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Meet the A-Team....


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I'm in a room with the A-Team! Yes, you heard, the A-Team! I'm pretty excited, I mean not as excited as my four-year-old self would have been back when the TV series was airing, but still pretty excited. I understand this is not the A-Team of my youth, but I have never had a more jealous response to any text message than the one that read 'I'm in the room with the A-Team, and Jessica Biel'.

A Team

Those present: Liam Neeson (Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith), Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (B.A Baracus), Bradley Cooper (Templeton "Faceman" Peck), Jessica Biel (Charissa Sosa), Sharlto Copley (Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock), Joe Carnahan (director)

Unless you happen to live under a rock, you will have noticed that the iconic TV series has been revamped into a high-octane, big action Hollywood movie. To talk about it the main cast and the film's director Joe Carnahan have gathered in a room in the plush Dorchester hotel on London's Park Lane.

The idea of a big-screen version received a mixed-reception from fans - some seeing it as pure sacrilege to even consider such a venture. But the greeting the film received at the Leicester Square premiere showed how people had been won over as the director explains: "It's fantastic, I mean that reception last night in Leicester Square was the most extraordinary thing. To have it receive a reception like that and to work with these fine folks."

Former UFC champion and current BA Baracus, 'Rampage' Jackson looks a little dazed and is questioned on why he is so quiet.

"I don't understand why y'all have a premiere and then early the next morning you have a junket. This don't happen in the fighting world, they don't make you go for the weigh-in and then early next morning, say you gotta fight."

Liam Neeson butts in,"Me and Rampage haven't slept AT ALL."

"The thing is Liam and I, we like to have might find Liam and I in the clubs, bars...dancin', drinks in our hands, where Bradley and Sharlto they probably be reading a book or something," concludes Rampage.

The main draw of the original series and of this new movie is the on-screen comradery of the band of soldiers on the run. Unlike the 80s cast who famously had some fraught relationships, this cast appear to get on famously. Much of this meeting is filled with in-jokes, chats amongst themselves and general mucking about.

Liam Neeson was impressed by the on-screen chemistry. "It was a no-brainer. That's the thing I am proudest off in the whole film, our chemistry on screen which I think is very palpable. Our egos were all left at the door, there was no room for that stuff."

With such recognisable, iconic characters needing to be revisted how did the cast go about tackling the task of bringing them to the big screen?

"We all sort of paid homage to the actors and the characters from the TV show. You can't be burdened by it you know, like you must be George Peppard you know that's stupid, it's the 21st century so we made it new, but we had this acknowledgement where we tipped our hats to various iconic elements that the characters had. Rampage had the mohawk, and myself with my salt and pepper wig and cigars," explains Neeson.

Possibly the best 'homage' and development of the classic character comes with Sharlto Copley's depiction of 'Mad' Murdoch bringing a schizophrenic insanity to the role.
"It was moving in a way, that something that was so part of my childhood and Murdoch in particular was a character that had an influence, was an inspiration for me to get into film in the first place. I was making little movies with my friends from when I was like ten years old, so it was a real honour. I just tried to play it how I wanted to see it, and do my best with the role."

Still a relative unknown Copley first caught people's attention in the amazing sci-fi thriller District 9 and secured his place in the A-Team with a series of improvised videos shot in his hotel room and sent to Carnahan to showcase his ideas for the role.

"It was just different stuff, just doing a range of different characters and some stuff the original Murdoch was doing. There were some hygiene issues in the bathroom, where he would get paranoid about something where he got stuck in the bathroom and he'd have to call up BA from the bathroom phone, you know those bathroom phones you get. He's calling BA and BA is being difficult. There was talking to a plant, him counselling the plant. His invisible dog that kept barking at BA and he thought the dog was racist, which they didn't put in the movie. BA was making noise next door which was annoying him, so he rang him up, put on a voice and pretended to be the hotel manager - stuff like that," he explained.

On screen the interaction seems natural and off the cuff and the point is raised that many of the best moments of dialogue are improvised.

Copley explained, "There was a huge amount of improvisation. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie was when I spoke to Joe, I sent him a tape I did in my hotel room of improvised stuff, and he was very comfortable with that. Actually Bradley and Rampage in particular are amazing improvisers who really amazed me so a lot of my best moments, not just as Murdoch but in the whole movie were improvised moment with me or the rest of the cast."

Much of this came from Joe Carnahan's openness to changes in the script as the shoot went along, a fact that Neeson enjoyed during production.

"Because Joe is a writer, every day every scene we did he would never say 'okay it's in print, that's what we are going to shoot' it was always alive. We would start with the written material and Joe would go 'you know what I have a better line, try this'. It was terrific, every scene was alive."

Featuring cameos from Dirk Benedict (original Faceman) and Dwight Schultz (original Murdoch) it is obvious that the film gained at least some support from those involved in the cult TV series. Copley talked of his feelings on meeting Dwight Schultz.

"It was a pretty moving experience for me you know meeting somebody who was such a part of my childhood was a really moving moment. We had lunch and I was really getting on with him, and I thought he is not going to get to see much of what I have been doing with the character shooting today, so I showed him the tests I had shot where I was just improvising and he he turned to me and he had tears in his eyes and he said 'you are Murdoch' and put out on his website 'Murdoch is dead, long live Murdoch'. He has been very supportive."

Cooper adds, "I didn't get the chance to meet Dwight, I would have loved too I loved Murdoch as a kid. Dirk Benedict was great, we did a seen where we were in the tanning booth in the prison and I remember being in the make-up trailer watching him in his black speedo being spunged with brown tan as I was, so I thought 'there's something that doesn't happen every day.' I'll always take that with me."

There is no question that this is a big action production filled with crazy, physical stunts. Did any of the cast sustain any injuries during the shoot?

Neeson did. "First week I tore my rotator cuff, getting out of the van...."he explains before Cooper butts in turning another comment into a joke, something he has been doing throughout.
"I tore my hamstring, walking back to my trailer after was a brutal shoot! My trailer was way, way back. What are they doing to me?"

Despite seemingly flying a tank, putting up with innumerable explosions and partaking in various feats of aero-acrobatics for Neeson the hardest part of the shoot, as a reformed smoker, was dealing with Hannibal's trade-mark cigars.

"I tell you it was tough, Bradley is an ex-smoker too. I am a nicotine addict and I am off cigarettes 16-years, which I am very proud of. Joe insisted I smoke real cigars and he was absolutely right, and because there was no trade embargo because we shot in Canada, with Cuba, we had Cuban cigars. After day one I GOT what cigars were about, so it wasn't easy."
Fighting, explosions, cigar-smoking: the A-Team is 100% a testosterone-fuelled, man's world. The question arises about how easy co-star Jessican Biel found it to fit into this masculine world.

"It was a really interesting, I actually quite enjoyed it. I really like action movies and to be a part of them. I don't really have an insecurity about being with lots of man, and as you can see these guys are really cool. Everyone you can see is a lot of fun, we just goofed around and had a really good time. It was a really good experience."

This on-set atmosphere has led to a genuinely likeable summer blockbuster that more than maintains the legacy of the original series, an accolade that not many reworkings in recent times can boast.

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