Relentlessly fighting to protect yourself in a revolutionary new circumstance can be a frightening prospect for many people, as they’re unaware of the potential danger the incident may bring. Accepting a total stranger’s seemingly altruistic help as you explore your radical new situation, despite not knowing their true motive, can be an even more daunting experience. Taking that leap of faith and unquestionably accepting the assistance of someone you don’t know is powerfully explored in actor Sharlto Copley’s progressive sci-fi movie, ‘Hardcore Henry.’
The South African performer intriguingly portrays a mysterious man who offers to assist the title character protect himself from a group of lethal mercenaries who want to kill him. Audiences can repeatedly watch Copley bring mystery to the non-stop action that drives the adventure drama at home, as the film is now available on Digital HD. The sci-fi movie is also set to be distributed by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and STX Entertainment on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand this Tuesday, July 26.
The Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD include several bonus features, including deleted scenes and commentary with Ilya Naishuller, who made his feature film writing and directorial debuts on the movie, and Copley, who also served as an executive producer. The home release also includes the special feature, ‘Fan Chat,’ during which Naishuller and Copley answer fan questions about how ‘Hardcore Henry’ was made. The film’s home release comes after STX Entertainment previously distributed it in theaters nationwide on April 8.
In addition to Copley’s enigmatic character, ‘Hardcore Henry’ also puts a daring new spin on the action genre with its visuals, as the story is uniquely told entirely through the mute title character’s first-person point-of-view. Billed as the first action movie shot completely in first-person shooter perspective, the sci-fi film was also produced by Timur Bekmambetov and his production company, Bazelevs Company. The producer encouraged Naishuller, who made a name for himself as a musician in Russia, to make his feature film debut with the adventure movie. The film was created after Naishuller helmed the music video for ‘Bad Motherf*cker,’ one of the songs from his Moscow-based indie rock band, Biting Elbows, which was also told through the same first-person point-of-view, and ultimately became a hit.
‘Hardcore Henry’ follows the title anti-hero as he awakens in a high-tech scientific laboratory that’s floating in the sky above Moscow. He’s greeted by his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennet), an engineer who explains to him that his memory has been erased, and he’s no longer able to speak. But she’s determined to help him recover, as she repeatedly insists that she still loves him. After also explaining to him that he has lost some of his limbs before being transferred to the lab, she connects robotic parts to his body that transform him into a cyborg super-soldier.
As Estelle determinedly continues to repair Henry, he’s immediately plunged into a explosive battle between rebel scientist Jimmy (Copley) and his nemesis, the malicious Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). The latter is determined to use both his telekinetic powers and Henry’s physical abilities to achieve world domination. In order to motivate Henry to use his new strengths and abilities to aid him in accomplishing his goal, he abducts Estelle, for whom the title character has begun to form a connection with.
As Henry embarks on his mission to rescue Estelle from Akan, the two men, who are forming a rivalry and hatred, track each other during a violent chase from downtown Moscow to a secret laboratory in dense woodland outside the city. Realizing that he’s constantly being chased by Akan and his mercenaries, and doesn’t have chance of surviving on his own, Henry seeks help from Jimmy, who he realizes has become his sole reliable ally. Also reflecting on powerful guidance he received from his father (Tim Roth) when he was a child, which slowly begins to infiltrate Henry’s memory in brief glimpses, the anti-hero will stop at nothing in achieving his goal of stopping his new enemy and saving his wife.
Copley generously took the time recently to talk about staring in, and producing, ‘Hardcore Henry’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor-producer discussed how he became interested in playing Jimmy in the sci-fi film, as he thought shooting such an action-driven story in the first-person point-of-view would be an interesting challenge. The actor also appreciated Naishuller’s ability, especially as a first-time film director, to infuse the characters’ emotions and humor into such a visually stunning and action-infused story.
The conversation began with Copley examining why he decided to play Jimmy in ‘Hardcore Henry,’ and what he liked about the character, and the overall script. “I was sent the music video for ‘Bad Motherf*cker’ by a friend of mine, Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian producer and director who works in Hollywood,” he revealed. “He said, ‘We’re looking to produce a film, using this first-person POV style that Ilya had been using so successfully in his music videos.”
The performer added that he thought it would be “a fascinating challenge. There wasn’t a script as such; there were only some loose ideas and set pieces. Ilya was still working on the story.” Copley added that the writer-director “then came up with the idea of me playing the multiple Jimmys, with the fun twist of what he would be, and why. I was really excited about that, from an acting point of view. I thought it would be fun to play as a character actor.”
In terms of the movie itself, “I thought it was a unique opportunity to do something different in the budget range we were working in. “It wasn’t a high-risk project,” Copley explained. He laughed as he added, “So I felt that so few opportunities come along where you can say, ‘I made something very different.’ Not everybody’s going to like it, but while you watch it, you’ll struggle to think of another movie that’s the same.”
The actor then further discussed the fact that the drama is expanded from the first-person point-of-view music video that Naishuller directed for ‘Bad Motherf*cker.’ “What the action in the video said to me was that the film was going to be an incredible spectacle. But I didn’t refer to the video again once we started making the film, and it didn’t inform my character,” Copley revealed.
“I tried to put as much story and character into Ilya’s vision as I could, but the movie was ultimately his baby. I knew, however, that he was going to make an action film that was unlike any other action film we have every seen before, and I realized that from the video,” the performer explained. “So that’s what the music video did for me-it gave me enormous confidence in this Russian team, and their ability to make an incredible spectacle for a small amount of money, which was incredibly impressive,” he also noted.
“After speaking with Ilya, I understood that the tone of the film was going to be fun. I knew it was going to be like a video game, in the fact that it was going to be violent. Butt I also knew that it wasn’t going to take itself too seriously,” the actor added. “Knowing that the tone was going to be fun was important to how I played the character.”
With ‘Hardcore Henry’s violence in part driven by the characters’ emotions and humor, Copley added that he thinks infusing that sentiment into this type of action film was beneficial. “I think Ilya’s ability to create stunts in these fun little moments was fantastic. One of my favorite moments in the whole film is the one with the horse,” the performer revealed. “So they found ways to create fun action sequences, as they knew that I was playing the character in a fun way.”
The adventure film is driven by those non-stop action sequences, with very few pauses between the stunts. Copley then discussed the process of shooting the stunts and action sequences while filming ‘Hardcore Henry.’ “This wasn’t a film where it was easy to get anyone to perform my stunts for me. With that being said, what I had to do was relatively mild, compared to what I had to do in some of the other films I’ve made,” the actor divulged. “The things that the stunt and GoPro-wearing guys had to do were some of the most insane things I have ever seen people do, especially without safety wires in certain cases,” Copley also admitted.
“One of the things that I did that I particularly enjoyed was that I stayed in character,” the performer also divulged. “I would wear my costumes when I socialized with the cast and crew. Since the film was so grueling to make, I instinctively wanted to keep things light on the set.” He laughed as he added, “That was a lot of fun.”
One of the interesting aspects of the Jimmy character is that he has developed multiple incarnations of himself, many of whom helped Henry in his mission to stop Akan. Copley further discussed the process of not only developing the different looks and physicality of each clone, but also the emotions and motivation behind them. “Working with Ilya on this film was a very collaborative process, more so than I have done on my other projects. I designed how many of the Jimmys would look and be, and shared those ideas, and discussed them, with Ilya,” the actor explained.
“But the most extreme case was with the hippy Jimmy, who I created the morning that we shot his scene,” Copley admitted. “He was initially a very different character. He was an intense Harley-Davidson biker, but we had a problem with the tattoos. After getting the tattoos drawn on my arm for two hours, they just didn’t look right.”
So after deciding he didn’t feel the tattoos were the right fit for the biker incarnation of Jimmy, Copley spoke to his wife, actress, fashion model and make-up artist, Tanit Phoenix, who was working on his hair and make-up for the movie. “I said to her, ‘Listen, this hair and these tattoos aren’t working. What can we do with this costume I have on?’ We took about 15 minutes to come up with the idea of a hippie.,” Copley explained. He laughed as he added, “So we went to Ilya and I said, “This is what I have.’ The hippie version is now actually one of my favorite characters.”
Copley also noted that as he was developing the different incarnations for his role of Jimmy, he did additional improvisation while he was filming. “The process on this was that there were lines that Ilya had written for me in the script. In the mornings, we would have rehearsals together, during which time we would work on anything that I wanted to improvise or change. It was really just Ilya and I working on any dialogue changes,” the actor revealed.
“If we developed something we liked, we would stick to that. Since it was such a technical film, it wasn’t conducive to just change lines and timing in the moment. So I could pretty much change anything before we started rolling,” Copley explained. “But because there was a lot of action in many of he scenes, we couldn’t change things in the moment while we were filming. We had some scenes that ran for five, six or seven minutes. So there wasn’t too much scope to mess around with a lot of the dialogue, once we committed to a version.”
The performer then discussed his experience of working with Naishuller on the sci-fi movie, and the close relationship they formed while making the drama. “I know have a very special relationship with Ilya; we’ve become very close friends. I knew going into the project that this was a process that would either make us or break us as two creative individuals,” Copley revealed.
“As film often go, they can become very grueling and difficult. This one was in a class all of its own. We went through a lot of challenges and difficulties together, and made it through them,” the performer also explained. “I really feel blessed to have gotten a good friend out of this process, and to be able to have worked with someone who’s as visionary and gutsy as Ilya was to make a film like this one that was so different. So I think in a couple of years’ time, we’ll end up with a cult following. I think it’s a unique work, and it takes courage to put yourself on the line like that for a project like this, which he did.”
One unique aspect of ‘Hardcore Henry’ is that the film is told through the first-person point-of-view from the title character, but there wasn’t one specific actor who portrayed Henry throughout the entire movie. As one of the supporting actors in the film, Copley also discussed how that shooting style influenced his acting approach. “It was the most challenging technical form that I’ve done as an actor,” he admitted. “Obviously, you normally work with another actor. Or, if you’re working on a scene with visual effects, you’ll act against a tennis ball or a mark on the wall.
“But on this film, one of the challenges was that there was a GoPro (camera) attached to a helmet that was located beneath the human eye. There were also multiple people who played Henry; sometimes, it would be one of the stunt guys, and other times it would be the DP (Director of Photography) or the director,” Copley also divulged.
“So Ilya would play Henry in a particular scene, and would be acting with me,” the performer further explained. “So he would be an actor I would be interacting with, and I would look into the GoPro lens to see his eyes. But then during the middle of the scene, Ilya would suddenly look down at his monitor that’s also attached to his helmet, and he would frame me by using his head as a tripod.” He laughed as he added, “So you would have to try not to become distracted by the fact that he’s judging your performance, but he’s still standing next to you and handing you something.
“So sometimes you would have someone acting with you, and sometimes you wouldn’t. Sometimes I would be working with a stuntman, and I would give him ideas for acting, because he would be focusing on the stunts. It was difficult at times for them, but they rose to the challenge unbelievably on this film,” Copley also said. “Every single stunt you see in the film is done practically, with a GoPro attached to the stuntman’s head. It was quite an amazing feat.”
With the action film taking Henry and Jimmy around Moscow as they try to find ways to protect themselves against Akan, Copley then discussed the process of shooting on locations around the city. “I’m a huge fan of making films in actual locations. I think the process informs the film and the performances in more ways than just the visuals you see on the screen,” Copley explained.
“In this case, Russia was challenging, but also fantastic, in many ways,” the actorr also revealed. “There were a lot of things that we could achieve with a small budget that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve if we were filmed in Los Angeles or London, for example.”
To emphasize the ease in filming ‘Hardcore Henry’ independently in Moscow, Copley pointed to the fact that “There’s a scene in the film, which is also shown in the trailer, where two guys are running over a bridge. A scene like that happened because Ilya and the stunts guys were driving from one location to another. One of the guys said to the other, ‘Remember when we used to run over this bridge as kids?'”
The performer laughed as he added, “Ilya’s ears perked up and said, ‘Really? Do you want to do it now with the GoPro strapped to your head?’ So they quickly jumped out of the van, because they were already in costume, and they incorporated that into the chase. The one stuntman was running with the camera strapped to his head, and his field of view was restricted. There weren’t any safety wires, so if the guys fell, they would die.”
Copley further celebrated the stuntmen who worked on the sci-fi film by saying, “That was the kind of things we got, because these Russian guys were up for anything, and they were extremely skilled in their work. So we could get away with things like that.”
The actor then discussed how besides starring in ‘Hardcore Henry,’ he also served as one of the executive producers on the movie. “On a project like this, that has so much risk involved, I’ve increasingly looked to have as much input as I could get. I like to become as involved in projects as I can.” He added that he and his fellow producers, “went to Indiegogo at a certain point to get funds to finish funding the film.”
Copley added that “I come from behind the camera, having worked as a writer and director, and it’s something that I think I’m going to go back to. So it was a natural progression for me to look for more projects that I could have some more input in.”
The performer concluded the interview by discussing the process of bringing the action-adventure movie on the film festival circuit. ‘Hardcore Henry’ had its world premiere during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award, before it had its U.S. premiere this past March at SXSW. “It was actually my first experience of bringing one of my films to festivals. I had previously been very lucky with the projects I had been a part of, as I had made quite a few studio films, which were already guaranteed to be distributed,” Copley explained.
“But with this film, we had no idea how it was going to be released, as we had a very small budget. But then we were accepted into Toronto, and got a great spot during Midnight Madness. Until it played for that audience, we didn’t know if the film was going to get a cinema release, or if it would go anywhere at all,” the filmmaker revealed. “So it was a unique, but also a very fun and amazing, experience to watch the film with an audience, especially since we had so much at stake. That first audience in Toronto was great. we were then picked up at the festival.
“Then, interestingly enough, my film ‘The Hollars’ was then picked up at Sundance, which I had also never been to before,” Copley admitted with a laugh. “We now have ‘Free Fire,’ the film Martin Scorsese executive produced and Ben Wheatley co-wrote and directed, premiering during Midnight Madness in Toronto this year, so I’ll be going back again.”
The actor laughed again when he added, “So I’ve suddenly been getting more experience in the film festival world. The experience has been great, as you’ve been really getting a sense of how the film plays with an audience. That’s like the first time I watched the completely finished version of ‘Hardcore Henry’ at Toronto. I had previously seen a few rough cuts, but they were working on polishing the finished version right up until it screened at the festival. So the first time I saw the finished version was with the audience at Toronto, which was great fun.”
Watch the ‘Hardcore Henry’ Blu-ray trailer below.
Written by: Karen Benardello