Who's Who in District 9?

2009-08-19 17:28

The Director: Neill Blomkamp

At just 29, Blomkamp has become an overnight Hollywood sensation after the release of his feature film debut. District 9 is actually based on the short film, Alive in Joburg, made after Blomkamp's deal to direct the movie based on the Halo video game fell through. His background in visual effects and animation came in handy when filming the story of an alien landing in his birthplace of Johannesburg. Blomkamp emigrated to Canada with his family at 18 and went to film school in Vancouver. He got his start working on visual effects for popular television shows like Smallville and Dark Angel and was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Dark Angel in 2001, when he was 21. Could an Oscar be in the works too? With all the attention District 9 is currently receiving in the US, we wouldn't be surprised…

The Producer: Peter Jackson

The man needs no introduction, really. The Oscar-winning mastermind behind one of the most successful fantasy franchises this century, The Lord of the Rings, certainly has the clout (aka money) and experience to guide his protégé Blomkamp along the rocky road of directing his first film. While some might question the "South African-ness" of District 9 because the New Zealander's presence behind the scenes, the fact that he insisted the characters all speak in unadulterated SA accents (complete with our unique swear words) and encouraged Blomkamp to cast an inexperienced actor in the lead says it all. Jackson also provided the services of his special effects company Weta, which was instrumental in creating the look and feel of The Lord of the Rings movies. In January 2010, South African audiences can look forward to Jackson's long-awaited return to the director's chair, his first since 2005's King Kong - The Lovely Bones, starring Mark Walhberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan and Susan Sarandon.

The Star: Sharlto Copley (who plays Wikus an de Merwe)

The face of District 9, if you will. Sharlto Copley is not exactly new to the film business. He's headed a number of production companies and directed a couple of short films, most notably 2001: A Space Oddity (watch it here), which he co-produced and directed with Simon Hansen. It's South Africa's most popular short of all time – it reached over 18 million people on the Internet and continues to be broadcast on a range of platforms. He and Hansen also co-directed the upcoming CGI extravaganza Spoon, currently in post-production. But it's his lead role in District 9 as the sweetly bureaucratic MNU agent Wikus van de Merwe that has launched what will surely be an intriguing acting career. Copley's relationship with his director started years ago, when he realised the 14-year-old Blomkamp's visual talents and hired him to do some work for him, for free. Blomkamp had his old friend in mind when he shot Alive in Joburg and enlisted Copley to play a cameo role the short. Could Copley turn out to be cinema's most unlikely action hero this year?

Interesting fact: Channel 69 Studios, one of the companies Copley founded, was also one of the founding companies behind the launch of SA's first free-to-air TV station e.tv.

The Muscle: Kenneth Nkosi (as Thomas)

As the star of White Wedding and a number of acclaimed South African productions on both the big and the small screen – including Tsotsi, Jerusalema and Gaz'lam – Nkosi is easily one of Mzansi's most beloved performers, at ease displaying his talents as both a dramatic and comedic actor. In District 9 he shows a new side – as an action man – playing Thomas, the burly MNU operative who is appointed as Wikus' bodyguard during his mission in the township. Nkosi can next be seen playing Two Shots Pulani in the HBO mini-series adaptation of the best-selling novel The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, currently airing on M-Net.

The Wife: Vanessa Haywood (as Tania van de Merwe)

A model and former beauty queen (she was a finalist in the 2000 Miss South Africa pageant), Haywood is a blonde beauty with a bit of a green conscience as she has presented a number of television magazine shows, such as Wildlife Warehouse and the Afrikaans nature show Groen. She was also named the Shape Cover Look winner in 2007 and had a small role in the locally shot Blood Diamond.

The Bad Guy: David James (as Koobus Venter)

There's a reason why James was the perfect choice to play the villainous Koobus in District 9 – he's had years of experience playing some of the nastiest characters on SA television, putting his trademark snarl to good use on Egoli, Snitch, Jozi Street, and as the unforgettable assassin Mad Dog on Isidingo.

The Alien: Jason Cope (as Christopher Johnson)

The less that is said about Cope's role in District 9, the better. We certainly don’t want to spoil anything and will leave you to discover this complex character for yourself. Cope is a natural when it comes to entertaining a crowd. With a background in magic (yes, magic!), he performed in the circus as a child. After completing school he busked on the streets of London for some time before returning to SA to perform stand-up comedy and appeared at the Smirnoff International Comedy Festival. He's perhaps best known as a writer and performer on the popular comedy sketch show The Pure Monate Show, as well as the movie Bunny Chow. He also appears in Sharlto Copley's upcoming movie Spoon, to be released in SA imminently (we've been told).

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