What it’s like to be set on fire
Sharlto Copley says “Free Fire” is the most dangerous film he’s ever made.
When Sharlto Copley tells you his new movie was the most dangerous film he’s made so far, you listen. The South African actor is no stranger to explosions and crazy stunts. He made his name with “District 9,” then with “The A-Team,” “Elysium,” “Chappie” and “Hardcore Henry” — all violent action movies where Copley was game to do whatever wild nonsense came his way. But “Free Fire” — a darkly comic action movie from England with an all-star cast — takes the cake.
For one thing, Copley was set on fire. He plays Vernon, a moneyed arms dealer who arrives in an abandoned Brighton warehouse for a big score. One thing leads to another, and suddenly the dozen or so participants — including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and Cillian Murphy — are all shooting at each other. Without giving too much away, at one point Vernon goes up in flames.
“Apparently getting set on fire is what insurance companies rate as the most dangerous thing I’ve ever attempted,” Copley tells us, with a mix of pride and horror. It was one of the last things they filmed. “They were like, ‘Finish the movie first, then he can burn himself.’” Luckily the stunt team were all over it. They fitted him with a flame retardant suit, as well as a gel that actually made him shiver until the heat hit him. They told him if he suddenly felt too hot, he should just lie flat on his stomach and they’d jump on him.
“It all went absolutely perfectly,” Sharlto says. “But you are on fire.”
But being set on fire wasn’t what made “Free Fire” the most dangerous movie Sharlto Copley has ever made. It was the squibs.
On movies, squibs are the tiny firecrackers that, when activated by the crew, create the explosions you love on screen. On “Free Fire,” they were mostly all over the set, blowing up parts of the dilapidated, dirty warehouse in which our legion of anti-heroes find themselves trapped in a multiway Mexican standoff. That required expert choreography, especially since some shots involved 16 or 17 or even 20 squibs blowing up at a time.
“If they press the button at the wrong time, it blows up in your face,” Copley recalls. “At the distances we were at from these squibs, there was nothing to protect yourself and your eyes. It’s your eyes that are really at monumental risk. There was so much gunfire that it made things bizarrely serious when
the camera was rolling. But when it wasn’t it was fun and games and silly buggers.”
Sharlto Copley (front and center-ish) plays one of a dozen or so low-lifes shooting at each other in “Free Fire,” now in theaters.