Sharlto Copley on Onset Pranking, Playing the Villain, and Preparing for his Role #MaleficentEvent

*Disney provided me with an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to attend advance screenings of Maleficent and Planes: Fire and Rescue and to attend press junkets for both films. No other compensation was received. All thoughts are 100% my own.*

Onscreen, Sharlto Copley, who plays King Stefan in Disney’s Maleficent (in theaters May 30th), is intense, ambitious, and a man on the brink of losing his sanity. In person, Sharlto is nothing like his Disney counterpart. Within minutes of entering the room at the Four Seasons, he was animatedly telling us stories about being onset—and nearly fell out of his chair doing so. All twenty-five bloggers were laughing hysterically.

Sharlto Copley on Onset Pranking, Playing the Villain, and Preparing for his Role #MaleficentEvent

This was the perfect opening for the first question: Was there any pranking that happened on the set? “Most of it was pretty crazy and will remain with me. One example of the kind of thing we were doing is I was pretending to—in the scene where her and I are still true lovers and we still love each other—I sometimes would improvise my dialogue…so I pretended that I’d heard a noise in the bush. Now while the cameras were filming, because this particular prank was trying to get something with her that was sort of for the record on camera. So I heard a noise…I suddenly said to her, ‘Do you hear something?’…and she sort of looked at me but now she’s got to keep playing on… And so I run off and I go behind the bush and I’m like, you know, and I’m diving down and I’m finding things…and I come up with the raven…as if the raven had been following her. And the whole crew laughed and I thought I was very clever and funny. The next morning I get to my trailer…and I open my trailer and there’s these two huge real ravens in my trailer. I was literally too scared to go into my trailer… Ravens are intimidating birds!”

Sharlto Copley on Onset Pranking, Playing the Villain, and Preparing for his Role #MaleficentEvent

Though Sharlto Copley plays an amazing villain, it’s not actually a role he likes stepping into. “I find it quite unpleasant in some ways. My way in with Stefan was to take a very male trait, which most men have sort of ambition. They want to kind of be the king of their castle. In this case, he does literally become king of his castle… I felt like there was a chance to almost play like a male, a cautionary tale for men with Stefan, of what happens when…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.”

Sharlto auditioned for the role of King Stefan, and describes it as one that he really wanted. “I’d met Angie before and really felt she was 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… I went after this quite aggressively. I shot a tape for it, a bunch of scenes…I was very grateful to get this.”

Unlike Elle, Sharlto did not have a favorite scene in the film. “There was a lot of scenes that I liked. I really enjoyed all the stuff with the pixies. I love comedy, and so it’s always fun for me to watch the comic relief characters in a movie.”

As far as any sort of training for the battle scenes in the film, Sharlto did not have to do anything to get ready for them. “When you do something like this you have to be ready for…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.”

If Sharlto were to do anything besides acting, he thinks that he would enjoy directing. “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. Like, that would just destroy me. But I think I could argue very well in court, as useless as that would be.”

Sharlto Copley on Onset Pranking, Playing the Villain, and Preparing for his Role #MaleficentEvent

In Maleficent, King Stefan and Maleficent are in love for a short time until his ambition causes him to commit the ultimate act of betrayal. Sharlto, who strikes me as a sort of romantic, played the character as one who still loved Maleficent, even in the end. “They 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 he could never come back from.”

Rather than preparing for this sort of role, Sharlto described it as becoming that character. “I do feel like I become somebody else and in the rare occasions where I’ll be doing a take that slips, you know, and I suddenly feel like myself again and I’ll actually stop and go, ‘Okay, guys, hang on.’ When I’m preparing it’s really just understanding what the deepest truth that I can find in humanity or in human archetypes within human behavior.”

Emotionally, the hardest scene for Sharlto to film was when Stefan took Maleficent’s wings. “That’s the sort of case where we did several takes and most of my takes…it’s so painful for me actually what I’m doing… And then when you see what they choose, they’ll choose the one that’s kind of the least way, so he feels the most evil because otherwise it’s almost endearing, too human to the character.”

Sharlto Copley on Onset Pranking, Playing the Villain, and Preparing for his Role #MaleficentEvent

Sharlto was born in South Africa, where he says “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 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… Now I’m doing something that’s the complete opposite to what I feel instinctively, that I have to override that.”


Jen currently lives in Utah with her family, and enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. She is active on popular book websites including paperbackswap.com, Goodreads.com, and luxuryreading.com.

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