Casting the Film
At the center of the chaos on Earth, between the two worlds, is Max, played by Matt Damon. "Max needs to get to Elysium to save himself, but in his desperation, he gets involved in a plot that makes him realize that the problem is much bigger than him," says Blomkamp. "And he ends up fighting for something more than himself, fighting to save other people on Earth."
"Max, like a lot of people on Earth, has always aspired to get to Elysium," says Damon. "That was his dream. But he grew up. You get the idea that he's been a petty criminal, but on an Earth where resources are so scarce that everybody's hustling in some way, he's just doing what he's got to do to get by. He's been beaten up by life and now, he's resigned to his life on Earth. He doesn't dream about Elysium anymore. But in the movie, he's put in a position to become the only person who can change things."
Max is an entirely different look for Damon -- shaven, tattooed, muscle-bound. "Neill was very specific about every detail and how he wanted the character to look," says Damon. "He provided us all with pictures of the characters. I don't think anybody had ever done that for me before -- literally handed me a picture of the character with his shirt off. So I went to my trainer and I said, 'Make me look like that,' and a great trainer can do that."
Damon says that he was inspired to join the project by the chance to work with Blomkamp. "Like everybody, I saw District 9, and like everybody, I freaked out," he says. "Neill jumped to the top of the list of people that I wanted to work with. So when I heard that he wanted to meet with me about his next movie, I met him for coffee. He pulled out a kind of graphic novel that he had designed himself that explained the whole world of Elysium. He'd designed it all, built it all already. He just needed us to help him bring it to life. And that was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
Jodie Foster stars opposite Damon as Secretary Delacourt, the hardline official determined to protect Elysium for the wealthy. "As the Secretary of Defense, she sees it as her job to keep immigrants out of Elysium," says Foster. "She sees Elysium as a utopia -- what Earth could have been, but wasn't. She's finding herself handcuffed by a new, more liberal administration, but she's 108 years old; she remembers when Earth was falling apart and why they created Elysium in the first place. She knows what will happen if you let everybody in -- it'll end up just like Earth. If you try to give Elysium to everybody, you'll end up giving it to nobody."
"I love the themes of this movie," she says. "The richer have become richer and the poor have become poorer -- that extends to everything from who gets to be healthy to who gets to have children, who gets to have a family and who gets to escape the poisoned environment. The chasm has become so enormous that, in the movie, it's literally two different worlds."
Sharlto Copley -- Blomkamp's childhood friend and the star of District 9 -- re-teams with the director to take on the pivotal and villainous role of Kruger. "He's ex-Special Forces, now a gun-for-hire operative, a professional soldier who works on Earth for the elite of Elysium," explains Blomkamp.
"Sharlto will always find a way to make things funny -- even subconsciously," says Blomkamp. "Even in the most extreme, dire situation, there's a natural, sardonic humor that comes out of him. He never, ever plays it straight. I provide the parameters for the character, and he turns it into a magnetic performance, that, to me, is extremely satisfying to watch."
Copley was able to draw on his unique experiences to create the character. "Kruger wasn't written as a South African, but I saw a way to play him that way," he says. "I drew on two South African stereotypes to try and create a unique character that you've never seen before. Firstly, for his accent and sarcastic humor I drew on these guys from 'The South' -- a tough neighborhood south of Johannesburg. Secondly, for the military aspect, there was a unit in the South African Defense Force during the apartheid years called 3-2 Battalion. It was a notorious but highly respected battalion -- they fought in Angola during the 'Bush Wars,' trying to stop the spread of Communism in Africa. Kruger's beard, his PT shorts and his utterly lethal military ability was inspired by them."
Like Copley, the cast of Elysium is rounded out by a variety of actors that might not be well-known in America, but are extremely famous in their home countries. "The notion of this movie being multicultural and multinational was built into its DNA," says Kinberg. "We have two lead actors from Brazil, Alice Braga and Wagner Moura -- Wagner in Brazil is a star on the level of Will Smith or Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt in the rest of the world. Diego Luna is a huge star in Mexico. We wanted the movie to look like the world in which we live."
"This is not obvious casting," says Moura, who is the star of Brazil's highest-grossing film of all time, Elite Squad 2. "Neill could have hired any actor in LA he wanted. Why bring in this guy from Brazil? But I think with the subject of this film -- which is so much about social differences -- having a multinational ensemble helps."
In Elysium, Moura plays Spider, an underworld kingpin he describes as "a cross between a revolutionary and a human trafficker -- a coyote; he's a guy who helps people get into Elysium illegally. The question is, why didn't he want to go to Elysium himself? And the answer is that he doesn't want to be a part of Elysium -- he has bigger plans in mind."
Moura says that Max and Spider once worked together in a few not-strictly-legal endeavors -- but that was a long time ago. Now, with Max desperate, Spider is perfectly willing to exploit that desperation. "Max was very good in what he did, but he left. He just said, 'Bye, I'm going to live a straight life,'" Moura explains. "And then, one day, he comes back, and he needs my character to help him get to Elysium, and I say, 'This is priceless, you being here.' But they make a deal, because Spider has one big job that he's always wanted to do, but was too dangerous."
Luna takes on the role of Julio, a friend from Max's past who guides him back into a desperate life when Max has no other choice. "Normally, in films, you see good people and bad people -- but in Elysium, it's just people surviving," he says. "He's just a guy trying to live. Anybody can become a thief for the right reasons -- if it's about surviving, feeding our kids, making sure our families are okay, we'll do anything. Julio is actually a very sweet and nice guy."
It was interesting to Luna to find that aspect of his character, the actor continues, because that complexity is a vein that runs throughout the film. "There's a humanity in Neill's films," he says. "He is a director with a voice and a point of view -- he goes out and experiences the characters. He approaches an action film in the same way that as if he were doing an intimate love story: he cares about the characters, the objectives, the particular moments."
Braga plays Frey, Max's childhood friend -- though their paths have diverged. "They were kids together in an orphanage," Braga explains. "They've become almost like family, even though life has taken them in different directions. She always wanted to be a nurse, and she went for that dream and fought for it. Max, on the other hand, got drawn into a very hard world. So even though they have missed each other for part of their lives, the underlying relationship was always there. When they reunite, they pick up where they left off."
"It's a very interesting way to play a relationship in a film -- it's a love story, in that they care about and love each other, but it's not the common love story -- it's not physical," says Braga. "That's something I always loved about this script."
Braga was also intrigued to play a unique character, in her eyes. "She's 28 years old -- my age -- a single mom with a sick daughter. I thought this would be a great challenge -- to build a character with such a hard life. We had to make her strong, but not depressed or unhappy -- she just faces the reality of her life, brave and determined to do what she has to do for her daughter."
When Max has to get to Elysium, Spider promises him a trip in exchange for Max's services on one big job: to kidnap John Carlyle -- the inventor of Elysium -- and steal the one thing money can't buy: the information in his head. "They get all the passwords and codes for Elysium. And Spider immediately sees the value in what they've stolen. He can open up Elysium to everybody," says Moura. "Just like that, he starts to be more of a revolutionary than a common thief."
"Carlyle created the computer program that operates the entire world of Elysium," says William Fichtner, who plays Carlyle. "The droids, the borders, everything is in that. There's nothing he wants more than to be on Elysium, rather than Earth. So when his beautiful little Bugatti shuttle is shot down, that's the worst thing he can imagine."
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