*”Hardcore Henry” is a first person shooter film shot entirely on Go-Pro cameras. The Russian-American science fiction actioner was written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, and inspired by his 2013 music video for “Bad Motherfucker,” a song by Russian band Biting Elbows. The film stars South African actor Sharlto Copley of “District 9” and “Elysium,” Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, and Tim Roth.
The story follows a man who wakes up in a Moscow laboratory to learn that he’s been brought back from the dead as a half-human, half-robotic hybrid. With no memory of his former life, a woman who claims to be his wife tells him that his name is Henry. Before she can activate his voice, a psycho with supernatural power and his armed thugs storm the lab and kidnap her. Henry embarks on a violent pursuit of the psychopath, and along the way, he meets a respawning mercenary named Jimmy, played by Sharlto.
EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught up with Copley to talk about the various personalities he explores in the film, and without giving anything away, one minute Copley’s a coked-up sex fiend, the next he’s a smoked out Rastafarian. There’s even a kickass Sid Vicious-type Jimmy.
Fans of your work are going to be thrilled to see you explore various personalities of the same character. Was there anything unique about how you approached Jimmy that you discovered to be spiritually or creatively rejuvenating?
SHARLTO: Wow. I love that question. One thing that happened was, I prepared a lot of the characters in advance, based on conversations with Ilya. Shot some stuff, shot tests and new kind of what I was doing with a bunch of them. But for example, one was invented in about 15 minutes – because I love improve stuff. I was meant to do a biker Jimmy. I had a guy doing tattoos on my arms, and the tattoos didn’t look real. Ilya agreed. So, my wife who was designing the looks with me, I turned to her and was like, ‘What do we have? Let’s come up with somebody else.’ And, this now leads into your point about being spiritually/creatively rejuvenating.
Because I had been in a very intense environment with passionate people, but also making a movie with a lot of violence, and my personal opinion on that is actually being a very anti-violence guy, partly because I come from a very violent place. I’ve been exposed to a lot of violence. There was a part of that-that was quite difficult as an actor to stay in that realm. To stay around that level of violence. So when it came to what character would pop out creatively, my instinct was to create this peace-loving hippie who would be the opposite of this. He aspires to be a non-violent guy but if you trigger his ego he’ll shoot you in the knees. So I could meet the needs of the film, but also somehow rejuvenate myself as an artist by bringing in just this element of one of these characters wanting to find a better spiritual place, genuinely. He is probably my favorite character, him and the Colonel. Just for the fact that it gave me that little window of peace.
You’re an anti-violence guy? So, what was the lure for you?
SHARLTO: The chance to make a unique cinema experience. I understand the role of violence in a society. If you start me talking about things like human rights, I understand that you don’t just have that right. People who are powerful can create a situation where they allow humans rights to exist, for example. So the allure was really the chance to make something that creatively would give people an unusual experience in the cinema.
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The film employs 12 stuntmen to play Henry, and from the onset, it hijacks all your senses and takes you on a pulsating thrill of mad chaos and bloody revenge. If you are gamer, you will enjoy this film.
Copley explained how the entire project was quite the collaborative effort. The video below will give you an idea of what Henry’s face looks like throughout the movie.
Did the challenges you faced as an actor, combined with those the various stuntmen faced, allow you to learn anything new about how you approach your craft?
SHARLTO: Oh, yes! When you talk about acting, you used to, as an actor, most of the time you’ll be acting with somebody and hopefully that’s effecting your performance. This, you’re acting against some sort of hybrid in the sense that it’s a guy wearing go-pro cameras just underneath his eyes. Sometimes it’s the director, who for a moment, is coming in and is interacting with you, and he’s handing you the phone and now you start acting, like he’s my co-star, and then he’s gone – back in director mode. It’s a fascinating experience to be jumping between those two disciples – acting with a person and then acting against nothing. Great experience also to be able to try to engage with the audience directly, and I think you can do a lot more narratively with this medium.
How great were the concerns about the challenge of being able to sustain the viewers interest in a feature film shot from a single, male perspective – especially luring women to the audience?
SHARLTO: More women than I thought have responded well to it. One girl said the other day that ‘Well, at its heart, it’s a love story isn’t it?’. And Ilya goes, ‘Yes!’. I suppose a lot of male violence is linked to men trying to impress women and be powerful so that women will like them. I do think that there’s a component of the film that I describe as a cross between a movie, a theme park ride and video game. And if you watch it with a big group, that are enjoying it, it’s like a music concert experience. There is that part that is pure ride.
In terms of your most profound role to date, where does Jimmy rank?
SHARLTO: I think in terms of profound, these Jimmy’s are not particularly deep in that sense. So from a purely creative, fun point of view, this has to be #1. But I would still go back to that first performance (“District 9”), in terms of the level of profoundness that I was able to bring in the role. It’s really not since then that I had the opportunity to be the center point of the tone of the film, that I was with this. These are the only two films, (“Hardcore Henry”) and District 9, that I can truly say that I collaborated with the director and had a very big influence on the film in the end.
“Hardcore Henry” hits theaters April 8.