“Elysium is such an interesting reimaging of the future,” enthuses Sharlto Copley. “The thing I like about Neill’s work is that he combines a very entertaining popcorn sensibility with a very intelligent understanding of human nature. I had an amazing time.” He laughs. “But there are no prawns in this one!” Neill, of course, is Copley’s South African compadre Neill Blompkamp, and after producer-turned-actor Copley’s astonishing debut turn in Blomkamp’s District 9 opened the Hollywood door (see: The A-Team, and Spike Lee’s new Oldboy, which Copley’s currently shooting in New Orleans), it’s hardly surprising to see the pair working together again.
Copley was one of the first to know about Blomkamp’s second sci-fi project. “Neill was working on what the story would be while we were promoting District 9,” he explains. “He had the basic concept and some art for it. So early on I was aware of the idea, and I loved it.” Set in 2159, the film pits the oppressed people of the ruined planet Earth against the elite abroad the Elysium space station. Matt Damon is ex-convict man-on-a-mission Max, fighting with the terrans for equality, and Jodie Foster is the dastardly government official intent on keeping Elysium for the Elysians.
Copley’s character Kruger, is, he says, “a military agent who hides out on Earth working for the Elysium government and gets activated form time to time when there are problems that need to go away… I knew right away that I wanted to play him. If Neill wanted me again. I knew I could do something original with him.
“He’s completely undoing all the good work we did on District 9,” Copley laughs. “We tried so hard to change the impressions of white South Africans, and now we are going back to paint them as pure villains!” The character was originally written as English, but Copley instead based him on member of South Africa’s infamous 32 Battalion (an Apartheid-era thug squad), and on “a stereotype sort of character that you find south of Johannesburg, where they’re a little bit more comfortable with violence…”
Copley was hugely impressed by Foster- “You can see where her reputation comes from”- and instantly clicked with Damon. Yet he spent most of his time with Brandon Auret, another District 9 veteran. “He’s sort of my right-hand man,” Copley reveals. “Our characters had to go under cover, so we grew big beards. And I’m not talking about a Hollywood, groomed to-look-cool beard. Oh no. We fitted right in with all the junkies in the dodgy parts of Vancouver.”
The Canadian leg of the shoot was more comfortable than District 9’s, but once production moved to Mexico City, the territory was more familiar. “We were shooting in one of the city’s biggest garbage dumps, with trucks coming in and out on these dirt roads kicking up dust,” Copley grimaces. “Let’s just say we were able to match our previous difficulty levels…”
The dust had its perks though. While he won’t say anything about his new weapons, he does relate an incident during which he took down Damon in spectacular and rather dangerous fashion. “I got to chase down Matt’s character and descend on him with my spacecraft,” he enthuses. “I was in a helicopter, doubling for the spacecraft, and as it descended I realized too late that there was this tsunami wave of dust that was going to smash onto Matt! It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life. I don’t know if they’ll use that take, but I was literally cheering! ‘I just dropped a load of sand on Matt Damon!’”
Also another part of the interview that was attached to the original article that revealed the first image of his character in Elysium:
Reports over the summer seemed to suggest that Copley, who of course starred for Blomkamp in District 9, had one eye on Heath Ledger's Joker for the role of the black-ops military nutbag, but Copley tells Empire this was a misunderstanding. "The Joker was a mistaken reference," he says. "I was really just saying that that was the last time I saw a villain that inspired me: somebody that set the bar. There’s no connection or likeness to The Joker in terms of the character. What I did with him — which I try to do with all my original characters — was draw from real life. I combined references from a very infamous South African military battalion called 32 Battalion, that fought in the Border Wars in South Africa, and a stereotype of character that you get in the south of Johannesburg, where the guys are a little bit more comfortable with violence!"
There was no text version of this interview online so I had to type the whole thing myself. Sorry if there are any grammar errors, I was too lazy to proof-read. I like out of all the things they could have quoted in the heading image, they decided to go with the Prawn line, one of the many reasons I love Empire Magazine.