Hit SA movie is a lucky break for Co­p­ley

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE - LEILA SAMODIEN

DISTRICT 9, the new sci-fi film that has the whole of Tin­sel­town talk­ing, was a lucky break for lit­tle-known Cape Town ac­tor, Sharlto Co­p­ley. When Co­p­ley, 35, was cast as the lead in the hit movie, he had no real act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

But it helped be­ing close friends with fel­low South African Neill Blomkamp, District 9 di­rec­tor and co-writer, who be­lieved in his abil­ity to pull off the main char­ac­ter – gov­ern­ment agent Wikus van der Merwe.

“This was my very first act­ing job. I was for­tu­nate that Neill knew me as a friend, as well as the ex­tent of my abil­i­ties and my suit­abil­ity for this char­ac­ter,” said Co­p­ley.

Blomkamp, who lives in Canada but hails from Jo­han­nes­burg, teamed up with renowned film­maker Peter Jack­son – of Lord of the Rings fame. Jack­son was one of the film’s pro­duc­ers.

District 9 cost less than $30 mil­lion to make – low­bud­get by Hol­ly­wood stan­dards. But it broke all ex­pec­ta­tions when it banked a whop­ping $37 mil­lion in its first week­end at US cin­e­mas.

The movie has not only caused a stir in the US, but also in South Africa, where it was filmed. It stars a cast of rel­a­tively un­known lo­cal ac­tors.

District 9 is about a group of aliens, ap­par­ently aban­doned by their leaders, who are forced to live in a gov­ern­ment-made camp on Earth, closed off from hu­mans.

The camp be­comes over­crowded and Co­p­ley’s char­ac­ter, Van der Merwe, is tasked with mov­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of aliens to a new camp. But he is ex­posed to alien tech­nol­ogy, which be­gins to trans­form him into an alien.

Most of the movie was shot in Soweto in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“We def­i­nitely didn’t ex­pect all the hype,” said Co­p­ley. “It’s in­cred­i­ble how the Amer­i­cans re­sponded to it.”

He at­trib­uted the movie’s suc­cess largely to its dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ters and set­ting.

“It’s a very dif­fer­ent film. It’s in a South African set­ting, which is dif­fer­ent from what Amer­i­cans have seen in sci-fi be­fore. And then you have a char­ac­ter like Wikus van der Merwe, who is this Afrikaans bu­reau­crat. He goes through such an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence that he comes out a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son,” he said.

“In terms of peo­ple lik­ing this movie, it could have gone ei­ther way, re­ally.”

Co­p­ley said he was es­pe­cially amazed by the sets and spe­cial ef­fects since none of the scenes had been acted out us­ing green screens.

“It was a crazy but amaz­ing ad­ven­ture.”

Co­p­ley has an ex­ten­sive back­ground in film but has pre­vi­ously thrown all his ef­forts into di­rect­ing, writ­ing and pro­duc­ing.

“I never re­ally acted. I used to make films in high school – my friends and I would act in them – but when I left school, I knew I re­ally wanted to be be­hind the cam­era.”

How­ever, Co­p­ley said that, with the suc­cess of District 9, he has had plenty of in­ter­est from US film­mak­ers who have passed on their scripts to him.

“I’ll still be do­ing be­hindthe-cam­era stuff, but I’ll def­i­nitely be do­ing more act­ing now.”

DAZ­ZLING DE­BUT: lead ac­tor Sharlto Co­p­ley in a scene from the sci-fi film which pre­miered in South Africa this week.

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