Sharlto Copley discusses giving his ‘Maleficent’ villain human shadings

Sharlto Copley intrigues me.

Here's a guy who was producing and directing little things, who suddenly captured Hollywood's imagination in Neill Blomkamp's surprise smash “District 9.” Even though his “District 9” character, Wikus van der Merwe, was hardly a clean-cut, matinee idol showcase, Hollywood decided out of nowhere that Copley, who improvised much of his dialogue in “District 9,” was a leading man, or at least a candidate to be a featured villain.

Subsequently, Copley has taken roles in features like “The A-Team,” “Oldboy” and, reuniting with Blomkamp, “Elysium.” Each role could have positioned Copley for his next step up the A-list actor. Instead, the South African star has approached each of them with the dogged quirkiness of a character actor.

The same is true in “Maleficent,” where Copley's Stefan is a love interest and then an adversary for Angelina Jolie's title character. Working with a scraggly beard, a paranoid mien and an accent that gravitates towards the Scottish Highlands, Copley is, as usual, basically unrecognizable.

As I sat down to talk with Copley at the “Maleficient” junket, it struck me that I actually had no idea what Shartlo Copley actually looked or sounded like out-of-character. I assume he'd take that as a compliment. 

In our conversation, Copley candidly discusses his process of character actor-izing leading man roles, how he chose Stefan's particular eccentricities and the role of the director in helping steer his path. And, if you didn't see that excerpt earlier, he discusses his latest collaboration with Blomkamp in the upcoming robot film “Chappie.”

Also check out my interview with “Maleficent's” Sleeping Beauty, Elle Fanning.

“Maleficent” opens on Friday, May 30.