Sharlto Copley, who plays King Stefan in Disney’s Maleficent, talks with Collider about his character, working with Angelina Jolie, and what’s next for him.
Question: How did you come to this?
SHARLTO COPLEY: It came through my agents, and my agents gave me the script and said, “This is something going around town. A lot of people are going after it. You’re probably not going to get in there.” I was like, “Look, I really would love to do this.” I went after it quite aggressively, in the sense of doing a tape. Actually, if I remember correctly, there was a delay because they thought it was going to someone else, but they were not sure. And then, as soon as they said, “We might be able to get your tape in there,” I did it and they sent it.
Was this a character that you tapped into, right away?
COPLEY: Yes, I did. That usually happens with characters that I do, but not always. But I had a feeling that I had found a way into the character, which was to use his desire for ambition and recognition and this male dominate trait that I could see and recognize that I had some of in myself. So, I started with that, and then did something where I took it to its extreme.
How did you ultimately find your performance?
COPLEY: I wanted to play him with a real degree of humanity. And because I’m a filmmaker at heart, I know a villain can’t be too humanized and the audience can’t empathize with him too much. For me, he loves her, the whole way through the film. He betrays her, but it wasn’t easy for him to betray her, and that drives him crazy, having hurt the one person that loved him before he was the king.
Do you think he had moments when he wished he hadn’t done, or he wished things had turned out differently?
COPLEY: Yes! But I think it was the classic thing of the ego having just gotten too big, by that point. He’s still stuck in the idea of, “How could she do this to me?” From his point of view, he was meant to kill her, but he doesn’t kill her. He takes her wings, which he considers to be helpful, almost. You don’t see a lot of the backstory that we actually shot, that didn’t make it into the film, that was a progression where he realizing, as he’s getting older and he has this relationship with Maleficent, that she’s just too different from him. He’s starting to say, “What’s wrong with ambition? I’m not magic. I can’t fly. I wanna do something great.” This divide between magical creatures and humans gets bigger and bigger and bigger, causing them to have a fight and separate. If he had his way, as the king of his kingdom, he would have sat down with her and be like, “I did this. Now, maybe we can have some peace between our kingdoms, and you and I can have a relationship. I’m really sorry for it, but this king wanted to kill you. Now, humans and magical creatures can live together.” That would have been my approach with the character.
How was it to work with Angelina Jolie?
COPLEY: I had to leave the whole “most famous woman in the world” thing at the door and just do this. Thankfully, that’s what she wanted from me. She was just very grounded and very respectful and just treated me, surprisingly to some people from the outside, as an equal. I wouldn’t have expected that. I wouldn’t have required it. I really, really enjoyed the process of working with her. She’s one of the actresses I admire most. Very specifically, what I admire is that there’s very few actresses who are known and loved as movie stars, who would take a role where they’re going to say, “I hate you,” to a baby. She can do that, and still have the audience. It’s a certain type of actor that has that range, knowing that her fans will love her as the hero, the whole time. It’s difficult for people, once they become movie stars, to do that. Even if they have the acting chops to do it, the audience won’t accept it from them. What she had seen and said about District 9 was my layers of being able to mess with the audience and make them wonder, “Do I like you? Do I not like you?,” as you’re watching the character. I think we gravitated to wanting to work together because I thought it would be a very interesting film. I’m going through this in almost the reverse of what I went through in District 9, starting nice and just deteriorating. Maleficent starts nice, goes bad, and then comes back. I thought that would be very interesting, energetically.
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