Writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s third feature involves a South Africa-based weapons company called Tetra Vaal. The company’s Scout models are a huge hit and successfully help the local police force control crime in the area, but the engineer behind the robots is looking to go bigger. Even though Tera Vaal CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t approve, Deon (Dev Patel) decides to give his new A.I. program a go using a decommissioned Scout and then, Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is born. Trouble is, Chappie winds up in the hands of a group of gangsters, so Deon’s plan to mold Chappie’s very impressionable mind and raise him right goes out the window.
While in New York City promoting Chappie’s March 6th debut, Blomkamp, Copley, Weaver and Hugh Jackman all sat down to discuss the film at a press conference. The group talked about the nature of consciousness, artificial intelligence, Jackman’s mullet, Googling Australian slang and even who would win in a fight, Chappie or TARS from Interstellar. You can catch all of that, Jackman’s thoughts on Wolverine moving over to Marvel and loads more in the interview below. And, in case you missed it, be sure to check out our exclusive interviews with Blomkamp, Jackman, Copley and Weaver as well.
HUGH JACKMAN: Yeah, of course. I thought about it a little bit until this movie when I thought about it a lot, and one of the great things of working with Neill – one of the many great things – is he has thought so deeply about the philosophical part of this movie. Not only about robots becoming sentient or feeling or thinking, that sort of evolution, but also just about the very nature of consciousness. What is it? Can we somehow capture or bottle it? Can we use it? Honestly, at a level that I am way behind. During the filming, I thought about it a lot. Generally, I’m an optimist. I know at every major turning point in history, the creation of the train, for example, there were many, many people who thought this was the end of civilization, that this would be the road to doom for mankind. I’m sure when the television came about, similar things, the internet. I am a firm believer that the pull for human beings is towards the good, generally outweighing the bad. I don’t know why that is. It’s just my maybe naive, optimistic view that whatever knowledge we gain, and if it comes to pass that we can somehow understand what consciousness is, if we can somehow create that, it will ultimately be used for the good. And I’m sure along the way there will be bad and it will be exploited, but that’s my genuine view. So I’m like my character. I like to think optimistically about these discoveries and advancements.
Was there any opposition in regards to the religious overviews? I recall on Facebook you got a couple of things sent back to you in regards to religious issues. Was there any oppositions from groups or people?
Did you ever think about introducing that in the film?
BLOMKAMP: The original concept for Hugh’s character was always to be in opposition with artificial intelligence, for it to be that you have A.I. and then you have a point of view that if someone is creating artificial intelligence, they’re basically walking into God’s territory, you know, that you’re doing something that should only be left to God, therefore, you shouldn’t do it. So that opposition was always in the script. In terms of getting feedback from it, I’m not sure I know what you mean with Facebook, but it really was just decisions in the edit. Like, how much do you want to weigh one way or the other?
Thematically the film draws upon consciousness and what it is to be alive and that’s something that human beings have been questioning since Pinocchio and all the way up through Real Steel and A.I. Why do you feel these things keep resonating with humanity as we advance?
BLOMKAMP: My point of view actually on artificial intelligence, which ties into the nature for humans constantly looking into the reasons for why we exist and why consciousness exists changed during the making of Chappie. And I’m not actually completely sure that humans are going to be capable of giving birth to A.I. in the way that films fictionalize it. So, you have weak artificial intelligence, which is a robot or a computer system that follows a list of protocols and it’s like yes/no answers that can be as complex as you want, and then you have strong A.I., which is basically like a human, like something that can think up a thought that’s never been thought up or paint a painting or write a poem. In the realm of strong A.I. or in the realm of human consciousness, I think that it’s been something that troubles humans or forces us to look at it over and over for millennia, or as long as we’ve really been conscious, because there is no answer. There is no explanation for us, even for a one percent grip to hold on to. So we just don’t know why we’re here, we don’t know how consciousness is created and we don’t know the nature of consciousness, whether it becomes a spiritual and philosophical discussion or whether it’s simply running electrical currents through synapses and it leads to consciousness. I think it isn’t that, by the way. It’s probably the most core fundamental question that humans can ask and I think that’s the reason that we constantly keep asking it.
I’d like to ask Sharlto about his performance. You had to deliver emotionally and you also had to get your movements right, so what was it like doing that and being on the set with everyone?
SHARLTO COPLEY: It was a fun experience to get to play a kid most of the time. We used a process, I think it’s going to become more and more prevalent in Hollywood, like a performance capture process where I wore a gray suit and was able to engage with everybody on the set just as you normally would, just act the robot, and then an incredibly skilled team of animators – I actually got this shirt made that has their names, because I come from visual effects and I think these guys are the real unsung heroes of our business. It actually has a back, too. [Laughs] Would you believe there’s like over 200 people that were involved in putting Chappie on top of me with the very limited face that Chappie has [and] convey the emotion. Obviously I got to use my whole face. The animators only got certain tools, ears and little things they could do with the eyes. But it was almost a magical experience. Together, me and these 200 people kind of gave birth to some totally new, creative being. In a small way, it was like creating A.I. as an actor. You know, you sort of made some new being.
Neill, when you’re going into this, you have this idea of what you want the film to look like. Sharlto talked about all the animators and you’re putting your faith in them. What was your first vision and did it come out exactly the way you wanted?
BLOMKAMP: This film is probably the closest to the original idea all the way through the execution of it. Basically, I designed this kind of robot that Chappie was loosely based on in about 2003 and then when we started working on this in like, I guess 2013 or 2014, we modified that robot. I had a pretty good idea of what he was going to look like. In terms of photography and design and the look of the movie in general, it was closer to what I had in my head than the other two films. In terms of the computer graphics, I think [they] worked out better than I expected. There’s always shots that you feel like are computer graphics and they’re never fully there, but the ratio of shots that appeared to have been photographed is very high in this film. I feel like the VFX really, really worked out, like the circumstances were just correct.
COPLEY: I would just like mine not to kill me. If it realized that it was a superior being, I would be a little nervous. I don’t think it’s a case of like, you can tell it to do the dishes. It’s a different kind of robot.
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I’m sure you can program a robot to do all kinds of useful things. Although, I think they’re trying to create like a butler robot for people, which would be useful. Cheerful robot for company. I actually think that Dev’s robots, his little friends, I mean, he gets home, are so lovely. ‘Would you like a cup of tea? Oh, mess! Mess!’ That’s the kind of robot I would want. That’s my level. Not very destructive and maybe not that capable.
JACKMAN: I have a nickname at home of “El Vagueo.” I’m very vague. I forget a lot of stuff. I would love a non-judgmental reminder all the time. No sense of, ‘Ugh, you kidding me?’
BLOMKAMP: It doesn’t even need to be a robot. It’d just be like a little personal device.
JACKMAN: Exactly. ‘Remember you came back upstairs to get that phone. Why are you walking back down without it?’ [Laughs]
Hip hop culture is heavily ingrained in this film. Why is it so important and why has it spanned continents?
BLOMKAMP: I guess there’s two reasons for that. By far the primary reason is the band, Die Antwoord. I don’t know if “band” is the right word. I also don’t know if “rap group” is the right word. Them! They were extremely important to me to be in the film pretty much from the time I came up with it. As soon as you put them in the film, they themselves are naturally a mixture of several different forms of hip hop and South African rap culture and influenced by U.S. rap culture and everything. So just putting them in is probably 75% or 80% of what the audience would perceive as that. The other smaller amount was that I didn’t actually necessarily want to shoot the movie in South Africa again because of District 9. I wanted to put it in North America. We actually did a draft of the script that was in North America just to test it, but Die Antwoord was so essential to the film that by putting them in North America, it felt like a fish out of water. It felt like a wrong move to do, and so by keeping it in South Africa, it allowed them to be in their native environment and it felt legit. But I still wanted to Americanize the film as much as I could, on purpose. I wanted to go away from District 9 and just not delve into the very South African themes that you can get into easily in South Africa because it’s really rife with them. That was choices like putting Jose [Pablo Cantillo] in their gang who was an American and is not South African, and little choices like that just add up. There’s hundreds of times in the movie where normally, when we would ADR for random soldiers or random helicopter pilots or whatever, I actively made them be American voices and I knew that Americans wouldn’t notice, and I knew that the entire South African audience would notice. And I also knew that the entire South African audience noticing is like Philadelphia on a Thursday night, so it doesn’t matter. [Laughs]
Hugh, can you talk about using the Australian accent? How much fun was that and was a lot of the slang yours and improvised? And for Sigourney, what was this like compared to some of the other sci-fi movies you’ve worked on?
JACKMAN: I had so much fun playing this. It was Neill’s idea actually, originally when we first talked about it. It’s sort of embarrassing to say. You think that those sayings should be off the top of my head, but I Googled Australian slang and a lot of the ones that are in there actually came from Neill. Neill googled it as well I think, right?
BLOMKAMP: Yeah, I Googled it originally.
JACKMAN: Like, the frog in the sock.
BLOMKAMP: Frog in the sock is an eleven out of ten.
JACKMAN: We just laughed so much. I’d never heard that saying before actually.
BLOMKAMP: Smart as a dunny rat.
JACKMAN: That’s right. [Laughs] But we just had so much fun with the character. I remember at one point I turned to Neill and I said, ‘Are we having too much fun here with this?’ But it was so much fun creating that character, obviously playing the villain in the piece. It was just great, great fun. I haven’t worn those khaki shorts since high school, so that was kind of a throwback.
Nice haircut, too.
JACKMAN: Thank you. I was gonna mention the mullet, but I’m very proud of the mullet. Watch out Halloween this year; the mullet’s back.
JACKMAN: One of the images that first was sent to me was of an Australian character who had a mullet, that Neill sent to me. It included the shorts and a mullet, and I just loved it. Weirdly, I had forgotten, but my wife reminded me when she saw the film that the very first job I did, I had a mullet, where she met me, so it was kind of great for me. It was a nice throwback to 20 years ago. [Laughs] It just seemed to fit who he is. He’s one of those guys who thinks he’s the coolest. He thinks that everyone at the office likes him. He thinks that he’s got it all together and doesn’t realize that from the haircut to the shorts to the way he acts, that no one really likes him. But he really thinks he’s the man and the mullet just seemed perfect.
BLOMKAMP: It’s also the little things that he does like when he goes into the bathroom and he’s looking at himself in the mirror. I don’t know if you saw over to his right side, he’s basically just taken over the bathroom so it says, ‘Vincent’s Stuff’ and then it’s got all of what he wants in the bathroom like multiple pressed shirts and deodorants and stuff. It’s just his.
JACKMAN: I nicked that from someone I know who I’m obviously not going to mention, but he literally had at his desk, he just had to change his shirt all the time because he felt great putting on a new shirt, exactly the same shirt. He just felt like, ‘Right, ready to go,’ with his new polo shirt. [Laughs] So he had shirts everywhere and protein powders. I loved playing it. I loved it.
WEAVER: I must say, I think every science fiction film I’ve done, they’re pretty distinctive in terms of their world. What I love about Neill’s films, all three of them that I’ve seen is that, you know, sometimes people think of sci-fi as sort of film light, and Neill’s films always have such an underpinning of something that’s actually very important for us all to discuss and to think about. We had a riotous good time making the movie. It was so happy and it was so exciting for me to work in South Africa with such an international crew, to work with Hugh and Sharlto and Neill, but I also felt that the movie has so much to say to us in terms of what is it to be human. In a sense, that word human, is a hard word to define now because theres’s so many inhumane acts in the film perpetrated by humans, not perpetrated by robots. I just love how he has this cauldron going of all these very important issues underneath a very entertaining movie.
Neill, a lot of these things that you touched on in the movie are touched upon in Japanese anime and I was wondering how much of an influence that might have been.
BLOMKAMP: Very little of an influence. When I was in my early 20s, I was quite into Japanese animation. It’s like the same thing that I end up always saying which is, imagery based stuff is the thing that really gets me. Masamune Shirow’s imagery was a huge deal to me when I was 20. I have all of the stuff that he’s done and I like the books that are collections of stuff like Intron Depot and Bullets and that kind of work. I didn’t read enough of it or see enough of it to get into the concept of man-machine stuff and discussions about consciousness in sentients enough. The most I saw was like Ghost in a Shell and I haven’t even really seen the Stand Alone Complex, but in terms of imagery, like the ears were from Briareos in Appleseed. I liked the imagery, but strangely, as I’ve gotten older, my interest in it has sort of waned. I think basically, what’s happened to me is I just have become more interested in day to day everyday stuff. News is almost more interesting to me than other people’s fiction, if that makes sense. But other people’s fiction in terms of design is still incredibly interesting to me. It’s a weird answer, but there’s no direct parallel between the two.
BLOMKAMP: I think it’s more just how I think. I think coming from S.A., I moved to Canada at a weird age as well and I think I became aware of the fact that I had grown up in a place where there’s so much of a sort of powder keg situation with race in South Africa, and also so many different issues around race that it’s impossible to escape as a kid. By moving to Canada, it kind of amplified it. It wasn’t like going to a country that’s predominantly white and so you forget about it. It’s like you can turn back and look at it with fresh eyes. And so I think race, to me, is just something that’s really on my mind a lot and I think as a subconscious byproduct, it works its way into everything. I think a lot of the inspirations for me are very instinctual and subconscious. I don’t over intellectualize stuff much. It’s a very instinctual thing. And in terms of Dev, he’s one of those people where when his name came up for that role, it was like a case of that it couldn’t be anyone else. It’s kind of cool when that happens. It’s what happened with these two as well, but I haven’t really had that in a movie before where it’s just like, you hear a name or you think of a name and then it just sticks and it’s like, it cannot not be that person. I didn’t write that with him in mind, but it’s like the second you hear it, it’s like, ‘It has to be him.’ And I’m sure there’s some subconscious computation happening that just makes that work in my head.
Who would win in a fight, Chappie or the robot from Interstellar?
BLOMKAMP: That’s a very interesting question. Well, he has super unique morphology as well. I don’t know, man. That TARS thing up to no good.
A lot of robot films are more humanity versus robots. Was your choice all along to be this consciousness tale of robots enriching and advancing human life or did it happen on the way as you were writing the film?
BLOMKAMP: No, no, it didn’t happen on the way. I guess it’s part of a bigger thought process. The bigger thought process would be that you can take the matter on the planet, right? Or you can take a bunch of carbon and you can reconfigure it into anything you want if you had the power to do that. So the fact that natural selection and evolution crafted essentially carbon and water into a mechanism that can think and be conscious means there’s nothing in physics that says you cannot do that to a greater degree. You can build a brain the size of this room, theoretically. You could also build a silicone based life form and it could be sentient. There’s no limit to the height that you can reach in terms of design once we figure out how to design things, theoretically. And then this gets into spiritual versus sort of techno discussions about what’s possible. If it takes several billion years to develop the building blocks which you need, like RNA and DNA, and then those can build multicellular life and then multicellular life can be honed with natural selection to a point where it becomes sentient like us, then at some point that sentient being can begin to manipulate the matter around it to build better sentient life, right? Which is maybe where we’re starting to arrive now in the 21st century. So, who’s to say that when we build that, there’s a lot of evidence in evolutionary sciences that show that altruism and acting in ways that are empathetic to others are actually beneficial on an evolutionary basis. This whole notion that the robot has to declare nuclear war is one part of the discussion, but it may not be reality. Reality is, maybe it can empathize to a far greater degree than we can and experience a way wider range of emotions. So, why not have a robot that can do that? I think that if you left Chappie for 20 years he would be in a place that’s sort of unfathomable for humans. That was the genesis, it was that.
Spider-man just went back to Marvel. Would Wolverine possibly go back to Marvel with the X-Men?
JACKMAN: Whoa. There’s a non sequitur. [Laughs] There are so many forces at play there man, beyond what anyone would want. The thing I’ve always loved about the comic book world is how the fun thing was how a writer of a comic book would just pull all these characters together. And what became a Friday night discussion of, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see Batman fight Wolverine?’ Bang! Monday morning, they’re working on it. You know, but that’s an idealized world.
What about Christian Bale’s Batman versus Wolverine?
JACKMAN: As in…
As in, I suppose without some of his technology that you would just cut him up.
JACKMAN: Yeah, but, you know …
If he was in the Tumbler …
JACKMAN: We could try and stretch the movie out beyond a short, but I’m guessing it would be short.
COPLEY: [In Chappie’s Voice] What if Chappie just comes in and kicks everybody’s ass? That robot from Interstellar, Wolverine, Batman, Superman …
JACKMAN: Let’s not forget we’ve got the ultimate ass-kicker here to my right. [Points to Weaver.]
What about Chappie versus Wolverine?
WEAVER: They’re good friends, actually.
COPLEY: We’d probably fight on the same team.
BLOMKAMP: There was a really interesting thing that I noticed with the script. It’s just culturally very interesting, which is that when I gave the script to the financiers, they viewed the idea of autonomous robots in South Africa as a completely satirical idea. That it was, obviously I’m poking fun at it, right? The irony is that if you take that idea to South Africa, you’d probably have like 96% of the population agree that it was a good idea. They cannot be corrupted, you can’t bargain with them when you get pulled over, you can’t give them a couple of rand to not get a speeding ticket. There is the weird South Africa and North America discussion, which kind of muddies the water a little bit and makes it less clear. Generally speaking, it’s a very hard thing to wrap your head around that a drone operator in Nevada can be releasing munitions in the Middle East. Some of that is The Moose in the film with Vincent. Some of that worked its way in there, but I don’t think that it’s a case in this movie of addressing that topic so much as it’s more a case of, ‘Look at the atrocities that humans do to one another and look how you can have this blank slate robot that is probably gonna be capable of being more human than the humans around them.’ That was really what was interesting to me. I was touching on the idea of the autonomous militaristic or autonomous law enforcement idea, but it wasn’t the primary driving force.
I was wondering how you came to use Die Antwoord as Die Antwoord. Two years from now when they’re criminals who deal drugs and raise robots, is that just what they’re planning on doing? How did that come about?
BLOMKAMP: How it was conceived was that it was a few years after their music career had died off and that’s why there’s little things that you notice in the film like Ninja’s always wearing his own face on his t-shirt because that was merch that they didn’t sell. They have all of this unsold merchandise in the lair that they live in. It was very particular that their music career failed, they were out of cash, there was like loan sharks after them and then they started just getting into criminal behavior. It was that clear. The thing that happened because of that choice was that it made me want to blur the lines between reality and fiction as much as I could. I love the idea of people being themselves in films. That’s probably where the Australian thing with Hugh came from as well. Just let him use his real accent and his choice of clothing and hair. [Laughs] Pushing that even further and tying in with the autonomous weapons concept was that there’s a company in South Africa called Denel, which is the state arms company, right? It’s like a mixture of Lockheed and Boeing and everything else. We tried for six months with L.A. and South African lawyers to figure out if I could actually have Denel in the movie as Denel, not Tetra Vaal, and that blurring of reality was also really appealing to me. There were almost like moral issues that came up. I had artists that refused to work on Chappie if they were working on a design that actually said Denel on the side of the thing. But anyway, it’s the blurring of fiction and reality that was appealing and I certainly did not want them to be in the movie and not be themselves.