If you haven’t seen Free Fire yet, this roundtable with actors Sharlto Copley and Sam Riley gets into some spoilers. It’s just the stunts they performed are so awesome, they have to talk about it, and you’d want to hear it. It doesn’t give everything away but take this as a spoiler warning if you really want to be 100% surprised.
Copley plays Vernon, an arms dealer trying to make a smooth transaction with a group of buyers (including Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson and Armie Hammer). Riley plays Stevo, one of the more unstable gunmen who sets the warehouse shootout in motion. Free Fire is now playing.
Q: Was it helpful or challenging to film all in one location?
Sam Riley: I liked it. I think that’s the whole concept of the thing.
Sharlto Copley: I think it’s challenging for a director. It’s not challenging for actors really.
Sam Riley: And we shot largely chronologically which is very unusual. I really like that. You start at the beginning.
Sharlto Copley: End at the end, with the exception of my burn sequence which I’ve said many times they put that at the end for insurance. They did. Apparently, a burn is a more dangerous stunt than other things that I’ve done in the past because we didn’t have to reschedule anything else I wanted to do. This one, “all right, let’s just get him shot out before we set him on fire.”
Sharlto Copley: I don’t know. I wasn’t counting. Once that fire goes, as short as possible. It was a long time. It’s longer than you would like it to be, let me tell you. No time is too short once they actually light you. It’s all fun and games and your big mouth until they actually put the fire on you. Then it’s just get that off me, man. Your body’s like, “This is not meant to happen.”
Sam Riley: That was a bit like with the van actually. Everything inside you is going, “Move. Move!”
Sharlto Copley: You know how they did that? I have to say, the two of us had I think mentally the most difficult but his I think is the worst. They did the three wheel thing where the truck is on three wheels. The fourth wheel is not actually touching the ground but it looks like it is. So they rig the vehicle like that. But it’s coming at him to drive over his head and you just have to trust.
Sam Riley: Like five guys pushing it.
Sharlto Copley: Everything in you goes, “That is a vehicle driving over my head.” I don’t know how you did that.
Sam Riley: You have to roll your head as it goes over. I said to [director] Ben [Wheatley], “You’ll do it first, won’t you?”
Sharlto Copley: And he did.
Sam Riley: He did do it. He did do it.
Sharlto Copley: And he sh*t himself but hid that. He acted like it was nothing. He had to.
Sam Riley: Originally, the van was going to go like this [with the bumper hitting him]. I said, “Will you do it first?” And he said, “The bumper won’t go over my gut.” I was like yeah, that’s a good excuse. Then I said, “What about your lad then? What about your boy?” He looked at me and said, “Are you asking me to run over my own son? Are you that much of a p*ssy?”
Sharlto Copley: I’ve done some crazy movies before this, man. I had done some wild things and two movies in a trash heap. So this was actually quite lovely.
Sam Riley: I don’t think this was the hardest thing because it’s a weird balance of discomfort but pleasure and happiness. I love turning up to work every day. It was a great atmosphere to work in as well. When I look back at it, I don’t think of it in terms of discomfort. It’s more, “That was great.”
Sharlto Copley: There was so much laughter because Ben is so funny. So many people on the set were so funny. Michael Smiley was just hysterical and you wouldn’t say it by looking at his character because he’s playing this serious, dangerous guy. We were just joking that literally between takes, he was the guy who could break character the most. He’d be dancing and doing his little thing, just making jokes the whole time.
Sam Riley: I love my part and I know you did.
Sharlto Copley: We just loved our roles.
Sam Riley: We loved our parts and no one had ever really given me a job that is as different from what I’m usually asked to do. I loved it.
Sam Riley: I used to be like Army Barmy when I was a kid. Me and my brother used to shoot each other with BB guns. This film to some extent sort of satisfied that, scratched that itch I suppose. It was deafening. That was the thing about it, wasn’t it? It was extraordinarily loud.
Sharlto Copley: It was very disappointing, especially because I came last so I got to choose the gun last. Vernon would’ve chosen a much bigger gun like a .44 Magnum. My gun really doesn’t suit the character so I was like, “Well, I’m going to talk an enormous amount to compensate.”
Sam Riley: Oh, that was what it was.
Sharlto Copley: To compensate for the lack of guns. Sam had this amazing gun, and he’s the druggie and he gets the loud gun. Mine is just kind of okay, whatever, nothing special.
Sam Riley: I don’t know how I ended up with a Colt .45. I remember Cillian looking at me at one stage saying, “He wrote this film for me and I get the crap gun.”
Sharlto Copley: Babou got a nice gun. He got the big gun.
Q: Do you think Vernon is competent or do deals go south all the time?
Sharlto Copley: That’s a good question.
Sam Riley: Not this bad.
Sharlto Copley: I think he’s a showman and he’s a salesman. Like so many salesmen, he’s probably done a lot of deals where he’s got his way but then something at some point, when the sh*t hits the fan, as it does, so in this case he’s able to act like a tougher guy than he really is. On this particular day when a gunfight actually breaks out, then you see more of the guy. I would certainly put him as a guy who would have been successful at his job because you can just be full of sh*t to be a salesman frankly. Especially with guns. It’s like you need guns, I have guns. You don’t really care about the personality. Just give me the guns. I did a little sketch the other day and they were asking, “Can you do Vernon’s tips on being an arms dealer.” I was like, “Well, first be credible. Don’t be from New Zealand because no one wants to buy guns from a New Zealander. That just feels wrong. Be from a dangerous country. Be Israeli or South African so choose that. And choose the underdog because he’ll be desperate for weapons and you’ll get a great price.”
Sam Riley: Was that one of your lines about learn some politeness from the English as well?
Sharlto Copley: Yeah, that was a real South African thing. Growing up in South Africa, there was always thing thing of the tough guys would pride themselves on having great manners. Meaning manners is don’t speak to my girlfriend in front of me. That’s rude, and then I’ll smash your head into a bar, into a pole or shank you with a knife or something. This bizarre reality of these real hooligans but just be a gentleman. That whole idea, “Let’s all just be gentlemen, okay? And let’s do the deal.”