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The A-Team rolls into SA

Sharlto Copley and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, two of the stars of The A-Team movie, were in SA this week for premieres of the film hosted by Nu Metro and MTN. Copley is already well-known in SA and the rest of the world for his star turn as Wikus van de Merwe in District 9, the SA-flavoured science-fiction hit of 2009.

In The A-Team, he takes on the role of HM Murdock, the nutty military pilot played by Dwight Schultz in the original television series. Rampage Jackson, a former light-heavyweight titleholder in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), plays BA Baracus, the role that turned Mr T into a 1980s icon.

TechCentral entertainment editor Lance Harris spoke to Copley and Jackson about their parts in The A-Team and their Hollywood careers.

TechCentral: How did your involvement in The A-Team movie come about?

Sharlto Copley: Jules Daly, who was Ridley Scott’s hands-on producer for the film, saw me in District 9 and thought I’d be a good fit for Murdock. They had been struggling for a while to find the right Murdock. But the script didn’t really resonate with me because I felt the way the character was written was too different from the original Murdock.

So I shot a series of scenes — things that could happen to Murdock in a hotel room. I edited them together on my laptop and sent them to Joe [Carnahan, the director of The A-Team]. I wanted to play the character to be in spirit closer to the original Murdock — crazier and less cool than he was in the original script. I really wanted the part because The A-Team was my favourite show as a kid.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson: I auditioned for the part of BA a long time ago, when [director]John Singleton was still attached to the project. I couldn’t act back then, so he told me to get an acting coach, which I did. When Joe Carnahan became the director, I auditioned again, and this time I could act, so I got the part.

TC: How much freedom did you have to bring your improvisational acting skills into The A-Team?

SC: A lot — a huge amount. About 70% of the stuff in the film was improvised, and not only by me. Joe Carnahan as the writer and director was very comfortable with that improv world, so he allowed improvisation from anyone who wanted to improvise. Bradley [Cooper] and Rampage were also great improvisers — some of their best stuff in the film was also improvised. We had a good creative vibe going on.

TC: How did the experience of making a big-budget Hollywood film compare to the filming of District 9?

SC: It felt more like I was making a giant commercial than a little piece of art. With District 9, it felt more like we were making something artistic. It was a unique vision from [director]Neil Blomkamp, and I was bringing a specific and unique take on a character to the film.

With a production like The A-Team, a lot of people are involved in decisions, there’s a lot of money being spent, and you have a lot of free time and support. It’s a lot easier physically and mentally. My part in The A-Team was also a lighter role. Where Wikus had heavy moments, Murdock is just there to entertain you. It was just fun.

TC: You seem like an accidental actor — a producer/director at heart who keeps getting pulled into acting jobs. Where does your future in the film industry lie?

SC: In fact, I used to act an enormous amount when I was a kid. From when I was about 10 years, until I was about 19, I made 200 or 300 little pieces of media, was in a number of plays, and so on. My family and friends would maybe say that I was an actor first, and that is probably true.

But when I got into directing and producing, it felt a lot more like where I wanted to be. You have lot more control over what you do. Acting was personal and almost sacred to me, so I was disinterested in singing and dancing for someone’s approval. That part of it repulsed me.

Now I’m able to make a tape and say: “Dude, that’s what I want to do.” I’m not going to read for a panel that says “try this” and “do that” to get their seal of approval. I have a love for all of them — producing, directing, writing and acting. In future, I might direct and write a film that I also act in.

TC: A teaser for a film called Spoon that has Sharlto Copley’s name attached to it recently surfaced. What’s that film about and when can we expect to see it in cinemas?

SC: Spoon was a film I was involved with a couple of years ago. I have since made some real changes in my life for business and personal reasons. I left all the companies I was with at that time, and I left that project. I had nothing to do with that trailer. The people who are still involved with the film are trying to link me to it, but it is part of my past.

The four faces of the A-Team (click to enlarge)

TC: How relevant is The A-Team to audiences today, and what changes have been made to the franchise to update it for a new generation?

SC: Murdock is simply a character I enjoyed as a kid. People said that the original show was cheesy and that it needed to be updated, but Murdock’s playful style is timeless. That craziness still resonates today.

QJ: Hell if I know. The A-Team was cool back then, so it should be cool now. Even if I wasn’t in the film, I’d see it just because I’m such a big fan. I have been a fan since I was five. I don’t know how relevant it is and I don’t care. I’m just glad that it is here.

TC: What is your take on the health of the SA film industry?

SC: I have been involved in the industry behind the scenes for many years. I had strong views about it, and I still do. The broadcasters need to play a way bigger role in the film industry than they do. There are private broadcasters who make an enormous amount of money on international content when they could potentially make even more money by having the vision to fund films like District 9.

I’m working behind the scenes to get people to shoot films in SA. One example is Judge Dredd [to be directed by Pete Travis and scripted by Alex Garland], which is almost 90%-set to be filmed in Cape Town now. My own work environment is centred on Hollywood right now, so the frustrations I encountered in the SA industry are thankfully a thing of the past for me. I will keep engaging the SA industry because it’s something that is close to my heart.

TC: Do you see a career for yourself as a movie action hero?

QJ: I don’t know what God has planned for me, but I would love to be an action star. Not because I want to be a star, but because I’d have fun doing action movies. I always looked up to Wesley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, guys like that. Who wouldn’t want to play parts in action films for a living?

TC: What was your experience like working on the set of a big-budget Hollywood film for the first time?

QJ: It was actually nerve-wracking. I didn’t want to be the one to mess up the movie. Liam Neeson, Bradley, Sharlto and Joe were so patient with me. In the end, I had a great experience on the set. I used to imitate Mr T all the time, so playing BA Baracus was like going back to my childhood. It was like being a kid again for six months.

Sharlto Copley’s Wikus and Charlize skit for the SA Music Awards (via YouTube):

TechCentral’s review: The virtues of overkill
A reboot of The A-Team, a spectacularly silly television series that nearly everyone loved back in the 1980s, could easily have gone wrong in so many ways. It could’ve become a camp slice of nostalgia, or the filmmakers could have tried to go all gritty in a misguided attempt to drag The A-Team into a new millennium.

Luckily, director Joe Carnahan has plotted a careful middle course through those two extremes to create an exuberant and enjoyable action comedy. It feels a lot like an extended episode of the original series, stuffed full of the same good-natured knockabout comedy and improbable action sequences. You’re not likely to remember much about The A-Team once you walk out of the cinema, but it is loud, funny, fast and entertaining while you’re watching it.

The film does depend on your fond childhood memories of the original series for its success, but at least it doesn’t trample on them. Most of the ingredients of the original show are there in some form: that black van, Murdock’s crazy air stunts, the off-the-wall improvised plans, cartoonish villains, and even some fool-pitying.

The action sequences are bigger than they ever were in the television series, thanks to big budget special effects and stunts. They’re frankly ridiculous, but as Colonel Smith says at one point in the film, overkill is an underrated virtue.

The A-Team trailer (via YouTube):

Most of the actors chosen to resurrect The A-Team do a good job of channelling the original cast members while also making the parts their own. Bradley Cooper, the comic actor best known for The Hangover, effortlessly nails the smooth charmer, Faceman Peck. The muscle-bound Quinton Jackson does well as the gruff, bad-tempered BA, and Sharlto Copley’s clowning  as Murdock offers some of the film’s best moments.

Veteran actor Liam Neeson, who plays the part of Colonel Hannibal Smith, is the cast member that seems most out of place. The actor comes across as dark and tortured in a role that needs a little more levity. Action-comedy clearly is not his strength.  — Lance Harris, TechCentral

  • The A-Team opens in SA on 20 August

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