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The A-Team – Liam Neeson and that damned cigar

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The A-Team - Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson
Face (Bradley Cooper) and Hannibal (Liam Neeson) plot their next move during their climactic showdown with their enemies © 20th Century Fox

Liam Neeson has starred in a plethora of critically acclaimed films including Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, Les Miserables, Kinsey and Batman Begins. In 2008, he made the thriller, Taken, playing an ex-soldier trying to track down the Albanian slave masters who have kidnapped his daughter – it’s a movie that he believes changed his life, carrying him successfully into a new action genre.

In his new movie, The A-Team, which is based on the popular TV series, Neeson portrays Hannibal Smith, a former Special Forces soldier who, along with his team, Face (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

At the press junket for the movie, Neeson spoke of his co-stars, having to smoke that damned cigar, and the dangers of getting hurt on this kind of film.

Growing up in Ireland, were you familiar with The A-Team?

The A-Team - Liam Neeson, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Bradley Cooper
The A-Team’s new mission, pitting them against powerful forces that set up the Team for a crime not of its doing, requires Hannibal (Liam Neeson, left), B.A. (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), Murdock (Sharlto Copley) and Face (Bradley Cooper) to make intricate – if not impossible – plans © 20th Century Fox

It was very, very popular. It wasn’t my cup-of-tea to be honest. I was in my twenties and I was in the professional theatre. My nieces and nephews were crazy about it, and it was hugely successful and popular, and still is in reruns.

This cast has a wonderful chemistry on screen. What did you do to get that rapport?

We got on with each other, and I think obviously there’s a lot of luck, hoping it will work when the camera starts rolling. On the day of it there was just an ease and a generosity between us, something clicked. We all liked each other and we liked being with each other, and looked forward to going to work every day. It was a simple as that, and as complex as that too.

Why did you accept the role in this? When I heard you were in it I felt it carried a lot more weight than your usual action film.

I was really taken with the relationship between the four guys that (co-screenwriters Joe (Carnahan, who also directed the movie) and Brian (Bloom) managed to keep at the heart of the script. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into the story and characters, and the script had a wonderful camaraderie between the guys. Hannibal is a believable hero. He’s moral, has a strong sense of ethics and loves his country and his men.

I was just very deeply chuffed that I’d be considered for it. I did this film Taken that’s given me a whole new lease on life at the age of 58 almost, so it was great to flex those different muscles, if you know what I mean? I met with Joe and I loved him, and I felt the script was very, very clever and quite intricate. It was a no-brainer for me.

How did you feel about having to smoke a cigar throughout the movie, which Hannibal did in the TV series?

The A-Team - Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Liam Neeson and Quinton Jackson
Face (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), Hannibal (Liam Neeson) and BA (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) race into action © 20th Century Fox

As an ex-smoker, I felt conflicted about the cigar. But I understood why the writers kept the conceit; it does add a contentment to Hannibal’s character when a plan is going well and he pulls out a cigar and lights it. There’s a feeling of oneness with the world when he lights that match that I totally empathize with, and I understand there were certain scenes where we had to have the stogies, but obviously we don’t want kids to emulate this.

In this film you go through a lot of stuff, did you get hurt?

I tore my rotator cuff in the first week bursting through the van in the opening sequence, when I come to save Bradley’s character. So I had a dead arm for like three months, it was awfully painful. But the guys rallied around, I don’t think you’d notice.

Just like your character in Taken, Hannibal has a very particular set of skills, does the action choreography that you did in Taken, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Darkman translate for the fighting skills for this film?

I think so. I’m fairly comfortable with fight sequences and stuff like that. I’ve done a few of them, and I’m comfortable with that sort of stuff, as long as I’m reasonably fit. And it’s fun to do; it’s like a kid in a toyshop doing that stuff.

How do you feel similar and different from Hannibal, and what quality would you like to take away from playing him?

Well, these guys know no fear, and that’s really interesting. I’m scared when I wake up in the morning just what the day is going to entail. It’s interesting the things these guys do, they are not scared, and that’s an amazing quality I think. So I’d love to have that quality in real life.