Meet ‘District 9′ Star Sharlto Copley

'I was never set to star in the film,' Copley says of producer Peter Jackson pushing for him to get the role.

Everyone’s talking about the new movie opening Friday starring Sharlto Copley . But few people are mentioning the actor by name while discussing the much-buzzed-about “District 9,” because nobody has ever heard of him. In fact, he’s never even appeared in a feature film before. So how’d he get the part? Well, he was already on set, for one thing.

“I was never set to star in the film,” Copley explained to MTV News. “I was always going to be a producer on it, in my mind.”

But Peter Jackson liked the idea of Copley playing the lead and he told the film’s director, Neill Blomkamp, who offered the role to his longtime friend and producing partner by saying, “Look, Peter is totally behind this.”

There were initial concerns that studio executives or investors would want a star, but in the end Jackson had the clout to keep the unknown and inexperienced Copley in place.

He did have some previous film acting experience before going in front of the cameras for “District 9,” appearing as a sniper in Blomkamp’s highly regarded “Alive in Joburg,” a short film involving aliens in Johannesburg that somewhat spawned “District 9.”

Copley produced the precursor as well, but for the new movie his only credited role is playing the main part of a government agent whose life changes forever when he’s put in charge of evicting and relocating ghettoized aliens.

While talking to MTV News, Copley seemed to still be surprised and excited about how it happened. Of course, his thrilled demeanor was probably due to the fact he hasn’t really been able to talk about “District 9″ until now.

“We weren’t allowed to say anything,” he said about talking about the film with friends. “It was like, ‘I’m working on something … in Johannesburg.’ ”

Copley, who has also co-written and directed his own feature film, an action fantasy starring Rutger Hauer and Darren Boyd titled “Spoon,” told MTV News that making “District 9″ was like a mix between indie and big-budget Hollywood filmmaking, adding that there were big teams for some elements, like art direction, but the actual on-set team was very small.

“Obviously it was a lot bigger than the five people on the short,” he said. “But it was still a very real, gritty, run-and-gun kind of feeling. We shot on a real landfill in real slums. It was really demanding.”

The demands should pay off for the film — and especially for Copley — come Monday when conversations about “District 9″ include talk of the exceptional performance from the hardly amateur-seeming actor. And with such a distinct name as Sharlto Copley, moviegoers should have no trouble remembering it — nor should casting agents, who are likely to be suggesting him for more roles very soon.

Check out everything we’ve got on “District 9.”

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