from Desert Storm who has a genius I.Q. and knows everything about anything. He'll impersonate a surgeon or a prince with a moment's notice - and you'll believe him.
Fans of the "fratboys with trigger fingers" who become federal fugitives will enjoy the new A-Team, a fun and explosive rollercoaster ride, filled with humour and daredevil antics.
Producer Jules Daly first took notice of Copley when she saw an early cut of District 9. During a promotional tour for District 9, the filmmakers asked Copley to put a few scenes of how he thought Murdock would act on tape and to send it to them. The rest, as they say, is history.
It wasn't a difficult task for Copley, who was one of Murdock's greatest fans as a kid.
"William Dwight Schultz' Murdock actually had a big impact on me as a kid. I played the A-Team as a kid," he recalls. "We actually had an A-Team gang when I was at school. I had all the action figures, an A-Team dossier … We had little collecting cards that we use to go and buy at the corner café and I filled out my whole book. I still have that somewhere."
For Copley, it's "a dream role in a sense of how suited the Murdock character is to my performance style" and connects with his playfulness as an actor.
"I did a lot of acting when I was a kid (from about 10 to 18 years of age). I use to make a lot of little movies. I would be doing some comedic character or do some serious action sequence or something. I was always doing different voices, different dialects, sometimes, impersonations of people. So there's a kind of playfulness to acting which I enjoy, and which I had sort of forgotten about by and large in my 14 years on the other side of it."
One of Copley's highlights during the filming of The A-Team was when he got the opportunity to meet Dwight Schultz, who is best known for his roles as Captain "Howling Mad" Murdock on the 1980s action show The A-Team, and as Reginald Barclay in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and the film Star Trek: First Contact.
"I showed him my audition tape and he turned to me with tears in his eyes and gave me a hug and said: 'You Are Murdock'."
Copley wishes that sometimes he could be as 'crazy as Murdock' who would add sizzle to a braai by using Napalm.
Some of Copley's secrets are that he can throw a "mean braai", he loves spending time with his girlfriend (of ten years) making food together, enjoys sitting in nature and do nothing but clear his mind, and he can spend hours just watching his cats at home in Johannesburg.
Copley feels grateful to be a part of Hollywood.
"I always wanted to be there, in one way or another, be able to make films there and not necessarily live there forever or anything. I always wanted to be able to engage it, work with people at the highest level. It's the place that has made the films that inspired me to want to get into filmmaking."
His love for South Africa is reflected in The A-Team during a scene at a media conference where his character comments on the South African microphone being placed at the bottom.
"That was actually me doing as Murdock, impersonating Wikus (D9)," he laughs "It was a little special moment I guess and for South Africans it was my little nod to South Africa."
Copyright © 2010 Daniel Dercksen. Published with permission in The Sunday Tribune (August 22, 2010)
Sharlto Copley biography
Sharlto Copley began directing and acting in his own short films at the age of 12. His love for improvisation and characterization lead to him writing, directing and appearing in numerous stage plays throughout his school years. During this time he studied Speech and Drama at Trinity College of London.
Copley co-founded his first company at the age of 19. Over the last 14 years, he has been responsible for co-founding and managing Channel 69 Studios (television broadcasting & production) Atomic Visual Effects (post production & visual effects) Slaves Talent Management (talent agency) and Inspired Minority Pictures (film production).
In 1998 Channel 69 became one of the founding companies of ETV, South Africa's first private terrestrial broadcast network. At age 24, Copley became the youngest executive in the history of South African television to own and control a daily five-hour block of programming. During this time he oversaw over 1300 hours of content and worked closely with Warner Brothers Television, a partner in the channel.
After leaving ETV, Copley was a producer and director on numerous commercials, music videos and short films. In addition, he continued to oversee the visual effects work produced by Atomic. His work has won him numerous awards and recognition in South Africa including the Avanti Awards, The Stone Awards and the Loeries.
Copley's short film 2001: A Space Oddity, which he co-produced and directed, is South Africa's most popular short of all time. It reached over 18 million people on the Internet and continues to be broadcast on a range of platforms.
His next short, Hellweek, was a spoof at animation training in Africa that was designed to promote Atomic VFX. It features Copley as an American visual effects veteran/ drill sergeant. Both shorts were screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005.
In 2005 Copley produced the short film Alive in Jo Burg for his longtime friend, director Neill Blomkamp. Copley also played a small role in the film. In 2006 Copley co-wrote, produced, directed and edited his first feature film Spoon, a supernatural thriller that used innovative production management systems, camera technology and visual effects to deliver high-end production values on an independent film budget. It will be distributed by Distant Horizon. Shortly thereafter, Copley won a UK Film Council script writing competition for Judgement Day, a project he co-wrote.
In 2007, Neill Blomkamp began work on a film version of Alive in Jo Burg and asked Copley to perform "an Afrikaans bureaucrat" character for a short test he wanted to film. The purpose of the shoot was creative exploration, but the positive response from Neill and producer Peter Jackson led Copley to accept the lead role in District 9. Copley improvised his dialogue in the film. District 9 premiered at Comic-Con in 2009 and received a standing ovation, followed by massive Internet and media buzz. Copley's performance as Wikus Van Der Merwe received widespread critical acclaim and District 9 became the surprise hit of the summer - grossing over $200million worldwide - and garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The unlikely "Wikus" won the "Favorite Hero" award at IGN's Summer Movie Awards. IGN is one of the most popular film websites, with several million subscribers.
READ MORE ABOUT DISTRICT 9
READ MORE ABOUT THE A-TEAM