Growing up in South Africa, and dreaming of acting, I wonder if Sharlto Copley ever imagined that he’d play a king, a very evil one at that, for the biggest entertainment company with one of Hollywood’s biggest actresses? Sitting down with him during my recent press trip to LA for the Maleficent Event, Sharlto had us all laughing at stories of on set pranks with Angelina Jolie and then listening with strong ears to the importance of this story.
During the interview there were a few spoilers mentioned. Because this movie is so good and I don’t want to ruin any of the suspense and surprises for you, I have edited it accordingly. In a few weeks I will share the edited parts, once everyone has had a chance to see the movie and I don’t spoil some of the most important parts of the story.
Sharlto Copley: Playing Stefan in Maleficent Talks Pranking with Angelina and More
Q: In one of the interviews you did you said that Angelina was a better prankster than you. Was there any pranking going on on set?
Sharlto: Yeah, there was a lot. Most of it was pretty crazy and I, and will remain with me. There was one like sort of example of the kind of thing we were doing is, I was pretending in the scene where her and I are still true lovers and we still love each other, sitting down by the river and whatever, I sometimes would improvise my dialog in the form as I sort of have been known to do. So I pretended that I’d heard a noise in the bush. Now while the cameras filming ’cause this particular prank was trying to get something with her that was sort of for the record on camera. So trying to prank her on camera. So I heard a noise. I suddenly said to her, “Do you hear something?” She sort of looked at me but now she’s got to keep playing on (since they are filming). She’s like, “Oh, what’s he doing,” you know, but she’s got to keep on. And so I run off and I go behind the bush and I’m like diving down and I’m like finding things.
He has us all hysterical laughing as he is very animated as he shares this story.
And I come up with the raven on the end of my arm. As if the raven had been following her, you know, and I’m yelling to her, “I got him!” And the whole crew laughed and I thought I was very clever and very funny. So we wrapped that night, we finished shooting at nine thirty in the evening. And the next morning I get to my trailer I think six o’clock or something like that. And I open my trailer, I’m all tired and I just like can’t wait to just get into the trailer and there’s these two huge real ravens in my trailer. And they literally looked at me and kind of went [SCREECH] I was literally too scared to go into my trailer. It took like half an hour before the guy could come and remove them! Ravens are intimidating birds! Anyway, yeah.
Q: How did you step into the role of your character?
Sharlto: I’ve said sort of before that I really don’t enjoy playing villains. Like, I find it quite, quite unpleasant in some ways. My way in with Stefan was to take a very, sort of, male trait, which is, you know, most men have sort of ambition, they want to kind of be the king of their castle. In this case he literally does become the king of his castle. And so it was, for me Stefan was kind of, in a form that’s sort of very female-centric if you will, I felt like there was a chance to almost play like a male, a cautionary tale for men with Stefan, of what happens your sort of male drive and ego and ambition get carried away with itself. And in this case, worst case scenario, he’s prepared to betray his true love to become king. In smaller ways you see that all the time. You know, you see men, a very successful, very wealthy man — whose families are in complete disarray. They don’t spend time with their wives anymore. They don’t spend time with their kids. Their sort of ambition has sort of become their obsession. So that was kind of for me the, the interesting part about playing.
Q: Did you audition? Did you go in really wanting this role?
Sharlto: I did really want this because I’d met Angie before and really felt she was very complimentary about District 9. She’d seen my performance in there and she said how we should work together some time. That was about two years before. And so when this came around I was really looking for a fantasy film. I was looking for something that I could show my seven year old nephew, you know? ‘Cause most of my films are like R-rated movies. I was like, come on man. Gotta do something with a really some sort of positive message. And so, I went after this quite aggressively. I shot a tape for it, a bunch of scenes, and I actually was saying to my agents, I was like, “Guys, get my tape to Angie.” And they’re like, “Oh, we can’t. She’s on a boat. We don’t know where she is.” I’m like, “Just get it to her,” I know she did say she was interested to work with me, So I was very grateful to get this.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
Sharlto: A favorite scene? No, not really. There was a lot of scenes that I liked. I really enjoyed all the stuff with the pixies. I thought that they were — it’s like watching the film. I love comedy and so that was always fun for me to watch the comic relief characters in a movie. But I think there’s a lot of really cool scenes in the film.
Q: How much training did you have to do for all the fighting you did in the film?
Sharlto: I didn’t do, for example, as much in this as I did with Elysium. But you always have to, when you do something like this, you have to be ready for it. It was one of my biggest surprises going into acting and then getting into action films. You really just have to keep yourself conditioned, almost like an athlete does. Just general, all around conditioning just for the repetitive nature of it.
The scenes, for example, in this film, that were actually the hardest, is you end up in Pinewood Studios on the sound stages. Everything’s relatively luxurious around you and then all of a sudden you find yourself in a stage where there’s not good air con systems and you’re burning. You know we had real fire in there all the time because of the dragon. And so the oxygen there wasn’t enough oxygen. And people constantly having to go out to just try and get enough air. And you come back again and you’re trying to go. I found myself almost passing out two or three times in the action sequences really just lack of oxygen. It’s quite interesting. It’s quite challenging physically and mentally sometimes on this stuff. But it’s enjoyable. It helps for the character for me.
Q: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
Sharlto: If I wasn’t an actor what would I be? I was saying this the other day. Am I allowed to be in entertainment? Because I’ve always wanted to be a director. I’d direct. I would definitely be a director. That’s what I was gonnaS do before and I think I’ll go back to that. But if I couldn’t be in entertainment I think I would have made a really good lawyer. My only problem would be I would not be able to defend somebody that I thought was guilty. Like, that would just destroy me. But I think I could argue very well in court as useless as that would be.
Q: You had a lot of emotion and power in your role. How did you prepare for your character?
Sharlto: I can’t go through my experience because I do characters. It is a little crazy I suppose. I do feel like I become somebody else and in the rare occasions where I’ll be doing a take where that slips and I suddenly feel like myself again and I’ll actually stop and go like, “Okay guys, hang on.” You know, and go again. When I’m preparing is really just understanding what the deepest truth that I can find in humanity or in human archetypes within human behavior.
I can relate to ambitious men. I’m an ambitious person in my life. I have certain alpha male type tendencies. I’m quite a dominant guy. And once I know, once I’ve made that decision, then I just let it come out and see what happens. And it’s not like every day I’m preparing in some way. I don’t practice my lines first in my trailer or things that some actors find useful. I don’t do that.
Q: This film comes out right before Father’s Day. Do you have any messages that you can give dads who may want to take their little girls to see the film?
Sharlto: Yes. Spend time with your children so you don’t end up like Stefan. I have people like, “What’s the message for my child?” I was like, “Well, the message is for you, dude. It’s, like, don’t fall off your castle.” It’s like, “Well I was making money for my family.” It’s like, they didn’t want money. They wanted time with daddy. You know? And you see it all over the place. I don’t have kids yet because I was aware that I was working so hard. It was like if I want to have kids, I want to be able to spend some time with them every day. That’s, you know, Happy Father’s Day. Yeah. Definitely. It’s like it’s a lesson for your children but it’s very much for the dads. A lesson for you.
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— Trippin With Tara (@tasalinas) May 28, 2014
MALEFICENT is rated PG and releases in theaters everywhere on May 30th!
*I was invited by Disney on a press trip to LA to screen Maleficent, as well as interview the various people connected to the film. All opinions are my own. Images credits go to Disney, unless otherwise noted.