Sharlto Copley Talks MALEFICENT, Villains, and His Behind the Scenes Background

A couple weeks ago I interviewed Maleficent’s Sharlto Copley. I posted his Chappie news here, but we talked about way more than that. Here are his thoughts on playing villains, creating his own projects, and whether Stefan is a typical man.

Mily Dunbar: So, I liked the movie
Sharlto Copley: Were you sitting there going, oh, typical man, like a lot of the women apparently were? I heard this from a lot of reporters.

No. I wasn’t… 

In my experience you’re kind of an atypical man in this movie. I didn’t have many experiences with men like you in my dating life.
Okay. Okay, good.

Which was good. Fortunately for me… When I was doing my research for this interview, I read that you don’t like to play villains. So what drew you to this role?
I think this was one that I felt there was a sort of potential moral of the story. Like something actually… because the film is very kind of female-centric, if you will, that it was sort of a cautionary tale for men in terms of what can happen when your drive and ambition and desire to be, you know, literally the king of the castle in this case runs away with itself. And I think there’s a lot of men that are like that. Just look around in Hollywood how many successful men have very broken families. And this is obviously in fairy tale form the worst case of that where someone is prepared to sacrifice their true love for power. And where once you’ve done that, you know, in this case, for him there’s just no, there’s no coming back. His conscience is still there and that’s eating him and he starts to really almost, you know, in a Shakespearean fashion, go crazy. And I think it’s a valuable lesson. It’s something… I found my way into the character with a certain level of ambition and alpha male-ness and whatever else that I’ve had in my life. So I could do that, and then it’s just about, oh well, really take that to its crazy extreme, what would it look like?

Ok. You go through such a transformation. When you show up in the story, you’re ambitious and you’ve kind of chosen that path, but you get crazier and crazier and worse and worse, and I was contrasting that with your District 9 transformation where you kind of become more heroic.
That’s interesting, yeah.

And I was wondering, which was more fun or more interesting for you to play?
Definitely the more heroic version, yeah. (Laughs) It’s really difficult when you... I never thought about it that way, but it’s interesting. That’s the reverse, you know, where somebody’s really going the other way... I like these layered characters that are going through real kind of transformations. I like playing, but definitely I’ve had more fun playing the heroes than the villains.

You have a production company in South Africa…
I do, yeah.

And you worked on that for a long time, how does that change your approach how does that, does that make your approach to your characters or your projects different than someone who didn’t have that experience?
I suppose it’s more that really I was a behind the scenes guy in the sense that I really wanted to direct, write, produce, you know? I wanted to be making my stuff as it were, not in front of the camera, so I think that mindset does definitely inform my understanding of the function of a character within the story. For example coming from writing or looking at the structure of a screenplay, and it’s amazing to me how few screenplays are really properly structured in terms of normal, you know, what professional instructors in screenplay writing would tell you — how very few people use any of that stuff. And so it informs me in being able to, for example in District 9, being able to improv all my dialogue in that film. I really feel I only could have done that based on the experience I’d had behind the camera and understanding you’ve got to improv on certain things that otherwise there’s no chance of it being in the film. “The function of the scene within the greater story is what?” and then improv around those issues. So it does, it sometimes makes it frustrating for me because I have to really, but I have to very much focus on just being doing the acting part, just going, “that is your job here. There’s nothing you can do about the rest of the film.” (Laughs)

Are you working on developing any of your own projects currently?
I am. I am. I’ve reached a point where I just really really feel a massive desire to go back there, so I literally have four or five things going now.

Maleficent is in theaters now.

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