Home Action The A-Team – Director Joe Carnahan and how he made it work

The A-Team – Director Joe Carnahan and how he made it work

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The A-Team - Co-writer/director Joe Carnahan with Liam Neeson
Co-writer/director Joe Carnahan reviews a scene with Liam Neeson on the set © 20th Century Fox

When writer/director Joe Carnahan was approached about doing The A-Team he was less than enthusiastic, not being a fan of the original TV series. Despite that fact, he decided to helm the movie, finding inspiration for the story in an unusual place.

The film follows the daring exploits of a colorful team of former Special Forces soldiers who were set up for a crime they did not commit. Going ‘rogue,’ they utilize their unique talents to try and clear their names and find the perpetrator who framed them. The A-Team consists of Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper), BA Baracus (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) and HM ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Murdock (Sharlto Copley).

I spoke with Joe Carnahan at the press junket for the film.

The studio had been working on this movie for years but it didn’t come together until they started talking to you. What in your mind happened where you said I can make this work?

The A-Team - Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley
Poster artwork, Col Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson); Templeton "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper); BA Baracas, (UFC light heavyweight Quinton "Rampage" Jackson); and HM "Howling Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley) © 20th Century Fox © 20th Century Fox

It was one of those situations where I looked at it, I was not the biggest fan of the show as a kid, and I think that probably helped, because I didn’t have all these things I thought I had to pay homage to. When Brian Bloom and I sat down to write it, for all the 15 years of all the scripts that they had, we found the central plot device in five minutes on Google.

We literally went on Google and found out that Saddam Hussein robbed the Central Bank in Iraq 24 hours before ‘shock and awe.’ He literally had his guy go in with a stick-up note. We actually have a copy of the letter. And I thought it was a great way to start and, if anything, that was the moment of inspiration. I went, ‘Okay, we can probably make this work.’

How is it different from the TV series?

People are a lot savvier than they were 25 years ago when the show debuted. If you tried to put the series out today you wouldn’t get away with what they got away with then. At the time, the campy aspect of the show was hugely entertaining, but today’s audiences are a lot more sophisticated, so to bring it into this time and this place, the tone and approach had to change to reflect contemporary sensibilities.

Sometimes in films like this the cast feels like it’s straining to have a rapport on screen, but with this film I really felt like the cast had a genuine chemistry. How did you manage that, I know you didn’t audition them together?

The A-Team - Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper portrays Face, a master con man who also happens to be a very capable Special Forces officer © 20th Century Fox

We had a number of dinners and we watched the fights at Liam’s house. It was all the stuff we did before the cameras rolled and after the cameras rolled. It’s a pet peeve of mine, I can look at a movie and look at a scene and say, ‘These people met each other a half hour before,’ and I don’t think that you get the best out of people. I think to know someone socially, to have an idea of them, is why you see (a rapport).

I have great affection, warmth and love for these guys because they became my friends. I think that if you’re only looking at it in a strict professional sense, then you miss the better part of it, which is at the end of the day it’s wonderful to make a movie, it’s better to make friends. And some of these people will be my friends for the rest of my life.

When you were shaping the tone and the nature of this film, were there any beloved action films that you were thinking of specifically?

I saw Raider of the Lost Ark when I was 11 years old and it changed everything for me, because for the first time I became aware that there was a force behind the camera. Somebody was manipulating the way it was filmed. You got the greatest of all with (Steven) Spielberg. I always thought of what I felt like going into that theatre and leaving that theatre.

I really made this film primarily for Rampage and Shalto, because I know how near and dear it was to their heart. I know how much a part of their childhood it was, but the other thing is, the guy who grew up on that show and he takes his son to see this movie, they are going to spend 2 hours of time together, they’re going to have a good time, they’re going to laugh and they’re going to be excited.

When you see stuff like the tank drop, I think that’s a fantastic sequence. You won’t forget about it. To me it epitomizes every one of their characters in that moment. I think it’s a great confluence of action, comedy, drama, everything in that one (moment), so for me Raiders is the big one, because I just feel it’s the penultimate (action movie). It sits atop in terms of summer action movie. I don’t think we’ve touched it. And I’m certainly not making any comparisons. I’m saying if you’re shooting for that, you’re in the right spot.

What cool stuff do you have planned for the DVD?

There’s some great stuff. We were originally going to end the movie with this gag reel. I was going to play it on the side of the screen so you’d you get a sense of how much fun we had doing the movie. I think ultimately we decided it wasn’t worth it; we just ended the way it ended. But there’s actually somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 deleted scenes, or just stuff that came out of the movie.

Note: Stay through the credits for the Easter eggs that follow them!