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Sharlto Copley Discusses New Film, ‘Free Fire’

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(L-R) Babou Ceesay, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Noah Taylor in Free Fire. Photo by Kerry Brown. Courtesy of A24.

In new film Free Fire, Brie Larson’s character Justine sums up Sharlto Copley’s Vernon quite succinctly: “He was misdiagnosed as a child genius and he never got over it.”

Larson and Copley join a motley crew of misfits in British filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s lastest film for a slapstick shootout during an arms deal gone awry. The story takes place in an abandoned Boston warehouse in the 1970s, a decade that sets the tone, mood and cinematography of Free Fire – think incandescent lighting, gold jewelry and wide lapels.

Copley’s Vernon boasts the widest lapels of them all to go along with his wide ego. Copley worked closely with Wheatley to develop Vernon, romancing the thought of playing the arms dealer as a silent killer before ultimately going with a more superficial, machismo persona.

“[He’s] definitely more mouth than actual ability,” said Copley, at an April 10 screening of the film at the Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission. “He thinks he’s bigger than he is, so I’m working from there. It starts from this energetic thing that starts from this male ego and then the little details come in, such as what he’s wearing and how he’s conducting himself.”

Along with Armie Hammer’s character Ord, Larson’s Justine acts as the liaison in a transaction between Vernon and his buyers (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley), but when one of the gang’s goons holds bad blood with the opposing side, tempers flair and bullets fly.

It’s not as much of a bloodbath as it sounds, as all 10 participating characters – which includes Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Patrick Bergin and Mark Monero in the mix – prove to be terrible shots.

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(L-R) Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer in Free Fire. Photo by Kerry Brown. Courtesy of A24.

The movie’s true ammunition delights in on the mark one-liners between characters, but soon those quips turn into actual wounds as the situation becomes dire. Copley’s character boasts the most memorable chirps (in one scene where he tells a comrade, “Watch and Vern”) but Copley explained that the improv between actors was about “giving each other little moments.”

“It’s a high-level group of actors so everyone would try to do something that was complementary to the others’ performances,” Copley said. “[It’s] sort of being able to throw stuff at other actors and it was a lot of fun in seeing their reaction.”

Free Fire is the fifth movie between Wheatley and his screenwriter wife Amy Jump. The two share creative credits on High-Rise, A Field in England, Sightseers and Kill List, in addition to an upcoming monster flick called Freakshift.

“Even though Amy’s behind the scenes a lot, she’s very much a strong voice in Ben’s work,” Copley said.

Most of Wheatley’s previous films included a strong female lead and Free Fire is no different. Justine is the lone woman in a room bubbling with inflated masculinity, and while the balancing of male egos provided a bulk of the gags between actors, too many Y chromosomes can prove to be testy.

“In some ways, a woman would look at [the situation] and think, ‘Seriously, this can’t be real,’” Copley explained. “But guys will be like, at a certain point, you’re in a fight and it’s hard to stop and have someone be sensible.”

It’s quick to align Free Fire with 1970s gritty crime drama and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. It has all the right ammo in aesthetic and story to lock in audiences, but it’s the free-wheeling cast and Wheatley’s direction that wields all the fire power.

“He did a great job of giving everyone their time and moments,” Copley said. “It’s similar [to Tarantino], but Ben’s got his own thing – you look at his own body of work and it's massively different. Ben’s into doing radically different films, but if you like Tarantino’s stuff, more than likely you’d like this.”

 

Free Fire is now playing in theaters. 

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Courtesy of A24.