“Like my father always said, a grenade a day keeps the enemy at bay.”
Since bursting onto the scene with a starring role in the Academy Award-nominated District 9, Sharlto Copley has remained a popular character actor. Hailing from South Africa, Copley’s friendship with director Neil Blomkamp led to his casting in the filmmaker’s debut, and the pair have remained regular collaborators. The breakout success of District 9 led to more mainstream roles for the actor, and he has since worked with acclaimed directors such as Spike Lee and Ben Wheatley.
Part of the appeal of Copley’s performance in District 9 was that his character felt like a normal person, far removed from the bulletproof hero cliché that plagues similar sci-fi and action films, and he has brought this reliability to many of his roles. However, he is not afraid to cut loose on screen: some of his best performances border on the unhinged.
‘District 9’ (2009)
Copley’s first major film role and potentially still his best. He plays Wikus van de Merwe, a dorky bureaucrat who works for the South African government. Assigned to the Alien Affairs department, Wikus is in charge of relocating a congregation of alien refugees (nicknamed Prawns) after they suddenly appear in Johannesburg.
A series of events lead to Wikus being gradually transformed into a Prawn. To ensure his survival, he must work with a Prawn named Christopher (Jason Cope, in one of the best motion capture performances in film) to ensure his survival. While District 9 is a visual wonder and has lots to say about social issues, the transformation of Copley from timid desk jockey to hardened survivalist is one of its highlights.
‘The A-Team’ (2010)
The original The A-Team is one of the most beloved TV shows of the 1980s, and this film adaptation attempts to reinvent the characters in a modern setting. Both versions follow a squad of four former soldiers who have been betrayed by their government, instead offering their services to help civilians while trying to clear their names.
Copley plays Howling Mad Murdock, the team’s pilot, who suffers from various mental health issues. Contending with Hollywood heavyweights Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper, Copley more than holds his own and is one of the shining lights in this underwhelming big-budget action flick.
The second collaboration between Copley and Neil Blomkamp, Elysium, is an underrated Sci-Fi action movie that has much to say about class inequality. With Earth ravaged due to humanity plundering it for resources, the rich live in Elysium, a space station hovering above the planet built to keep the poor out.
Losing leading man status to Matt Damon, Copley instead plays Kruger, a black ops agent who pursues Damon’s hero at every turn. Kruger is a sociopath, taking pleasure in killing, and Copley gives a delightfully unhinged performance. It makes for a nice comparison to his meek hero in District 9.
Elysium is available to stream on Netflix and Starz.
Released before Disney started to dilute their brand by releasing unnecessary live-action remakes, Maleficent retells the story of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of its antagonist. Angelina Jolie plays the title character, and the plot follows her relationship with Aurora (Elle Fanning), the kingdom’s princess.
Copley plays King Stefan, Aurora’s father and Maleficent’s ex-lover. Stefan betrayed Maleficent when they were younger and stole her wings to become king. This causes the dark fairy to unfairly curses his daughter before she comes face to face with her former partner in the pursuit of revenge.
‘Hardcore Henry’ (2015)
Taking the frenetic energy of a first-person shooter video game and placing it within a feature film, Hardcore Henry lets you see through the eyes of a John Wick-level hero. After Henry rises from the dead as a cyborg, he embarks on a killing spree as he fights through an army of mercenaries to rescue his wife.
With only Henry’s hands and feet visible on-screen, it falls to the supporting cast to carry the film’s plot. Copley plays Jimmy, a friendly face to Henry who pops up whenever he needs assistance. Copley rises to meet the film’s crazy energy, and despite his character dying numerous times, a new version of Jimmy reappears with a new outfit, ready to keep up the fight. Copley’s constant cameos highlight the film as it charges forward alongside its hero.
Hardcore Henry is available to stream on Netflix.