I had the chance to sit down with Sharlto Copley From Maleficent to talk about his role in this animated Disney hit. His role was complex, but our time together was anything but. Sharlto was charming, charismatic and warm to the group the entire time. Here’s what the actor had to say.
You want to talk about power? About emotion? About questioning whether or not what you are watching it actually really happening? Then let’s talk about Sharlto Copley. Power. House. I mean… I had no idea that this man was going to bring what he did to the film when it started because his character was rather timid in the beginning. Stefan was just a boy who was in love with a fairy and who had dreams of the castle … of a “better” life. It all started out so very innocent.
Exclusive Interview With Sharlto Copley From Maleficent
But half way through, we see a very different side of Stefan – who later turns King. His obsession with revenge and greed and power eventually ruin him and his mind and he gets lost in his own world of destruction. And I found myself lost with him. I felt sad for him. I felt angry with him. I felt his pain. I felt the love that he still held deep down inside for Maleficent. I felt it all during each and every scene.
Like I said… powerhouse.
SO VERY HAPPY to share this interview with Sharlto Copley today. We all wanted to know how he prepared to become Stefan.
I really don’t enjoy playing villains. I find it quite unpleasant in some ways. My way with Stefan was to focus on a very male trait – ambition. Most men want to be 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. What happens when you let your male drive and 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 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. That was the interesting part about playing this role.
How badly did Sharlto Copley want 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? Most of my films are R-rated movies. I was like, come on man! I have to do something with a positive message.
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 kept saying, “Just get it to her,”
I was very grateful to get this.
(Related – Interview With Elle Fanning For Maleficent)
What was his favorite part of Maleficent ?
There was a lot of scenes that I liked. I really enjoyed all the stuff with the pixies. I love comedy and so,that was 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.
What about training? How did Sharlto Copley train for Maleficent?
Actors seems to just have to be ready for any role at any given time, right? Lucky for Sharlto – he makes sure that he stays in top form all year long. You never think about that, do you? At least I don’t! I always imagine actors taking months off and vacationing when they aren’t filming but I suppose you can’t have that luxury especially when you offer up fighting sequences as a skill.
I didn’t do as much in this as I did with Elysium. But you always 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, kind of, repetitive nature of it.
The scenes we shot in Pinewood Studios – the sound stages – are relatively luxurious 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. People constantly had to go out to just try and get enough air.
I found myself almost passing out two or three times in the action sequences just from lack of oxygen.So it’s quite, it’s quite interesting. It’s quite challenging physically and mentally sometimes. But it’s enjoyable.
Would there be another career in Sharlto Copley’s life if acting didn’t work out?
Of course! But guess what? It would still be in the same field. He couldn’t picture himself too far from the industry.
If I wasn’t an actor what would I be? 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. 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.
Thank goodness acting worked out! District 9, Elysium and now Maleficent! Wouldn’t be the same without him.
The next question was mine because as crazy as the King became. As fueled with revenge as his motives were… I still felt that Stefan loved Maleficent. I believed that he played the character thinking all along that deep down inside he always loved her. So, I had to know –
Did he believe the King still loved Maleficent?
I definitely played it that way. You have to always walk a fine line in how they edit the film because you need to be the bad guy, but I definitely played it like he still loved her. You know, it was the only person he had ever loved. And he crossed a line that he could never come back from.
I try and look for as much human truth as possible. In my experience if you were to betray somebody that is your real love or that you had real love with. If you’re a normal person and you’re not psychotic, that is gonna eat at you. That, the guilt of having done that. That sits with you.
Emotionally, what was the most challenging scene for Sharlto to film? He had two that came to mind:
Definitely in terms of actual emotion it’s when he takes her wings. Shooting it again and again – that’s the sort of case where we did several takes and most of my takes were so very painful for me. But when you see what they choose, they chose the one that’s kind of the least emotional. That way, he feels the most evil because otherwise it’s almost endearing, too human to the character.
Then the actual battle scenes with her, that was probably the hardest. It’s not something that I would probably want to do again. Doing a scene where you actually fighting with the woman?
There’s no reality in which you would put your hands on a woman in an aggressive way in the culture and community that I was brought up in. My, sort of, primal male reaction if I saw somebody hit a woman at a table is I’d probably wanna go and just punch the guy in the face, you know. So my whole program, everything is, is now I’m doing something that’s the complete opposite to what I feel instinctively. I have to override that.
And logically, that I knew that it was wrong. But even my primal instinct was telling me, no, no, no. It’s the other way. It was like, protect. You don’t attack her. You attack the dude that’s attacking her, you know.
Maleficent comes out right before Father’s Day.
Did Sharlto Copley have any messages for 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.” People think, “Well I’m making money for my family.” But they don’t want money. They want time with daddy. You know? I don’t have kids yet because I was aware that I was working so hard.
If I want to have kids, I want to be able to spend some time with them every day. When I’m ready to do that, I will. There’s a lesson for your children but there’s very much a lesson in there for the dads as well.
LAST QUESTION! Pranks!! There was a rumor that Angelina Jolie and Sharlto would prank one another on set. We had to know whether or not it was true.
Yeah, there was a lot. Uh, most of it was pretty crazy and will remain with me. One scene we were sitting down by the river and sometimes I would improvise my dialog and so I pretended that I’d heard a noise in the bush. I suddenly said to her, like, “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 finding things and I come up with the raven on the end of my sword. As it’s the raven that’s been following her, you know, and I’m screaming to her, “I got him!” And the whole crew laughed and I thought I was very clever and very funny.
The next morning, I get to my trailer I think six o’clock or something like that. 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 screeched! I was literally too scared to go into my trailer. It took half an hour before the guy could come and remove the ravens. They are intimidating birds! Have you seen real ones?!
HA! He didn’t think Angie would let that one go, did he? So much fun hearing all these behind the scenes stories, right? I’m obsessed!
Disney just announced the release of MALEFICENT: The Official Multi-Touch Book. The book, offered for free exclusively through iBooks, explores both the legacy of Disney’s classic animated film, “Sleeping Beauty”—which first introduced the iconic villainess Maleficent—and the making of the all-new live-action film,MALEFICENT, starring Angelina Jolie
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MALEFICENT is rated PG and releases in theaters everywhere on May 30th! Your children are going to LOVE IT! My kids cannot WAIT.
* Disney flew me out to LA to interview Angelina Jolie. All flight and hotel accommodations were covered.