With so much anticipation surrounding this week’s release of Disney’s newest film Maleficent, I’m so excited to be sharing interviews I did with the cast last week. If you happened to miss the first one, you can catch up by reading my Elle Fanning interview.
Today’s interview is all about Sharlto Copley and his role as King Stefan and Princess Aurora’s father. At the start of the film, it’s really easy to love Stefan and towards the middle and end of the film, it’s really to hate him. He is such a complex character and in the film you watch his journey from an innocent young boy to a spiteful monarch.
He does such an amazing job in his role that at first, it was hard for me to separate the dislike I had for him in the movie to the man that was sitting in front of me in a conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. But once we started the interview and he opened up about his role, and I was able to see him smile and hear him laugh, I was able to see him as he was, and not as the vengeful King Stefan. He’s actually quite funny and from what I hear, quite the prankster.
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?
Yeah, there was a lot. Most of it was pretty crazy and will remain with me. There is one example of the kind of thing we were doing. I was pretending to, in the scene where her [Maleficent] and I are still true lovers and we still love each other, sitting down by the river and I sometimes would improvise my dialog, as I sort of have been known to do. So I pretended that I’d heard a noise in the bush. The cameras were filming this particular prank because we were 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 and 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,” you know, 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…and the whole crew laughed and I thought I was very clever and very funny. And then the next day, I get to my trailer I think at six o’clock or something like that. And I open my trailer, I’m all tired and I just can’t wait to 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 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?
The thing with me and I’ve sort of said it before, I really don’t enjoy playing villains. I find it quite unpleasant in some ways. My way in with Stefan was to take a very male trait, which is, most men have ambition, they want to 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 a cautionary tale for men with Stefan, of what happens when your male drive, 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 see very successful, very wealthy men, whose families are in complete disarray. They don’t spend time with their wives anymore. They don’t spend time with their kids. Their ambition has sort of become their obsession. 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 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 was, you know, that I could show my seven year old nephew. Because most of my films are R-rated movies. I was like, come on man. Gotta do something with a really positive message. And so, yeah. 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.
How much training did you have to do for all the fighting you did in the film?
I didn’t do 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 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. For example, in this film, what is actually the hardest is 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 conditioning systems and you’re burning. We had real fire in there all the time because of the dragon. And so there wasn’t enough oxygen. And people constantly having to go out to 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 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, you know.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
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 going to 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. 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?
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, I’ll actually stop and go like, “Okay guys, hang on.” So when I’m preparing, it is really just understanding what the deepest truth that I can find in humanity or in human archetypes within human behavior. Once I know what that is, for example, 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. So I take that and just do that in its extreme form. And once I’ve made that decision, then I just let it come out and see what happens. 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, don’t fall off your castle.” “Well I was making money for my family.” They didn’t want money. They wanted time with daddy. And you see it all over the place. I don’t have kids yet because I’m was aware that I’m working so hard. If I want to have kids, I want to be able to spend some time with them every day.
Although I grew to despise his character in the film, Sharlto Copley is a down to earth kind of guy with amazing talent. Make sure to mark your calendars for 5/30, when you’ll be able to see Maleficent on the big screen!