Hit SA movie is a lucky break for Copley
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.