You might recognize character actor Jose Pablo Cantillo from his recurring role as loyal Governor lackey Caesar Martinez on AMC’s ongoing zombie drama series The Walking Dead. But after years of television appearances on shows like Sons of Anarchy, CSI, The Closer and Terriers, Cantillo is finally getting some traction in film thanks to filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. In Elysium, the South African writer-director’s follow-up to his celebrated first feature District 9, Blomkamp cast Cantillo in a small role as Sandro, the urban gangster who operates on Matt Damon’s character, rigging him with his extraordinary exoskeleton suit. Apparently, Blomkamp was pretty pleased with Cantillo, as THR reports the pair will reunite on the sci-fi auteur’s next venture, Chappie.
Described as a science fiction comedy, Chappie is based on an original concept thought up by Blomkamp and his wife, District 9 co-writer Terri Tatchell. Its story centers on an artificial intelligence-equipped robot used by the Johannesburg police force that is kidnapped by a crew of criminals who plot to use the self-aware machine in their evil schemes. Sharlto Copley, who landed leads in both District 9 and Elysium, will lend his distinctive voice to the titular robot. For his part, Cantillo is slated to play a gangster called Yankie who aims to exploit Chappie for his own personal gain.
Below, you can see Blompkamp and Tatchell’s first interpretation of this idea in their short film Tetra Vaal. In the brief proof of concept, we see a robot who can use weaponry making its way through the slums of South Africa with ease. Now just imagine it with Copley’s friendly tenor.
News of this project first surfaced last February, when Chappie was greenlit by Sony. By the end of April, Copley was confirmed for the lead. A few months later, Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel entered into talks to join the feature playing an impoverished young man who serves as the human lead of the sci-fi tale, which I suspect means he’s Chappie’s ally in his new environment. Earlier this month, Yolandi Visser and Ninja of the South African rap-rave duo Die Antwoord joined the film to play two of Johannesburg’s baddies. With production set to begin this fall, more casting news should follow soon, including whether or not Patel is actually on board.
It’s interesting to see how different this film is already being handled from Blomkamp's last film. Making the transition from District 9 to the $115 million movie Elysium, Blomkamp ultimately favored A-list stars like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster over lesser known performers, though he did bring back Copley to play a sociopathic mercenary. But for Chappie, Blomkamp seems to be rejecting the A-list game, which might be an artistic choice or may reflect a much smaller budget. With Elysium proving slow to grow at the box office—having earned only $61 million domestic to date—my guess is a little bit of both. But that’s not a bad thing, District 9 didn’t need big names to win our attention. It’s great storytelling and intriguing world building was what drew us in. And from the looks of the vid above, Chappie shows that same sort of potential. So, really, who needs Matt Damon?
Chappie will hit theaters on March 27th, 2015.