Watching Sharlto Copley's hilarious yet, at the same time, disturbing performance as Wikus Van De Merwe in 'District 9,' it would have been difficult to determine that one of Copley's life long inspirations was 'The A-Team.' Raised in South Africa, Copley grew up on a steady diet of American popular culture which, yes, very much included the "crack commando unit sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit."
Copley now stars in the big screen version on 'The A-Team' as ace pilot "Howlin' Mad" Murdock. Copley discusses the improvisation he was allowed to perform on set -- which includes a scene from 'Braveheart' -- some of the changes made from television to screen; when we may see a sequel to "District 9"; and, most importantly, picks a winner between the United States and England in this weekend's World Cup soccer match being played in his home country.
Copley now stars in the big screen version of 'The A-Team' as ace pilot "Howlin' Mad" Murdock. Copley discussed with Moviefone the improvisation he was allowed to perform on set -- which includes a scene from 'Braveheart' -- some of the changes made from television to screen; when we may see a sequel to "District 9"; and, most importantly, picks a winner between the United States and England in this weekend's World Cup soccer match being played in his home country.
Did they show 'The A-Team' television series in South Africa?
They did, man. It was actually my favorite show as a child. I was a huge, huge fan of the show. I had all the action figures; I had an "A-Team" dossier book where you put those sticker trading cards that you got.
I had the Murdock figure, but the one I had was wearing an orange suit. I could never figure that out.
The one I had didn't have an orange suit, he had the leather jacket. Maybe he was in a jumpsuit? And, also, he didn't look anything like the original Murdock, which was kind of lame. The only one that looked the same was the B.A. Baracus doll; he actually looked like his character.
Who was your favorite character when you watched the television show?
It was definitely Murdock and B.A. Those two were my favorite guys, hands down.
That's good to hear. I just assumed someone who didn't grow up in the U.S. would watch "The A-Team" and come to the conclusions that Americans are weird.
No [Laughs], I certainly didn't. It was awesome. We had all of those classic, iconic 80s TV shows. Not all of them, but a lot them -- most of them. Even later on: "MacGyver," "Magnum P.I." early on ... "21 Jump Street." We had a lot of American culture coming to us.
The original show just sets up the story in the opening credits -- that they were accused of a crime they didn't commit during the Vietnam War. The film really shows the origin of the team, how they come together.
Yeah, I thought it was an interesting thing to do. It answers some of the questions for fans of the show like why B.A. is afraid of flying. You know, why would such a big tough guy be scared to fly? We do, as you said, deal with how they met, what happened to them and, obviously, a modern day spin on all of that as well.
I'm going from memory, but, in the television show, Murdock wasn't actually convicted with the other three, right? They always had to break him out of the psych ward.
You see, you're a true fan! This is interesting, you're the first guy to pick that up. That's true, that's one of the changes that we made with Murdock. They made him more, officially, a part of the team where, before, technically, he had never been a part of their unit. In this origin story and continuing to go forward he was.
Yeah, in the television show, that made him seem like an outsider.
Absolutely. I like our change, it just kind of made sense. It's a small thing, really. I kind of played Murdock very closely to the original Murdock; I think I stuck the closest to him of the original characters ... for fans of the show.
I do think it's the closest of the four, but I also think you took it up a level with his craziness. I remember Dwight Schultz would appear as Murdock between Saturday morning cartoons on something called "One to Grow On," where he tried to teach lessons to kids about growing up. I remember thinking, "He's crazy, he shouldn't be teaching me lessons." I don't see your version of Murdock teaching kids any lessons.
Well ... he may? [Laughs]. It depends. It depends about what. [Laughs] He'd be up for the challenge.
Like the challenge of filming the "Braveheart" scene?
That was awesome. That's probably, if I had to choose, my favorite thing in the film and I'm glad it made it in. Most of Murdock, and the best stuff, for me in the movie with him, and actually the best stuff even with the other characters, too, was the combination of the actors improvising stuff. So, "Braveheart," that wasn't in the script at all. None of the voice changes or accents were in the scripted version of Murdock. When I was originally considering doing it, I edited a series of scenes in my hotel room called "Things That Could Happen to Murdock" and I sent it to Joe [Carnahan]. And I said, "look, if you have me do this kind of thing, I would love to play this character." And, fortunately, he was. Joe actually came up with the idea of doing something from "Braveheart." I knew that speech very well and I said to him, "Let's put a little horse together or something and let me do the end of that speech."
During "District 9," most of the acting was improvised. It's good you got to do some improvising -- but probably not near as much -- on "The A-Team."
Absolutely, it wasn't as much because "District 9" was basically 100 percent. This was not that level of percentage, but every single scene we went into had improvisation happening for sure; going backwards and forwards between Joe and myself and the other actors. Particularly Rampage and Bradley [Cooper], they were comfortable and enjoyed the improvisation. Liam [Neeson] is a little more traditional, more old school; he liked to stick to his lines. We had him going by the end [laughs], he started joining us.
Look at the two films opening this weekend, "The A-Team" and "The Karate Kid." What is it about the decade of the 1980s that makes it so special that it never seems to go away?
I have to say, for me, and I grew up in that era so I will be biased from general nostalgic value ... but I generally think there was a focus that, for me -- is not necessarily missing -- but there was a focus on really strong character stuff. That's what I really like as an actor and a filmmaker. I think a lot of stuff that happened in the 1980s was very iconic and original. With music, it was Prince and Madonna and Michael Jackson. They dressed differently; they did things differently. Mr. T comes along -- look at the guy! Those iconic looks, they weren't afraid to not be cool, basically. It was, "I'm going to do my own thing." Dwight Schultz inventing Murdock; Murdock was written not nearly as crazy. He didn't have the accents and didn't have the impersonations. Dwight brought that and said, "I'm going to push the boundary here." In this day we have reality TV stars and musicians that just dress like the average person on the street. It's different; there was something innately entertaining about the almost larger than lifeness of those characters in the 80s, for me.
Did you meet Dwight Schultz? I know Mr. T has gone on record as not approving the new film and now Dirk Benedict is not happy with his cameo. What was Dwight's attitude?
Dwight was awesome. He came to the set. He's an intelligent guy and he was up for whatever we wanted to do with his cameo. I spent a great day with him and we really got along well; we had a great lunch. I took a plunge and showed him that tape I had made. I'm not going to be able to control how the movie comes out, but I wanted him to see my Murdock. And I was terrified. I showed him and he was giggling and laughing the whole way through. He turned to me all teary eyed, gave me a hug and said, "you are Murdock." Then he put on his website, "Murdock is dead, long live Murdock." I think Dwight, of those actors -- obviously I am biased because I'm playing his character -- but I really think he's the most talented actor in that bunch. I'm quite surprised he didn't do bigger, more high profile projects.
Looking back, was there anytime when you were filming "District 9" that you thought it had a chance of being nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture?
No. The critical side, I had a strong sense it would work commercially. Virtually every movie gets mixed reviews and I knew we were taking such a crazy chance and I really thought we would get more critically slammed, but it just didn't happen on "District 9." Yeah, the Oscar thing, I think when I heard -- and I can't remember when it happened -- that there were going to be 10 categories, it kind of did actually cross my mind. As soon as I heard that, I did kind of think, you know, well, the movie is intelligent. So, it's possible that intelligent moviegoers, as well as people that just want to see popcorn, might actually go for this film. Once I knew there were 10 categories, I knew there was a possibility that we would actually get a nomination.
There was a report the sequel might start filming as soon as October. Is this accurate?
No, that's definitely not true. (Director) Neill (Blomkamp) went straight on to doing another film, which he's writing and directing and he's probably going to start on that pretty shortly. He's been doing that literally since the end of "District 9" and I went to "The A-Team." The only thing that we discussed is that both of us want to do it. We're really close friends and we stay in contact all the time, but we've been talking about other projects and other things that we would be interested to do together as well. I think it's a timing issue, we both want to do a sequel or a prequel or both, whatever, for "District 9." But I really think it's just going to come down to a timing issue of when Neill is ready.
So it sounds like it will definitely happen, it's just "when." It doesn't sound like it's a big secret that both of you want to do another one.
No, it's not a big secret. I think the most important thing, for me -- and, with Neill, I wouldn't conceive of it without him -- is that we do something really good. The last time I went to see a sequel that really topped itself was "Terminator 2." And Neill is that kind of auteur; a really ridiculously groundbreaking director. I fully believe that -- if we do another one -- the two of us will top ourselves.
Also starting this weekend is the World Cup, which is in South Africa. What do you hope the rest of the world gets to see about South Africa through the World Cup?
Man, it's a big deal for me, as a South African, to have that even there. The spotlight's on South Africa again. The last time it was really in the spotlight was back in 1994 when we were going through those changes and moving to a democracy. We've had a peaceful transition to democracy in a very miraculous way. The country is still running, it's still running well. But it's got challenges, it's got crime, it's got difficulties -- but it's really overwhelmingly working. And I hope people see that. And I'm just rooting for South Africa in that opening game. Our soccer team has been historically pretty bad by international standards, but there's so much riding on this opening game and it looks like we actually have a chance to beat Mexico. So the opening game is almost like the finals to me, there's that much riding on it for South Africans.
Americans feel the same way with our first game.
[Laughs] Yeah, you guys play England.
Putting you on the spot: Pick a World Cup winner and the winner of U.S. vs. England.
I actually think the U.S. has a crack against England, so I'm going to go with the U.S. And I actually think overall, it will probably be ... I'm going to go with Brazil. I know it's lame, but I think they're going to take the whole thing again.
The U.S. does seem to be a bit underrated and we have an outside chance of winning. But, yeah, thanks for that.
You definitely do! It's not like before. If you would have asked me in the last World Cup, I would have said, "Yeah, whatever man, good luck." [Laughs].