Sharlto Copley co-founded his first company at the age of 19 in his native South Africa. Over the last 14 years, he has been responsible for co-founding and managing Channel 69 Studios (television broadcasting and production), Atomic Visual Effects, a talent agency called Slaves Talent Management and a production company, Inspired Minority Pictures.
Seems strange he never represented himself through his agency, and put himself in a motion picture through his production company! It took his friend, director Neill Blomkamp, to give him that opportunity, casting him in the lead role as Wikus Van De Merwe in the breakaway sci fi sensation, District 9.
Copley now co-stars in his first big American action movie, The A-Team, based on the popular TV series. In it he plays H.M. ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Murdock, a gifted pilot and a certified loon! Joining former Special Forces soldiers, Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) and BA Baracus (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson), they become the A-Team.
Growing up in South Africa, did you know about the show?
Yes, I am a massive A-Team fan. Quinton and I were the two really massive fans of the show. I had an A-Team gang in school when I was 11 years old. And another gang started trying to compete with us to also be the A-Team in my class, and so I challenged them and we basically agreed to have a war.
We went down on the field and had a fight, and the stakes were if you lose you are no longer the A-Team, you play some other group. So we went down to the field and we had a war and we won and we became the only A-Team. I had everything, I had the action figures, the trading cards; Murdock and B.A. were my favorite characters.
What was it about Murdock that you loved so much?
What really excited me was the dangerous element to Murdock’s character – the dangerousness combined with the humor. You never really know if he’s really crazy or if he’s just putting it on. Because he’s such a wacky character, you can have a lot of fun with his scenes. He’s unique.
This must be a childhood dream come true for you?
Well, I never conceived (as a child) that I would be in a movie based on The A-Team. Basically from that stage on I was very influenced by Dwight Schultz (who played Murdock on the TV series), doing the voices and doing that stuff.
I made a lot of videos that I would put myself in, little Saturday Night Live-type sketches or little action pieces where we would try and be like the A-Team, it had a huge impact on me.
In this film you go through a lot of stuff – did you ever get hurt?
No, it was like a holiday for me compared to District 9. I sat in the trailer and changed channels on Direct TV. I had my girl visiting me every day and we had candles going.
One day Bradley was sitting outside of his trailer all by himself and he was serenading us, playing this music, because he was all jealous because my trailer was all homey. I had incense going from morning to night – this was the way to do it.
Actually, I lived in my trailer for the first four nights. We were meant to stay in a motel, but it was an hour’s drive away and I just jokingly, like the new guy, went, ‘Why wouldn’t we just stay in the trailer? The trailer’s nicer than the motel room.’ Everyone was like, ‘Ha, ha, ha,’ and then I saw Liam, and he was going, ‘Can we do that?’
What was it like working with Joe Carnahan, the director?
When Fox chose a director they were like, ‘We need somebody that embodies all (the characters).’ He’s got the craziness of a Murdock, he’s got the alpha-male bossiness of Hannibal, makes the plan, when it’s going wrong he’s very much like (B.A.), ‘We can step outside and sort this out with our hands with the studio if necessary,’ and he’s maybe not as good looking as Face, but he’s certainly charming.
How did you feel similar and different from Murdock? And is there any quality you’d take away from him?
The reason I ended up being an actor was that my buddy, who put me in District 9, knew that I did different voices and different characters with my staff as a business executive. So I was certainly able to draw on a lot of aspects of myself.
What I would take away from him is, there’s a lightness with which he views the world, and through those kind of eyes nothing is actually as serious as you might think.
If you’re going to go down in a plane, and you know you’re going to die, for example, Murdock would probably die laughing. On the one hand it’s kind of funny to watch, but if you really think about what that means it’s kind of cool.
I would love to be able to say that if I knew that my plane was going down, and my choice is die in a state of complete terror or just let it go completely and go, ‘Well, I’m going to go out laughing,’ (I’d rather do that). It’s weird; it’s kind of a humbling character to play in that sense.