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Sharlto Copley in District 9The buzz on 'District 9' out of Comic-Con was almost loud enough to drown out all those 'Twilight' fans. Entertainment Weekly touts it as "the must-see movie of the summer." And now that the sci-fi thriller -- in which aliens who've landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, are rounded up and housed in a slum-like refugee settlement camp -- is hitting theaters, the first thought most moviegoers will have is, "Wow, that was some awesome splattering of heads." The second one is, "Who the heck is that guy playing the lead?"

His name's Sharlto Copley, and the South African filmmaker-turned-actor may be poised, at the ripe old age of 35, to become this summer's unlikeliest action star. (Christian who?) So just who is this guy, and where did he come from? You're about to find out. Sharlto Copley in District 9The buzz on 'District 9' out of Comic-Con was almost loud enough to drown out all those 'Twilight' fans. Entertainment Weekly touts it as "the must-see movie of the summer." And now that the sci-fi thriller -- in which aliens who've landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, are rounded up and housed in a slum-like refugee settlement camp -- is hitting theaters, the first thought most moviegoers will have is, "Wow, that was some awesome splattering of heads." The second one is, "Who the heck is that guy playing the lead?"

His name's Sharlto Copley, and the South African filmmaker-turned-actor may be poised, at the ripe old age of 35, to become this summer's unlikeliest action star. (Christian who?) So just who is this guy, and where did he come from? You're about to find out.

Who does he play? Wikus Van De Merwe, a dweebish mid-level bureaucrat who's placed in charge of evicting the aliens from District 9.

What have you seen him in? Nothing. Zero. Nada. 'District 9' is his first movie role.

Well, what's he done in the past, then? He's been in the movie biz for a while, but largely behind the scenes, in the rarefied world of South African film. In fact, if you're into South African short films and viral videos, then maybe you have heard of him before. With Simon Hansen, his partner at the production company Atomic Visual Effects, he wrote and directed the popular viral short comedy '2001: A Space Oddity' (watch it now) as well as 'Hellweek' (watch and download), a spoof of military commercials in which Copley played a drill sergeant. He also directed the indie feature 'Spoon,' a special effects-laden supernatural thriller starring Rutger Hauer.

Sharlto Copley in District 9How did he end up starring in 'District 9'? Copley and 'District 9' director Neill Blomkamp both grew up in South Africa, and they've been friends for years -- in fact, Copley gave Blomkamp his first job, when the former was a 20-year-old TV producer and the latter was a 14-year-old graphic designer. Copley would later produce Blomkamp's 2005 six-minute short film 'Alive in Joburg' (watch it now). Peter Jackson, impressed with the short, hired Blomkamp to direct the movie adaptation of the video game 'Halo'; but when that project fell through, the pair decided to turn 'Alive in Joburg' into a feature-length film. Almost as a favor, Blomkamp asked Copley to do some test improv for the Wikus Van De Merwe character so that he'd have something to show investors ... and voila, a star was born.

What's next for Copley? With all the hype surrounding his superb performance in 'District 9,' Hollywood's come knocking at Copley's door like he's some fresh-faced 20-year-old ingenue. Though he hasn't signed on for any further roles yet -- Sci-Fi Squad reports he's been "reading for parts" -- a 'District 9' sequel seems likely, and when that happens you can bet Blomkamp will be calling on his old friend once again. Meanwhile, it seems as though the days of people asking "Who is Sharlto Copley?" are soon to be over for good.