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This was a lot different. Some of these South African military guys were the most highly trained men in the world, and they really knew the bush better than any other group of soldiers. I learned about camouflage, how to track. The whole stunt coordination team helped give me an idea of what these guys were really like.
How did you develop your South African accent?
I'm pretty good at imitating people. I interviewed a number of different people in South Africa and honed in on the one guy I wanted to sound like. Then it was a process where [dialect coach] Tim Monich and I recorded him and tortured him (laughs) by making him say sentences in varying ways and different energies and different tempos. Those recordings became a kind of mantra I'd listen to over and over again.
Faced with brutal physical stunts, ongoing dialect coaching and hundred-degree temperatures, what was the hardest part about working on the film?
Being on a location where people are suffering and playing a cutthroat opportunist who is taking advantage of the situation there was disturbing. It really affected me, just being in that environment and playing that character.
Were you able to have any fun?
I can't say it was a joyous shoot. The fun part was getting a weekend off and going on safari. I saw a pack of 35 lions eat a wildebeest carcass and swam with giant manta rays. That was unbelievable. Africa's natural beauty is unmatched.
Why Hollywood's sudden interest in Africa aside from Blood Diamond, there's been recent movies including Catch a Fire, The Constant Gardener and The Last King of Scotland as well as the whole Brangelina birth?
I think you're dealing with a generation that has heard about all the issues there for years. I remember growing up hearing about it through USA For Africa. It's just been so embedded in my generation and those generations after mine we're still hearing stories of the hardships that people there go through. Certainly artists like Bono have helped. I don't know how many artists have done it on that level historically, sacrificing nearly all their time to deal with these issues. It's inspiring. He's one of my heroes.
The movie has come under fire from the diamond industry, which insists the issue of conflict diamonds took place in the 1990s and has been almost completely eradicated. Did the gemstone industry contact you directly?
I've gotten letters, and I didn't respond to any of them. There's been a huge PR push to let people get a better understanding that this stuff has dramatically decreased. But certainly if you talk to Global Witness or Amnesty International they'd tell you there are still major problems, especially on the Ivory Coast. They want to end conflict diamonds for good. I don't want to go out there and project myself as an expert on the issue. I'm not an expert, and this is not what I do full time. I'm an actor who's playing a part. If the movie does anything, it will bring more awareness to the issue and people will be asking more questions, and the industry is going to have to have viable answers.
So are you going to let your Oscar date wear diamonds next year?
Certainly not from now on (laughs).