ON THE SET: “THE A-TEAM”
Here’s more Hero Complex coverage of “The A-Team” from Chris Lee’s visit to the set in Vancouver in December.
Just like those prawn aliens in “District 9,” Sharlto Copley has a strange, long-hidden secret in his South African past: It turns out the actor may have been the biggest “A-Team” fan in his native country.
“It was my favorite show when I was a kid,” Copley said of the NBC commando series that is now the basis of a feature film opening June 11 with Copley as one of its stars. “For the first two years it was on, I wasn’t allowed to watch; my parents thought it was too violent. “But I sneak-watched a few episodes. And I used to tape record the audio.”
And, guess what, Copley’s favorite character on the TV series just happened to be Capt. H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, the nut-job helicopter pilot portrayed by Dwight Schultz; Copley, coming off the starring role in the Oscar-nominated “District 9,” carries on the daft tradition of the Murdock role in the film, which also stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Jessica Biel.
The 36-year-old Copley was preparing for the role in this $100-million Twentieth Century Fox film two decades ago when he was living and breathing “The A-Team.”
“I had the action figures, the collectible books, the stickers, the ‘A-Team’ birthday cake,” said Copley, who was dressed in formal military attire for a scene. “We even had ‘A-Team’ gangs at school. My gang had a war with the other ‘A-Team’ gang when I was 12. We won.”
He won again when producer Jules Daly caught Copley’s film debut in “District 9.” While that movie built momentum at the box-office, she lobbied the studio with co-writer-director Joe Carnahan to bring the neophyte actor onto the team to play the paranoid delusional, frequently hallucinating soldier of fortune.
“He had the essence,” said Carnahan. “When I did the screen test, you saw it in his eyes. The guy is always working and thinking and behaving – some of the attributes that a ‘classically trained actor’ might not have. For Sharlto, it’s not about marks and cues. It’s about being in the moment.”
Copley was a short-film and commercial director who started his own production company and even launched a cable channel in South Africa before going in front of the camera for his old school chum Neill Blomkamp. If it sounds as though he’s making things up as he goes along, it may serve him well in his new career; for Murdock, he concocted a back story and accent — a new skill set for a guy who had no acting background to speak of and improvised all of his dialogue in “District 9.”
“We created a general Southern guy,” Copley explained. “You know he’s Southern but you can’t place him. He’s odd, for sure. You never really know if he’s genuinely crazy or whether he’s playing the system.”
In between setups for the film’s court-martial scene, in which the commando team is sentenced to a decade in maximum security prison for a crime they didn’t commit, Copley reflected on his experiences of growing up to become one of his childhood heroes. The actor recalled his personal zenith of the film’s 72-day shoot – when Schultz, the original Murdock, showed up to film his cameo.
“I’ve been meeting all these celebrities since ‘District 9’ and that was the most star-struck I’ve been,” Copley recalled. “I showed him my screen test. I was terrified! What if he didn’t like it? But I had to take that leap. And he turned to me with tears in his eyes. He gave me a hug and said, ‘You are Murdock.’ A very cool thing! Then he put on his website, ‘Murdock is dead. Long live Murdock!’ ”
— Chris Lee
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PHOTOS: Top, Sharlto Copley as Murdock (Fox); middle, “The A-Team” on the run (Fox); bottom, promotional poster for “The A-Team.” (Fox)
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