‘Oldboy’ baddie Sharlto Copley is done playing villains (for now)

"District 9" star Sharlto Copley plays the villain in Spike Lee's new version of "Oldboy." Credit: Getty Images
“District 9″ star Sharlto Copley plays the villain in Spike Lee’s new version of “Oldboy.”
Credit: Getty Images

Sharlto Copley is in Johannesburg, South Africa shooting “Chappie,” his third film with the director, Neil Blomkamp, who made him a star with “District 9.” It’s a nice role: He plays a kind robot living with a dysfunctional family. But he has to do press on a film where he plays a non-nice role: He’s the villain in “Oldboy,” Spike Lee’s version of the 2003 South Korean revenge favorite. It’s his second baddie role this year — he also went bad in Blomkamp’s “Elysium” — and he’s glad to go back to being good.

How did Spike Lee describe the role to you when he was casting you?

I was sort of hemming and hawing. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go and do something that was so dark. But when I met Spike, it was such an amazing experience. He was so warm and open-hearted to me — very much not what I was expecting. There I was, a white South African meeting Spike Lee. I was like, “Oh goodness, this could go terribly wrong.” [Laughs] The first thing he did was open his arms and go, “Hey, my African brother!” And we just connected quickly. I knew it was going to be dark material. I didn’t feel like going down that road with a bunch of heavy people. Once I felt this human connection with Spike, it made it safe to dabble in this darkness.

It’s your second villain this year. How do you feel about that?

Not great. [Laughs] “Elysium” was an interesting one, because I could again because it was different. This again was different. I’m not necessarily the easiest person to cast because you don’t what I’m necessarily going to do with a role. Over time you establish a reputation as a character actor. I definitely want to take a break from villains for awhile. I don’t want it to be perceived as me promoting darkness in the world. I’m personally not comfortable with that. But I want to be a working actor. Doing “Chappie” now, it’s really positive as a character. It’s fantastic to be able to come back into a really positive character and find naivete and innocence.

But in “Oldboy,” your character’s not a one-dimensional villain. And there’s not a one-dimensional good guy.

What was so interesting, even in the original material and certainly in our script, was that everybody is flawed. It’s not really a traditional good guy-bad guy film. You see how flawed Josh’s character is as well. I was interested in not just making [his character] one-dimensional — not just a spiteful man, but someone who was damaged, and who would go to extreme lengths because of the damage.

Your performances before this are very wild and very uncapped. This is very contained and arch.

It was quite a challenge in some ways. The voice was very easy to get. I developed the character from the voice. But with emotions, for example, having to repress a lot of energy, I spent a lot of time developing mannerisms. It would be as simple as the way I picked things up or drank tea. I had my girlfriend coaching me from the hotel every day to try and do things in ways that didn’t come naturally to me.

Was the characterization of the role something you worked on with Spike?

Spike said to me he wanted him to be English. I didn’t feel the villain in the original film was particularly developed. If you’re going to do the Western version of the film, you can try and so something different with the villain. So in talking to Spike, we tried to come up with a few things, like him being bisexual. I opted to play him as a bisexual man who had issues around love and sexuality.

Actors love working with Spike Lee and talk about how he’s very collaborative. What to you was so rewarding about the experience?

Spike has this way of making the environment safe for you, of making his humanity obvious when you deal with him one on one. In the media it becomes about issues or politics, but when you talk to the man one on one, there’s a humanity and an understanding of human nature and an interest in human beings. That makes him an interesting artist.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…