‘Beast’ showcases SA like no other movie has, says star Sharlto Copley

Shot entirely in SA, 'Beast' stars Idris Elba and is about a family stalked by a lion. We chat to star Sharlto Copley and director Baltasar Kormákur about the film

21 August 2022 - 00:00
By Tymon Smith
Idris Elba in a scene from 'Beast'.
Image: Universal Pictures Idris Elba in a scene from 'Beast'.

Shot entirely on location in SA, Beast is a short, sharp action thriller about a family under threat from a very angry lion. Starring Idris Elba and Sharlto Copley, it's about an American doctor, who, after the death of his estranged wife, brings his two daughters back to their mother’s homeland to help them overcome their grief.

What they get instead is a deadly encounter with a rampaging lion, whose pride has been killed by poachers. Tymon Smith spoke to Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur and South African star Copley about making the film.

Was the idea of shooting in SA one of the film’s attractive factors?

Baltasar Kormákur: Definitely. I’d never been there and I really wanted to — I had this childhood dream. When I told my mother I was about to make this film, she brought out this clipping book and it was full of clippings I had cut out about lions in Africa when I was kid. I was going to be an animal specialist in Africa for some reason and then a vet and then I stumbled into filmmaking. So it was like a childhood dream and I’d also been very excited about Africa for a long time but for some reason I’d never visited. So I certainly wasn’t going to miss out.

Sharlto Copley: It was a key element of wanting to do it and also being able to do a film that touches on the poaching issue in SA but also our beautiful landscape that we get to show to the world. Making a movie on an unbelievably beautiful private game reserve where every night we’re sitting having dinner with the cast and crew as you would if you were paying $5,000 (about R82,000) a night was the most ideal moviemaking scenario for me.

How much work went into making the CGI lions for the film?

Copley: Lions are not something to mess with. They’re dangerous animals. As gung ho as I am on my other movies, I wouldn’t want to do that. It’s basically guys in leotard suits — like bad football mascots — with plastic paws, no fur or anything, just for the physical dimensions and you interact with that, which is super helpful because you need something to physically engage with. It's remarkable how [the lions] turned out. I used to own a visual effects company in SA and when I watch a scene with me interacting with these creatures it blows my mind what the tech is capable of nowadays.

Kormákur: We did a lot of research, and I hope it comes through. We studied hundreds of documentaries and videos because we didn’t want the lion to do anything that we didn’t have a reference of in some way. There’s not endless footage of lions attacking humans but there’s a lot of them attacking other lions or other animals so we used that to reference specific traits. We also got permission to have a lion on set to use as a reference so we pushed the envelope as much as possible to get it right.

South African actor Sharlto Copley.
Image: IMDB South African actor Sharlto Copley.

You’ve had a chance to watch the film with an audience. What was that like?

Copley: The Americans are very expressive when they watch movies, although that wasn’t the case with District 9 — the audience in SA was laughing from the beginning while Americans took it very seriously. But [at the US premier] people were cheering, jumping, yelling at the screen, “Don’t go there! Go back!”

Kormákur: I saw it with a full house at the premiere in New York and I’ve never experienced anything like it. When the lion makes its first attack there was wave going through the cinema — people were screaming but there was also quite a lot of laughter and clapping. I hope it’s an indication of what’s to come because it was really strong and I’ve never had that kind of reception for any of my films

After your experience making Beast would you come back to SA to make another film?

Kormákur: In a heartbeat. It’s been the single best experience: the people, the crew — the diversity of the crew in terms of sex and race. It was just great and I would love to come back and I hope I don’t disappoint any of them with the film. I hope they enjoy it because that’s very important to me. I tried everything in my power to make it as authentic as possible — bringing in the Venda language, casting locals, Sharlto adds a lot to it and so that was also very important to me because I come from a country that’s usually wrongly portrayed.

• Beast is on circuit.