There’s a new “Black Panther” in town, but this one is not much given to serving humanity, improving racial representation or hollering “Wakanda Forever” whenever his onesie gets creased.
La Pantera Negra, it turns out, is the ruthless, Beatles-loving Mexican cartel kingpin in “Gringo,” a comedy crime caper starring David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron and Sharlto Copley.
“People were saying, ‘Are you worried that you called the villain Black Panther?’ Seriously, we made the movie like two years ago and I was like, ‘Um, no,'” laughs Copley, 44.
“And even if we were, it’s still funny to me. I mean, what? Do we not laugh at anything anymore?”
“Gringo” — part comedy, part white-knuckle actioner — follows businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo) as he finds himself crossing the line from law-abiding citizen to wanted criminal.
The mild-mannered pharmaceutical executive takes a business trip from Chicago to Mexico with his cutthroat bosses Richard (Edgerton) and Elaine, played by a deliciously Cruella de Vil-esque Theron.
There are numerous twists and turns along the way to Harold sounding the alarm that he has been abducted — and coming face-to-face with the Black Panther.
Rather than pay a $5 million ransom, Richard dispatches his mercenary-turned-humanitarian brother Mitch, played by Copley, to extract Harold.
“It seemed to me to be a great set-up for a comedic character — a guy who is a former mercenary and is now trying to turn his life around in Haiti by helping people in need,” Copley told AFP.
“And then he gets drawn into this whole mess, kind of like an alcoholic going back into a bar.”
“Gringo” is helmed by Edgerton’s brother Nash, who made his feature-length directorial debut in 2008 with the acclaimed Australian thriller “The Square.”
– Rude and despicable –
Production began in March 2016 in a subdued, gray Chicago before cast and crew pumped up the color palette in Mexico City and Veracruz.
The director pushes Theron and Edgerton to be more rude and despicable than they’ve ever been on screen before — and bear in mind Theron has an Oscar for playing a serial killer in “Monster” (2003).
“Charlize has some of my favorite lines in the film and it’s kind of fun to see her and Joel, who are such likeable people and actors normally, just have a bit of fun,” says Copley.
The South African actor burst onto the scene with an acclaimed performance as Wikus van de Merwe in 2009 sci-fi thriller “District 9,” before taking on Howling Mad Murdock in “The A-Team” (2010).
He was Agent Kruger in “Elysium” (2013) and King Stefan in “Maleficent” (2014), as well as the eponymous CGI robot in “Chappie” (2015).
“I like projects that push the envelope and do something different. Those projects may or may not pay off from a financial or audience point of view,” he says.
“But I prefer doing that than something that will just go down the middle, that will just be like people watch it and forget about it.”
Copley never bases his many diverse characters on specific individuals, but he borrows — consciously or otherwise, he says — from aspects of acquaintances’ personalities.
“In this case I do know a couple of mercenary guys and special forces guys and have a sense of that world, I guess,” he reveals.
Copley also had a starring role in Ilya Naishuller’s low-budget Russian-American sci-fi actioner “Hardcore Henry” (2016), a live-action movie about a cyborg soldier that looks more like a photo-real shoot-’em-up video game.
– Media empire –
“It was a grueling, difficult shoot but I certainly bonded with the director incredibly — we’re very close friends now — and made some great friendships with some of the team in Russia and the stunt guys,” he says.
“It was unlike any film I’ve ever done. For everybody, it was difficult. You’re talking about an action film where you have to make the action look good from one camera angle.”
Copley began directing and acting in his own short films at the age of 12, going on to study speech and drama at Trinity College, London.
With a talent for the business of entertainment to match his acting prowess, he became one of the youngest senior executives in the history of South African television as the founder of ETV at 24.
Over the last 17 years, he has been responsible for co-founding and managing a media empire taking in a film production company, visual effects house and talent agency.
In front of the camera, Copley finds himself about to film the most complex, dramatic role of his life as Ted Kaczynski, alias The Unabomber, who carried out 16 bombings across America from 1978-1995.
Then he makes his feature directorial debut working from his own script in socially-conscious comedy “Sapien Safari,” starring as an alien naturalist called Riblik, a kind of intergalactic Steve Irwin.
“I’m just keeping it all under wraps at the moment but I’m extremely excited about that,” he tells AFP.
“I’m definitely doing something you’ve never seen before in your life.”
“Gringo” hit US theaters on Friday.