It’s not every day you get invited to play paintball with Sharlto Copley, but that’s the magic of SXSW: an interview opportunity might also come with free beer, bbq, paintball and zipline rides. We were lucky enough to do all that and talk to Free Fire’s Ben Wheatley, Armie Hammer and yes, Sharlto Copley, and it was, appropriately, a blast:
BMD: How did you all do on paintball?
Sharlto Copley: Not as well as I would have liked. I was doing the first round as Vernon [his character from Free Fire], so I just hid and sent my guys. There were two of us left. And then, I got shot in the arm.
BMD: (to Armie Hammer, who just whipped his feet out) What is wrong with your...
Armie Hammer: My shoes got wet and the leather stained my feet!
Ben Wheatley: You’re like one of The Simpsons or something.
BMD: This movie takes place almost entirely in one location. Were you interested in how the close confines would affect the film?
Ben Wheatley: Yeah. I’d written a script about five years ago, which was set on a Greek island, and the middle of the movie was people taking drugs and rolling around a room and there was a big shootout. That was the start of my journey to Free Fire.
Sharlto Copley: I’d like to do that one!
Armie Hammer: I know that movie, I’ve been to Greece.
Ben Wheatley: So that was one thing, and it was kind of an itch I didn’t get to scratch at the end of doing Field in England. And then I read these transcripts about a shootout in Miami that the FBI had. There was so much stuff in there because it was a blow-by-blow account, and I thought this is a movie. And then I read a book on the O.K. Corral, and that’s not like in movies, either. It’s just a lot of guys getting shot.
BMD: And getting winged vs full-on shot. There’s a lot of that in Free Fire.
Ben Wheatley: Not to sound ghoulish, but I’d seen stuff online, and when people get shot, it’s not this whole blood coming out, slow motion stuff. That’s not right. And there’s this weird thing about the recoil of a gun. The amount of the recoil is the same amount of force as the bullet that hits you.
BMD: I didn’t know that.
Armie Hammer: It’s physics. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. The thing is the projectile’s so small that the same amount of force is amplified in one area instead of the whole palm of your hand.
Ben Wheatley: And I read this other shit where they had to re-educate cops because they’d been learning from watching TV. So cops were pulling up in police cars and opening the door as cover because they’d seen it on Starsky and Hutch. And then they’re getting shot through the doors because car doors aren’t any kind of protection. And people throw themselves backward when they know they’ve been shot because they’d seen it on TV. It’s not a real thing. If you get shot from behind, you might be like “Hey, what’s that?”
Armie Hammer: A buddy of mine, who I actually talked to before we made this movie, he got shot in Afghanistan. He got shot in the arm like Sharlto and he didn’t know until one of his buddies was like “You got blood on your hand.” He looked down and saw blood on his hand and couldn’t help it, a special forces guy, he just fell down.
BMD: From a performance standpoint, how did you feel about being in the same location for so long?
Sharlto Copley: I thought it’d be an interesting challenge to see what Ben was going to do with it.
BMD: Do you get bored, though?
Sharlto Copley: Well, I suppose so, the monotony of being on the ground. It was always like doing a play and being in the same place, we were all there at the same time because you never knew who would be on camera or who you could see in the background. We didn’t have stand-ins, so sometimes you just lay there so your legs can be in the shot or whatever.
The thing that made it different is just the sheer volume of gunfire. You know they’re just blanks, but they really are intense. There’s a certain adrenaline that goes just naturally when that gunfire’s happening.
Armie Hammer: It’s funny because we were all in one location, but we sort of created a microcosm in that little location, so while there was one room, I was by the ammo boxes, and someone else was there, someone else was over there. And then everyone would move and shift. There was always something happening. There’s never like a stagnation. They’re all in one room, but if I were in the room it would seem like the entirety of the universe as well because it could be the last thing I ever see.
When you’re in a little space like that the little things become so important, like Sam Riley being by that cement column, or Jack Reynor being by his little thing. It felt like in the one warehouse there was a myriad of locations within that.
BMD: Do you know how many rounds you went through?
Ben Wheatley: 7,000.
BMD: Were you keeping track?
Ben Wheatley: Yeah, because I have to pay for them.