A-Team's Sharlto Copley soars

2010-08-20 12:00
Gayle Edmunds
They might not have let Sharlto Copley fly real helicopters while making The A-Team, but the South African actor is soaring in tinseltown and enjoying every moment of the trip.

“I went in a helicopter, but apparently the budget wasn’t big enough for me to get my pilot’s licence which I have always wanted to get. So if we make a sequel I am going to put that in the conditions of my contract. ‘You must teach me to fly for real because I need to know, I can’t pretend anymore I am a respected, serious critically respected actor now. Doesn’t that mean something?’” he jokes.

He and fellow A-Teamer Quinton “Rampage” Jackson were in South Africa recently for the film’s premiere and to chat about the challenges of taking on such iconic television characters on the big screen.

Copley hasn’t traded his accent in for one with a twang, and his easy-going manner is much the same as it was during last year’s District 9 interviews. But his life has changed a lot since then.

“My life has changed a lot. Massively, I am trying to think of the correct vocabulary to use… and I’m struggling. I have been enjoying it overall. My view of life is that everything has positive and negative in it if you really look.

“It’s, kind of, one of my fundamental views on how I view the whole material universe, there is a constant play of forces that are fighting for a balance. That’s what I am experiencing.”

Living between Cape Town and Los Angeles, Copley is animated as he talks about remixing the Howlin’ Mad Murdock character for new audiences and old fans.

He was also lucky enough to meet Dwight Schultz who played the role in the original early 1980s TV series.

When Schultz visited the set to do a cameo (you’ll have to stay until the end of the credits to see it), Copley showed him the test tape he made that got him the part.

After watching it, Copley says that Schultz turned to him and said: “You are Murdock.”

He even passed the mantle on his website, posting the message: “Murdock is dead, long live Murdock.”

Of all of the team Copley’s portrayal of Murdock is the closest to the original, but he gives much of the credit of that to Schultz’s creation.

“I approached the role from an instinctive place where I had grown up with the show being my favourite show as a child. Murdock and BA were my two favourite characters.

“That energy, that playfulness that Dwight (Schultz) had, I had been heavily influenced by and it resonated with me in little things I had done my whole life. I really tried to play Murdock in a very similar way to Dwight’s original portrayal of him and keep the same level of playfulness that that character had, which I think was the key thing.”

Ultimately though Copley is philosophical about the finished product, saying that he played the role in a way that he would have liked to see it done.

Copley encouraged his fellow A-Teamer, Jackson, to come with him to South Africa and he says the two of them shared a great camaraderie on set.

“The characters had a naturally antagonist thing between them, particularly between Murdock and BA, that is entertaining to watch by default in that they were so well crafted and created originally that they were always going to work so long as you cast guys who could pull off the performances. So I never felt we must get on, it was really an added that we did – especially Quinton and I. It made the process much more fun, we carried on between takes and we still carry on.”

For Jackson – a mixed martial arts fighter by trade – though, the task of playing BA Barracus was potentially daunting, though he says he didn’t worry about that.

“I don’t think I was worried about stepping into his shoes. I was more distracted by working with such big actors. I was a big fan of District 9, of Taken and The Hangover. So I was working with these guys. I’m a really big fan of The A-Team and a really big fan of Mr T. I figure I look like him a little bit sometimes.”

He goes on to explain that he had told the agency he is signed with that if they ever make an A-Team movie he wanted to play BA.

Well, he got his wish and unfortunately, though he makes a fine effort, Mr T is a tough act to follow.

“I think Mr T did such a good job of being BA that the average person who watched The A-Team didn’t even know the character’s name was BA, they thought it was Mr T. So it was pretty hard to be like Mr T, it was a no-no on my part so I basically brought a whole new aspect to BA.

“Like, Mr T was back in the day and was a TV show, this is a movie now. I had the Mohawk and I tried to have my body weight close to his, and that’s about it.”

As for Copley, just as he was mum at last year’s District 9 interview about The A-Team project, he’s equally discreet this year about what’s up next in his movie star life. But he did say that a follow-up to District 9 was bound to come – when the timing’s right. So that clears that up then...

» The A-Team is currently on circuit. For a review of the film, see Sunday’s 7 in City Press.