Sharlto Copley did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Wickus Van Mere in District 9.
Sharlto Copley before moving into playing a variety of wackos made his acting debut in his friend Neil Blomkamp's own feature film debut which is this film. Here Copley plays a much more down to earth fellow mentally this time around. In the opening of the film he is in fact no more than a bureaucrat ordered to take charge in the eviction of the Aliens from District 9 who are to be sent to another camp named District 10. Wickus spends his early time directly addressing the screen as Wickus is being the sort of star of a documentary video as he goes about his task. Copley is great in introducing us to Wickus as the corporate drone of sorts. The reason being because of just how realistically that he creates Wickus early on despite this being a film about stranded Aliens.
Copley smartly treats the role by playing Wickus simply as man who is being followed in his job as in a real documentary. Although a corporate man Copley still nicely plays Wickus as a man and at the start he is very effective in showing such a genuine excitement in Wickus as he receives his promotion along with his new assignment to remove the Aliens. Copley is particularly likable in the role even in these moments where he could have been unlikable simply because how much life he does bring in the part. Yes he is a bureaucrat to be sure, but Copley very naturally suggests that there is obviously at least a little more to the man than that. Copley makes him a feel like a completely real man even before we see him evict any Aliens, and in dong so he grounds the film incredibly well that could have easily become far too detached otherwise.
Although the film does not mind showing Wickus to be a more than a little out of his element as he tries to perform the evictions, and Copley does not mind showing this really either, he very importantly does indeed act as an excellent guide through District 9. Copley holds these scenes together incredibly well through the naturalism that he brings to the part. The reason for this is how well he plays the fact that Wickus is making a documentary at this point. In that point Copley properly brings a constant energy in the scenes that only reflect a particular passion that Wickus has to make a good impression in the documentary, but also just the baser sense that he is happy to be the star so to speak. Along with that though Copley brings the right pride in just the way Wickus walks as well as espouses his information of the land as if he were the expert he needs to be for this job.
Copley carefully shifts though depending on the situation as he should in a proper fashion that shows Wickus shifting gears when needed. Whenever Wickus is actually going through the process of evicting Copley effectively brings out the bureaucrat all the more as he attempts to portray Wickus as all business. Copley brings the right weakness in Wickus's manner in these scenes as it is easy to see the cracks in him as he tries to act tough in front of the Aliens. Again though I like that Copley does not overplay that though as he never makes Wickus defined by it by any means. Copley is good in bringing the strong bluster in Wickus trying to be in charge, but Copley shows that he just really does not have it in him. Copley very realistically brings the attitude of a man who really just is not that good at his job, but really is trying very hard to be.
Copley is also terrific when things begin to go wrong during his attempted evictions such as when the Aliens commit violent acts or perhaps even he makes eye contact with a local human crime lord. Copley shifts perfectly in these scenes always to reflect the intensity of them. He even twists quite cleverly yet still realistically though by showing Wickus's strong attempt to try and seem like he still knows what he is doing despite it seeming obvious that he is in over his head. Copley is great by showing how every encounter shakes up Wickus a little more and he makes Wickus filled with far less confidence and a far more nervous fellow then he was at the beginning. This only becomes much worse for poor Wickus though when Wickus accidentally sprays a strange liquid upon himself that came from a hidden canister from one of the Aliens's shacks.
That liquid causes Wickus to suffer severely and Copley once again delivers brilliantly with this aspect of his performance. Wickus start out becoming ill and Copley does not just leave it to spewing black liquid from his orifices. Copley brings the illness alive through his portrayal and his depiction of Wickus's physical degradation is made odd believable because of him. After he is done for the day Wickus collapses at home finding himself in the hospital, but much worse than that he finds that his hand has become the same hand that belongs to the Aliens. Copley's reaction is outstanding because he merely conveys what most men's reaction would be to discovery this. The horror in his eyes and panic is painfully raw. Copley is very powerful in that scene as well as the proceedings scenes where his company uses him as a guinea pig, but being just so honest in his performance.
The film technically takes a rather drastic turn as he goes on the run seeking refuge in District 9 while gradually transforms more into the Alien. Copley capitalizes on the fact at the beginning of the film he always manged humanize Wickus even though he was a bit of dope. This is especially important when the film expects us to become completely invested in him as he must try to cure himself and avoid being dissected by his company. Copley allowed the right sympathy by never turning Wickus into a caricature earlier therefore when Wickus's life is threatened it becomes very easy to feel for his plight. The film does not spend too much time on Wickus's regrets as he ends up with teaming up with one of the Aliens, it pretty much leaves it to Copley's portrayal of Wickus's reactions to the Alien. That is all that is needed as Copley's naturalism shines through as we see the shame and regret in him, but Copley keeps it subtle fitting to a man who's problems are quite pressing.
The last act of the film is very action oriented as Wickus has to fight off by the armed company men and plenty of criminals who want him for their use. All of the action could have easily overwhelmed Copley's performance and he could have easily just been kind of there. Copley never let's that happen though making the most of all of his reactions. Yes Wickus kind of does become an action hero through his use of the alien armaments, but Copley does not play it that way. Copley brings the right awe in Wickus's astonishment at most of what he does, as well still bringing the appropriate fear and desperation as he is forced into this situation he never wanted to be a part of. Copley that carries this film so flawlessly. He does this because in every step, even though it is science fiction, even though he plays a guy who is turning into alien, who always makes Wickus feel like a real person through his portrayal of every emotion he goes through. He gives a great performance that is probably one of the best feature film debuts I've seen.