Sharlto Copley’s experience in writing, producing and editing films was the perfect training to help him land the acting role he has wanted since he was a child.
Before his breakout performance in District 9, Copley had been spending most of his filmmaking efforts behind the camera in his native South Africa. However, the success of District 9 opened many new doors for him, including a chance to land the role of Captain H.M. Murdock in The A-Team, a TV show Copley was a big fan of.
“I grew up being very influenced by The A-Team, but not ever imagining I’d be in the movie one day. But I was in an A-Team “gang” at school. I started a gang playing A-Team characters,” Copley said. “I grew up doing voices and characters and making little movies with my friends thorugh my school career, and one of my first influences was Dwight Schultz’s Murdock. It was a character that resonated with me a lot.”
Copley heard that The A-Team director Joe Carnahan was intersted in meeting him. But instead of doing a standard audition Copley used the skills he learned making films to win the role.
“I shot a series of scenes in my hotel room that I called Things That Could Happen to Murdock in a Hotel Room and I edited it together on the plane on my laptop while I was travelling. It was about 10 minutes, of five different scenes. And then sent that to Joe (Carnahan).),” Copley said. “It was improv stuff, there were no other actors. I did a lot of different voices and impersonations.”
Copley had read the script and felt the Murdock role had changed too much from the TV show.
“I knew the character very well. And I felt that I would want to play Murdock closer to that original character,” Copley said. “I thought the really crazy Murdock, doing different accents for example, which at that point weren’t in the script, could still work. And Joe agreed and we were on the same page.”
And it worked, at least according to the one man who may know the role of Murdock as well as Copley: Dwight Schultz, the man who originated the role.
“One of the most important things for me was that I wanted Dwight to approve of what I’ve done with the character,” Copley said. “I showed him the (video I made) and he just gave me a hug and said “You are Murdock.’”
The improv skills Copley used in the video he made came in handy during the filming of one of the most memorable scenes of the movie. The Braveheart scene came about on a whim when director Joe Carnahan looked at Copley’s blue-covered face from the Blue Man group scene.
“Joe looked at the paint on my face and said ‘We should do the scene from Braveheart.’ I said I know the speech. We did it in like five minutes,” Copley said. “When I was done the scene, I looked around and half the crew were on the ground laughing.”
As for his future, Copley is open to anything that has good characters and good writing. And that does include a possible District 9 sequel.
“Neill (Bloomkamp) has said he would be interested to do it. And I’m very much the same,” Copley said. “It’s a world I would like to go back to. We almost have an obligation to go back. It’s just a question on how to do it right.”