As told to us in the Angelina Jolie Maleficent interview, the reason her daughter Vivienne got cast as the young Aurora was because she was the only child on the set not scared of her in that Sleeping Beauty villain costume. Perhaps that’s why Sharlto Copley was cast as King Stefan as well, because when asked if he was scared of Jolie, he quickly responded.
"No. I guess that’s why I got the role,” Sharlto said. “Well, that was the key I suppose. It was like leave the whole most famous woman in the world at the door and then let’s just do this.”
Copley found, as we have too, that Jolie is quite grounded. “She was very respectful and treated me as an equal, which I wouldn’t have expected that -- I wouldn’t have required it,” he said and laughed.
As you can see from the Maleficent trailer, Copley’s Stefan and Jolie’s Maleficent start out as friends. They get close to one another, and some would say their characters even fall in love. But, when the desire for power rules Stefan, he removes her fairy wings and sends her on the path that we know all too well from Sleeping Beauty.
The South African actor, who is best known for his work on District 9 and Elysium, was impressed with a star of her caliber and fame who was able to risk all that to take a role as one of the world’s most iconic villains.
“She’s one of the actresses I admire most. What I admire is there’s very few actresses who are known and loved as movie stars who would take a role, for example, where they’re going to say, ‘I hate you,’ to a baby, and know that they can do that and still have the audience,” Copley said and smiled.
“You know, it’s a certain type of actor that has that range, knowing my fans love me as the hero the whole time -- that, am I going to be able to pull this off? 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 if they try.”
He also felt the same way about his approach to his character. Is Stefan a villain? Is he just wired for power? “Is this guy good? Is he bad? He’s complex! I think we gravitated to wanting to work together because I could feel that with her, and thought, 'This is gonna be a very interesting film,' because I’m going through almost the reverse of what I went through in District 9 -- starting nice and just deteriorating,” Copley admitted.
“She’s starting nice, going bad and then coming back. I thought that would be very interesting energetically, sort of provide a kind of energetic chemistry for the audience, which I think it does.”
Given that Stefan begins good and goes dark, even sending his daughter Aurora away for 16 years that has us wondering if it was for her own good or his own selfish reasons, what was it about the character that most compelled Copley?
“I’m playing with this guy who is drawn from something from ways that human beings behave, ways that ambitious men behave. From my point of view, Stefan loved her (Maleficent) the whole way. This is his true love who he betrays for power,” Copley said.
“It’s like the equivalent of the man who chooses work over his family. That man usually doesn’t do it in one moment. But he’s gonna gradually do it because he’s spending more time at work. He then gets to a certain level of success. He trades his wife in as she gets older for the younger version. He’s never there with his kids. It’s like Stefan’s doing all of that.”
But at the root, Copley appreciated how filmmakers painted him as not completely evil. In fact, his treachery and subsequent culpability drive him mad.
“He’s living with his guilty conscience of having betrayed the one person that he truly loved. And anybody who’s in any way betrayed somebody that they really truly loved, lives with their conscience. They maybe don’t drive themselves crazy as Stefan does, but they live with that pain.”