What it’s like to be set on fire

Sharlto Co­p­ley says “Free Fire” is the most dan­ger­ous film he’s ever made.

Metro USA (Boston) - - FILM - MATT PRIGGE @mattprigge matt.prigge@metro.us

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.”

KERRY BROWN, A24

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.

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