We spoke with Sharlto Copley about Hardcore Henry and the challenges of filming a movie completely in a first person perspective through the use of GoPro and the support of the internet.
Q: What drew you to this project?
A: The music video Ilya [Naishuller] made online. I’m now taking to calling it the BMF music video so I don’t have to swear every time. It has sort of a creative edginess to it and I thought it would be interesting to try and make a full, first person movie and see what happened.
Q: What was it like filming in Moscow?
A: It was a very unique experience. It was challenging and grueling in so many different ways because the way were making the film was so different. You know normally you shoot from these different countries and your having the same kind of experience, so you can kind of comment on the country or the city that you worked in but this was so different. Everything about the process was so different that it all blends in to one sort of fascinatingly, challenging, sometimes almost soul crushing, but at the same time amazingly rewarding experience over all.
Q: You play many different versions of your character Jimmy in the film. Which one is your favorite?
A: It’s a tie. The Colonel Jimmy and hippy Jimmy were my two favorites.
Q: What was some of the adjustments you had to make in order to film in that perspective?
A: Well there were so many for the different departments. Specifically for acting: usually you’re acting against an actor obviously or just nothing, just an eye line, a cross on the wall or something, for CGI. This was a case of acting against at various times twelve different people playing Henry. Sometimes it’s the director, sometimes it’s the VOPs, mostly it’s different stuntmen. Sometimes they’re acting with you and giving you something energetically to react [to]. In the same take suddenly the director will be engaging with you sort of acting with you and you’ll be like ‘ok I’m acting with you’ then suddenly he’s physically there but he’s not directing. He’s looking at the frame. He’s got two GoPro cameras mounted on his face just under his eyes and he’s framing you and judging what you’re doing. And you can see that he’s doing it, you can feel that he’s acting and now suddenly he’s directing. So it was kind of for me finding a place where whenever the guy operating the GoPro was acting with me shifting that energy and going ‘ok I’m going to shift this energy. I’m going to bounce off him’ and then kind of feeling when he’s going off and focusing on his thing and acting against nothing, going straight in to the camera. So that was one of many adjustments. One of the other biggest challenges was that we did an enormous amount of the film in very long, singular takes that were cut up now for the speed of the film. A lot of the original shooting was done in one take.
Q: How was working with the director Ilya Naishuller?
A: The most rewarding experience of my career. Not since my first film with Neill Blomkamp in District 9 can I say that I truly collaborated to the extent I have with Neil on that film and with Ilya on this one.
Q: Why do you think this perspective works for this movie?
A:. I think with the music video there’s a certain level of being immersed in the action that for me makes the experience of watching the film something of a cross between a rollercoaster ride and a video game, and watching it with a really enthusiastic crowd as we now have twice, it’s like you’re at a sort of rock concert or something. So the ability of the first person POV to immerse you in to the experience and in a certain way assault your senses like a roller coaster does at times, you know it takes you down then takes you one way, then right again, then it takes you down again, makes for a unique cinema going experience.
Q: Do you think this format could work in other genres of film?
A: I do. I think there’s something quite fascinating as an actor and as a viewer. The actors are regularly emoting and connecting with you, the audience. The form traditionally is about watching two people go through an experience and one of them’s crying, so you start crying in empathy with them and the situation. If the person crying was actually talking or appealing to you and started pushing those types of emotions towards you, what am I to do? Am I going to be more emotional because you do connect with them? That’s perhaps true.
Q: You’ve worked on several Internet shorts yourself. What do you think about the use of Indiegogo to fund the movie and the new utilization of technology in this film?
A: I think it’s basically essential to get this kind of film made. We couldn’t have made this film within the tradition system. I’m very interested in that, where the leading nature of the business is. I believe it is from this generation that have grown up with the internet, that have grown up with these video games etcetera. Part of my interest in the film and coming on as a producer was wanting to be involved with something that was more reflective of this new generation. Where a lot of the franchise films that are being made and a lot of the ideas and characters and worlds that were created before they were even born, which is fine, but I thought this would be very interesting to see what this generation has to offer. This film came about due to the fact that people online got excited about the “Bad Motherfucker” video and when they heard that were going to do a movie on it we had a lot of local support online. People going like ‘Please you have to make this movie! I have to see this movie before I die!” and it kind of kept us going at certain times. At the same time asking the audience for the money on Indiegogo, we could’ve decided to do the Indiegogo earlier [but] both of us felt we wanted to make sure that we had something that wouldn’t let people’s hopes down. There were certain people responding to this and we wanted to make sure that we have something that’s going to deliver because a lot of stuff goes on to those crowd funding [sites] that aren’t really that great. So I felt a very strong responsibility as with Ilya to not let that audience down. I knew there would be people that the film wasn’t for them, that’s fine. This film was very much for the new generation in my mind.
Q: With the Bad Motherfucker video there was a lot going on but it came together as a well-developed story. Do you think that was also a strong focus for Hardcore Henry?
A: That was always going to be the challenge. Ilya knew it. I knew it. You know, can you sustain this format and this type of thing for 90 minutes and can you tell enough of a story that’ll keep people interested? That was a constant conversation throughout the filmmaking process.
Hardcore Henry is set to come to theaters on April 7.