Sharlto Copley Talks Neil Blomkamp’s ‘Chappie’ and his Robot Character

Published 12 months ago by

sharlto copley district 9 chappie Sharlto Copley Talks Neil Blomkamps Chappie and his Robot Character

Sharlto Copley has, thus far, been the De Niro/DiCaprio to District 9 and Elysium director Neil Blomkamp’s Scorsese, and that practice continues with Blomkamp’s next original sci-fi offering, Chappie. The movie follows the misadventures of the eponymous robot, who is kidnapped by two South African gangsters so that he might serve “their own nefarious purposes.” While the film’s official synopsis confirms that Copley is voicing Chappie, the actor has now revealed that said role required more than just him vocalizing.

Similar to how District 9 is a feature-length take on Blomkamp’s original short film “Alive in Johannesburg”, Chappie is loosely based on Blomkamp’s satirical short, “Tetra Vaal”. The cast includes South African singer/rappers Ninja and Yolandi Visser, as well as such big-name Hollywood types as Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, in addition to character actor, Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom). Equally noteworthy is the fact that Blomkamp co-wrote the Chappie script with his District 9 co-writer (and real-life significant other), award-winner Terri Tatchell, after he served as the sole credited writer on Elysium (to that film’s detriment, arguably).

Copley, who plays King Stefan in Maleficent this month, spoke to Coming Soon at the press junket for Disney’s live-action Sleeping Beauty re-imagining, and indicated that he feels Chappie is a step in the right direction, for Blomkamp and Co., creatively-speaking:

“I think we’re finding our stride now on this third film, sort of going back to a smaller style of filmmaking. I’m doing the lead again… I’m playing a light character… A child-like robot, which is great. He only gets to about nine years in his emotional development. I got to run around in one of the most dangerous cities in the world being a child. It was awesome.”

Judging by his direction on Elysium, Blomkamp was self-consciously attempting to top his feature debut with District 9, in terms of the action, scale, and socio-policial subtext of his sophomore sci-fi/action offering. That Chappie is, by Copley’s account, a step in a different direction (one that Blomkamp’s more comfortable with taking) is good to hear. Same goes for the news that Copley is playing something of a larger-than-life character, which he usually does quite well – even when appearing in less impressive fare (see: the Oldboy remake).

sharlto copley chappie interview elysium Sharlto Copley Talks Neil Blomkamps Chappie and his Robot Character

Sharlto Copley in ‘Elysium’

As mentioned before, however, Copley isn’t just lending his voice to the eponymous “child-like robot,” he’s also responsible for creating the character’s various movements and physical gestures. Somewhat surprisingly, Copley didn’t just put on a motion-capture suit to portray Chappie in the film; rather, the CGI character is being realized in a somewhat more rudimentary fashion:

“The part that’s blowing my mind is that they’re animating over my movements. So they’re using absolutely everything I do in a sort of poor man’s motion-capture style. I was never sure how this would translate, but the amount of me that is in the character is incredible… It’s quite an amazing experience because you’ve created something totally different now. All you’ve had to focus on as the actor is the behavior. The essence of this being not all concerned about their appearance, which you normally would be concerned about as an actor.”

Motion-capture is all the rage in Hollywood nowadays, whether it’s being used to turn Benedict Cumberbatch into a giant dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or to create a village of apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It’s possible that the character of Chappie isn’t reliant on facial expressiveness – something that motion-capture is especially useful for… well, capturing – and instead, the robot has either a locked expression (think C-3PO in Star Wars) or none at all. That might explain why Blomkamp decided to forgo mo-cap trickery, in this particular case.


Chappie opens in U.S. theaters on March 6th, 2015.

Source: Coming Soon

Follow Sandy Schaefer on Twitter @feynmanguy
TAGS: Chappie
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  1. I’m always up for a Blomkamp film but I would prefer if he took it easy on the shaky-cam.

    • True but hey. I always got the idea he’s not trying to force the shakeyness into the film. Say like Lion’s gate did with the first Hunger games movie where they actually said they had the camera guy shake the crap out of it as people where doing every day stuff.

      • Totally agree with you,its an overused tecnique,another example being Man of steel,which I loved but had shakey-cam syndrome.Jim Cameron has some strong opinions on it.

        • I never noticed the “shaky cam” in MOS (or a lot of other films people claim to have seen it in, I also never had a problem with the camera in Cloverfield too) but I didn’t like how it would occasionally zoom into things randomly, took me out of the movie because it felt like a reality TV show at times, especially when Kal-El’s capsule flew towards Earth.

          • The zooming didn’t bother me at all and like the slow-mo/fast-mo Snyder uses suits CBMs sometimes imo.But when you have simple scenes like people talking shot in shaky-cam it reminds me of a camera phone and distracts me from the story like bad 3d.

        • I’m very touchy about shaky-cam as well, but it never bothered me in Man of Steel.

          • I just think its overused that’s all.Does every scene need to shaky-cam.

  2. Very excited to watch this! Anything made here in SA is a winner already :)

  3. I like Neil Blomkamp’s South Africa edge to his films. South Africa has a nice edge to it that lets the world know there’s more to films than just America and the UK

  4. Copey is an alright actor, but I don’t see him carrying a movie. Christian Bale would’ve been a better fit here. Or maybe Jeremy Renner, Tom Hardy, or Gerard Butler

    • Did you even read how the character acts!?