From the director of “District 9” comes “Chappie” (Columbia Pictures, Rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity), opening nationwide on March 6, 2015.
Director, co-writer and producer Neill Blomkamp brings another South Africa set story, “Chappie”, starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, and Hugh Jackman. The story takes place in the near future, where crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force — and the people are fighting back without success.
When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, it becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind.
In his films District 9 and Elysium, filmmaker Blomkamp invited viewers to reimagine our world. In those films, Blomkamp combined pulsing action with a social conscience that made the films unforgettable. In his new film, Chappie, Blomkamp is at it again.
Set just a few years from now, the world is under the thumb of autonomous, robotic police droids, called Scouts.
“They can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be negotiated with, they cannot be swayed,” says Blomkamp in the studio production notes.
There are those, like Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), see a thinking robot as the end of mankind – after all, when a machine can think, what does it need a human for? But others, like Chappie’s creator, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), see Chappie as a living, breathing, and entirely human form of life – and the last hope for humanity, even if he isn’t human himself.
“The idea was to take something as unhuman as a robot – especially a police robot – and give him complete human characteristics, to the point that he becomes more emotional than the human characters,” says Blomkamp. “That’s the backbone of the irony of the movie – a police droid becomes sentient, and begins to display characteristics that are more moral, ethical, and conscientious than human beings tend to.”
In the film, Blomkamp tells the story of a young, impressionable mind – the robot, Chappie – who falls in with the most unlikely of influences. “Chappie is quickly pulled into the seedy, crime-ridden underworld of Jo’burg, and he’s raised by two parents – one good, and one bad,” says Blomkamp. From here, Chappie is caught between powerful forces – and when those forces face off, an entire city hangs in the balance.
“The film raises questions – when would a robot be considered human?” asks Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie in the film. “Is it because they can paint, or like a certain kind of music? For humans, it would probably be if the machine had feelings – if we were connecting with a machine in the way that we connect with people. I think that’s what would make most people call a machine ‘alive’ – if it experiences emotions in the same way as us.”
Deon Wilson, Chappie’s creator, played by Dev Patel, is a young engineer developing artificial intelligence. He is in direct opposition to Jackman’s Vincent.
“Most of all, Vincent hates artificial intelligence,” says Jackman. “He thinks that’s humans playing God. He argues that crime is unpredictable, so it’s a human issue, and it’s vital for any weapon to be controlled by a human.”
Deon represents the new wave of programmer. He has the spark of youth, a prodigy research student who quickly finds that the company’s goals for him are very different from his own – and so all of his spare time goes to his own true love.
Patel says that the character changed between the time he first read the script and shooting the scenes.
“When I first read him, I completely related to his heart,” Patel said. “I knew he was intensely passionate about artificial intelligence, but I was worried he might be too passive in some scenes. Then, I got to the set and I met Sharl
to and NINJA and ¥O-LANDI. After meeting them, it was a natural reaction to give the character more of a backbone, to be more defensive and aggressive about his work.”
What was it about NINJA and ¥O-LANDI?
“I didn’t really know of them before we started shooting; I’d heard whisperings about this crazy band from South Africa, Die Antwoord,” he recalls. “They’re absolutely fascinating; they play a version of themselves, which is great, because it’s just truth. It’s as raw and organic as possible. They bring themselves to this movie, and create this wild juxtaposition.”
Acting opposite Copley, Patel watched as Copley created a wholly original character.
“Sharlto is kind of like Deon – he’s so crazy passionate that you get a bit overwhelmed when you meet him,” Patel said. “Even though he was going to be a CG character, he was so expressive. His diction, his tone of voice, the character choices he made. Acting opposite him was quite easy. Sharlto is a lot older than me, but I was playing a father figure to him, which was strange. I think Deon genuinely cares about this robot; he wants it to succeed, and that’s why he keeps going into Ninja and Yo-Landi’s den.”
Co-producer Simon Kinberg sais that Patel was the first and, ultimately, only choice to play the role.
Patel catapulted to success in 2009 when he starred in the Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire and received rave reviews for his performance and garnered a number of award wins including the National Board of Review Award for Best Breakthrough Performance, The British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer, The Broadcast Film Critics’ Choice Award for Best Young Actor, and The Chicago & Washington Film Critics’ Awards for Most Promising Performer.
“The reality of the world is that right now, a bunch of kids in garages are making the technology that will transform our world. So, when we started talking about casting Deon, everyone we even discussed was under the age of 30 – and for Neill, his first choice was Dev. Dev feels intelligent, but he also feels very sweet and human, open-faced, a little wounded. The audience can identify with that – not as a nerdy scientist, but what it’s like to be lonely, to want a friend, to want to be acknowledged. In the end, I talked to Dev’s agent, and I said, ‘This is a call that very few agents get, but he’s the only option for the part so he has to do it.’”
When Chappie is endowed with consciousness from Deon’s new program, he falls into the most unlikely hands – NINJA and ¥O-LANDI VI$$ER. In the film, they are low-level gangsters looking for the score that will set them on the path to riches, but in real life, they are the rap-rave duo Die Antwoord, an act like no other.
“They defy definition and explanation,” says Kinberg. “You have to see them to fully understand what they’re about, because they’re so completely unique. They’re a rap group, a cultural phenomenon, they’re insane artist-performers.”
In the movie, they are acting under their own names, but playing characters. “The characters of Ninja and Yo-Landi are former musicians who have been forced to turn to crime for survival,” Kinberg explains. “They don’t want to live this life, they want to get out of Johannesburg, but there are not many other choices for them.”
Dev Patel is about to start shooting Garth Davies’ upcoming film Lion, and recently wrapped shooting the independent film The Man Who Knew Infinity in which he plays the lead role opposite Jeremy Irons. He was most recently seen on TV starring opposite Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer in the third and final season of HBO’S Golden Globe nominated series “The Newsroom,” created by Aaron Sorkin, for which he was nominated for a 2013 NAACP Award for Best Supporting actor for his portrayal of Neal in the show. Patel has also starred in the cult hit “Skins” for the BBC and in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender.
Patel was last seen in theaters starring opposite Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Maggie Smith in John Madden’s Golden Globe and SAG nominated film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for Fox Searchlight Pictures, which also became a worldwide commercial success.