District 9 and Elysium director Neil Blomkamp is back with Chappie, his latest vision of near-future South Africa, in which robots are the new police force. Things take a turn when the robot cops’ inventor – a brilliant young programmer named Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) – uploads a program into one of the units that endows it with artificial intelligence.
While that robot, “Chappie” (Sharlto Copley in motion-capture), begins to learn about the world from a group of street thugs, Deon’s revolutionary innovation catches the attention of rival programmer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who yearns to convince company executive Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) that his own mentally-controlled combat robot is superior to Deon’s police units – and a viable solution to the unchecked A.I. Deon has loosed upon the world.
We attended the Chappie junket in NYC, where we chatted with stars Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley (who provided the mo-cap for Chappie) – and of course, Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman. In our respective interviews with Sharlto Copley and Sigourney Weaver, we touched upon topics like what it takes to deliver a motion-capture performance that’s convincing for both the audience AND the actor; the state of sci-fi films, technology – and for Weaver, her thoughts on a little franchise called Ghostbusters, which is being rebooted with an all-female cast.
The first thing I have to ask is just kind of looking over your filmography from films like this, like Paul, like Cabin in the Woods, what happened? When did you go from being our hero to being the leader of every evil organization with a master plan?
Sigourney Weaver: Let’s get my agent on the phone. No, you know, the thing is that it’s true that my character in Chappie is a CEO. But those other two…I can’t help it. I’m in this genre. Cabin in the Woods was particularly strange, because she was behind such a terrible enterprise. So that was a difficult one. But I’d worked with Joss before and I thought the movie was so clever.
And the same with Paul and the same with Chappie. It’s always the script that’s going to lure me. And I don’t really care about the part. I figure I can make it work. It was interesting for me to play a CEO. I don’t share their values, and it was interesting for me to journey inside this woman who had worked so hard to become what she is and now has to wrangle these very eccentric geniuses who are in under her command and try to get them to do what she wants.
I know every sci-fi fan is going to want to know: Which body consciousness transfer method do you prefer? The one we saw in Avatar with Na’vi or the Chappie method?
Sigourney Weaver: Oh! Gosh. That’s a good question. They seem quite different to me. I mean one is kind of permanent. And the other is sort of a secret place you go to. I don’t know. That’s true. I hadn’t even thought about that parallel. I’d be curious to see what Jim Cameron thinks of the movie.
Speaking of which, we know just a little bit about your Avatar 2 character, but not really much. Is there anything you can tell us about that, or is there anything that Jim Cameron is working on that you know will blow people’s socks off? I mean he’s always kind of working on something.
Sigourney Weaver: Well you know if there is I can’t tell you about it. I’ve seen the artwork and I’ve heard the story. And I have a great character. That’s all I can tell you.
All right. Last thing, talking about other franchises kind of from then to now, I know Ghostbusters has made this huge announcement about how they are going to be continuing the franchise. But for a long time, you and the rest of the original cast were kind of on this bubble of, ‘Will you guys be back?’ and now they have kind of gone in this different direction. How do you feel about that?
Sigourney Weaver: I think that’s awesome. I think it’s great. I think it’s going to be fantastic. I can’t wait to see it.
Will we ever see you pop up anywhere in there?
Sigourney Weaver: They might have us pop up as marshmallow men or something and then destroy us. I don’t know. I hope they will think of some silly way for us to be in it. Maybe I could play that ancient librarian who goes [makes noise].
That’d be great. A lot of fans would love that.
Sigourney Weaver: Thank you.
Screen Rant: So the first thing I just want to talk about is when I was watching this character unfold, it must have been kind of a head trip for you as an actor. If I were doing this, it would make me kind of confront things a little philosophically. I would have to look in a mirror and go, “OK. Who am I? What is my soul? What does that all mean?” Was that kind of a philosophical head trip for you trying to portray all this?
Sharlto Copley: It was. I tried not to overthink it too much. I went very much into the idea of just a kid in a life form that is kind of born. I used humanity, obviously, as a frame. I didn’t focus on robots. I just focused on, well, if you are a consciousness and you come into the world like a baby does. You can see that in the eyes of little babies. There is a consciousness that is kind of looking at you, like a raw consciousness that doesn’t have its ego and its name and everything formed yet. So you get that, I think, from watching kids and watching how they grow up and they develop their personalities and their egos and their sense of who they think they are, and get more and more kind of jaded and cynical and start killing each other. [laughs] But luckily he stays very much like a kid for the vast majority of the film.
I guess it’s more a question of was it harder to just strip away your own associations of things in the world and try to reinvent and see it in these new eyes?
Sharlto Copley: That’s really the challenge of doing character acting, is kind of leaving yourself at the door. Vickers in ‘District 9’ was an example of that, of actually playing a character and have it stripped away during the process of the film. His identity is slipping away from him. This is the reverse. This is like starting with nothing and having an identity slowly start to build up, and you are reacting to the environment around you. And you’ve got these two different parental kind of role models from Die Antwoord as the kind of gangsters to Dev’s character, who wants him to paint and read poetry. It’s Die Antwoord who want him to commit armored car heists and make his ego big and powerful, and get bling, and be somebody and get the money, get the “monies,” as they call it. That’s life. That’s the challenge that we have as human beings.
Just reading into the production notes, you really had to kind of open up a new dimension of performance with this, doing performance capture. You took some unique approaches to really kind of help yourself push that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sharlto Copley: Well, there were a couple of things. The performance capture process, what works so well with this as opposed to traditional motion capture is that I get to be in the scenes with the other actors and just play the character as I see it. They have something to react to. I had a very tight gray suit on that had tracking markers on it. I wore a chest plate, kind of what you see Chappie there with the shoulders and stuff.
The biggest challenge was I knew that he was going to have behave like a gangster at various times. Wardrobe is a big deal for me in character. I know gangster clothing is not tight fitting leotard type stuff. Gangster clothing is loose in almost any gangster culture in the world.
That was worrying me. So I did some tests and I came up with a way that I would get my gangster on, as you would say. I got these little pair of shorts and I got a belt, and I would loosen the belt when he had to get gangster and ride my shorts down my backside like halfway down, as gangster do all over the world in that sort of tradition.
It just kind of informed all the gangster movements that I needed to make. Immediately, as soon as I had those shorts lowered, that was kind of an interesting little device…
That’s probably the most unique way into gangsterdom I’ve ever heard.
Sharlto Copley: There you go! [laughs]
Chappieis now playing in theaters. READ our official Review.