Maleficent’s Sharlto Copley: The King, The Actor, The Prankster
I had known Sharlto Copley from his work in films, so I was pretty excited to meet this talented actor who played King Stefan in the film Maleficent. I wasn’t prepared for just how charming he was. You think of him as off-his-rocker Murdock in A-Team, scruffy Kruger (Elysium), or the wiry agent-turned-alien Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9. You don’t often see him as a handsome, funny, and effervescent guy who just wants to be the best at what he does.
Sharlto walked in with a confident air to him, which quickly faded as he let that wall down and said “I’m so nervous around you all!”. It was like he was going into the interview and then saw us – his audience – and thought “oh my God, this is going to be different than any other interview” and really didn’t know what to expect after seeing 25 regular faces smiling back at him.
C’mon Sharlto, we aren’t THAT scary…. are we?
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?
SC : Yeah, there was a lot. Most of it was pretty crazy and will remain with me. Uh, there was one in the scene where her and I are sitting down by the river. So I pretended that I’d heard a noise in the bush. The cameras are filming because this particular prank was trying to get something with 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. She’s like, “Oh, what’s he doing,”, but she’s got to keep on. And so I run off and I go behind the bush and I’m diving down and I’m like finding things.
And I come up with the raven. As if the raven had been following her, you know, and I’m telling her, “I got him!” And the whole crew laughed and I thought I was very clever and very funny. 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, 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!
How did you step into the role of your character?
I’ve said sort of before that I, I really don’t enjoy playing villains. I find it quite, quite unpleasant in some ways. My way in with Stefan was to take a very, sort of, male trait, 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. I felt like there was a chance to almost play like 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.
In smaller ways you see that all the time. You know, you see men whose families – 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 interesting part about playing.
Did you audition? Did you go in really wanting this role?
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? Because most of my films are R-rated movies. I was like, “come on man. Gotta do something with 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, “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,” like, I know she did say she was interested to work with me, so, I was very grateful to get this.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
A favorite scene? No, not really. There was a lot of scenes that I liked. I, I really enjoyed all the stuff with the pixies. I love comedy and so that’s what’s always fun for me to watch the comic relief characters in a movie. But I think there’s a lot of really, really cool scenes in the film..
How much training did you have to do for all the fighting you did in the film?
I didn’t do, for example, as much in this as I did with Elysium. When you do something like this you have to be ready. 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.
What is actually the hardest is when you end up in Pinewood Studios, the sound stages, and everything’s relatively luxurious around you and then all of a sudden you find yourself in a stage where there’s not good air systems and you’re burning. We had real fire in there all the time because of the dragon. And so the oxygen would just be, 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 just from, really just, just lack of oxygen. Um, so it’s quite, 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, you know.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I was saying this, uh, the other day. I, I mean – 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 gonna 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. I’m good at arguing. 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.
You had a lot of emotion and power in your role. How did you prepare for your character?
I can’t go through my experience because I do characters. 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”, and go again. When I’m preparing is really just understanding 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. And it’s like, okay, so I know what that is. You know, I have certain alpha male type tendencies. I’m quite a dominant guy. So I take that and just do that in its extreme form. Once I’ve made that decision, then I just let it come out and see what’s, what happens, you know? 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.
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?
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.” They say,”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’ve lived with them. I don’t have kids yet because I was aware that I was like, I was working so hard.
If I want to have kids, I want to be able to spend some time with them every day. And, um, you know, when I’m ready to do that. So, yeah. That’s, you know, Happy Father’s Day. Definitely. It’s like it’s a lesson for your children but it’s very much for the dads – a lesson for you.
Maleficent opens nationwide May 30th and is rated PG!
*I was provided with an all-expense paid trip to do this and all Maleficent coverage.