The A-Team Movie Full Production Notes
“The A-Team” was one of the most popular and successful television series to come out of the ‘80s. Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo, the series focused on the exploits of a team of four Vietnam veterans who, sentenced by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit, head underground and become soldiers of fortune. Led by a cigar-chomping Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, played by George Peppard, the team acted on the side of good, while trying to clear their names. The series garnered a large and enthusiastic following.
“‘The A-Team’ series went well beyond being a hit television series. It was a phenomenon,” says series creator Stephen J. Cannell, who is one of the film’s producers. “There were never leading men like those on ‘The A-Team’ on television before. At its core, the series had a simple premise: four guys who are wrongly convicted of a crime decide to go out and help people who can’t help themselves. The need to fight back against injustice is a great subject for a story and audiences responded to the show with fervor. Generations of kids grew up on the series and then a new generation got a chance to see it in reruns and got the same kick out of it.”
Acclaimed filmmaker Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces), one of the millions who grew up with the show, knew it had a devoted following and recognized the challenges in bringing THE A-TEAM to the big screen. “This was a coveted property and re-imagining a show I remembered as a kid was tough to turn down,” says Carnahan. “We wanted to be respectful of the series for the generation of fans who grew up with it but we also wanted to take THE A-TEAM into the twenty-first century.”
Although studio executives and industry watchers agreed the series’ premise provided great foundation for a major motion picture, the film project gestated for almost a decade with the script going through a number of iterations as writers struggled to avoid the show’s campy nature.
“We’d been trying to get the script right for a long time,” recalls producer and former Twentieth Century Fox senior production executive Alex Young. “If you want a modern movie you have to make it feel bigger and more muscular and make the action sequences compete with the best of today’s blockbusters. Joe Carnahan has a very modern and muscular sensibility and his approach to the material was grittier and more real-world [than the series’].”
When Carnahan came on board, he and writing partner Brian Bloom redrafted the action to take place during the impending troop withdrawal from the Middle East. They drew on the camaraderie and humor at the heart of the series, but ramped up the action, drama, adventure and intensity. Says Carnahan: “The goal with THE A-TEAM was to make a compelling, inventive action movie, but to keep it as emotional, real and accessible as possible. There’s no point in doing this kind of action and adventure if you’re not going to elevate it.”
Carnahan and Bloom felt the material needed to reflect contemporary times and appeal to modern audiences. “The intention was not to abandon the television show and the characters that everyone loved so much, but to evolve and contemporize the story,” says Bloom.
“People are a lot savvier than they were 25 years ago when the show debuted,” adds Carnahan. “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.”
While opting to contemporize the material and elevate the drama, the filmmakers agreed that if the A-Team’s transition to the big-screen was to be successful, the camaraderie that was at the heart and soul of the series would also have to be a key component of the film. Comments Carnahan: “What I always loved about the show wasn’t so much the situational stuff but the camaraderie and the affection these guys had for one another. It wasn’t the wild stories or plot twists that made the show a success, it was the fact that you believed that these four guys genuinely liked one another and really had each other’s backs.”
“What you came to learn was that these guys desperately needed each other to continue, not only emotionally, but technically and tactically,” emphasizes Bloom. “They were definitely a team.”
“People really loved these characters,” says producer Jules Daly. “Sure they were charismatic and funny, but there was also a great sense of affection and connection between the four guys, which the audiences really responded to. We all knew the most critical thing in terms of the film working would be the chemistry between the four leads.”
As the project gained momentum and the script was fine-tuned, the filmmakers turned their attention to casting the “Team.” “There was a lot of debate about where to go with the casting,” recalls Alex Young. “And it was tricky, because when we were getting into it we realized there were a lot of different ways to go; you could look at every male actor over a certain age and make a legitimate case for them being in the film. The one thing we knew was that we wanted the four [actors playing the A-Team] to feel fresh. We didn’t want to just cast the usual suspects and then surround them with a bunch of supporting actors.”
When contemplating casting choices for the pivotal role of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, the filmmakers felt it was important to find an actor who exuded power, confidence and authority – along with a razor-sharp sense of humor. As The A-Team’s leader, Hannibal is a master tactician who is always a step ahead of the enemy. He keeps his team out of trouble, but his unconventional methods rarely lead to a predictable conclusion. No matter the scheme, he loves it when a plan comes together.
Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson is best known for his dramatic turns portraying characters with great physical presence and humanity, but it was his acclaimed action-hero performance in the global hit Taken that led the filmmakers to see Hannibal was a natural fit for the actor. Says Jules Daly: “Liam is sexy, fit, and strong and brings gravitas to the role. I think when Liam came on board, he set the tone as to where the project was going.”
“No matter what the role, Liam shows different facets of himself and the characters he plays, and he does it with integrity, passion and honesty,” says Carnahan. “Liam brings the right combination of intelligence and strength to the character. It’s easy to believe that his men love, trust and respect him.”
In describing what attracted him to the role of Hannibal Smith, Neeson states: “I was really taken with the relationship between the four guys that [co-screenwriters] Joe [Carnahan] 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.”
While Neeson was pleased the opportunity to play the master tactician, he struggled with the fact that he would also have to embrace his character’s trademark stogie. “As an ex-smoker, I felt conflicted about the cigar,” admits the actor. “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.”
Lt. Templeton “Face” Peck is the A-Team’s con man and go-to guy when it comes to getting what they need when they need it. He uses his good looks and charm to scam and hustle his way to the prize and to live the good life. Face can talk anyone – especially women – out of (or into) anything he wants. To bring the role of Face to the screen, the filmmakers tapped Bradley Cooper, whose starring role in the comedy smash The Hangover cemented his reputation as one of the hottest talents of his generation. “When Bradley expressed an interest in playing Face, I didn’t see the point in looking any further,” recalls Carnahan. “You know when you hit it off with someone right away and you think, okay, this is probably going to be one of my lifelong friends. That was the vibe I got with Cooper immediately. A lot of actors talk a big game, but they don’t deliver. Bradley gives it his all 100 percent of the time. He’s a great guy with a great sense of humor and I think he brings a new dimension to the role.”
“Aside from being enormously clever, seductive and handsome, the character of Face needed to be really likable and charming; qualities Bradley has in spades,” asserts Daly. “He’s a tremendously appealing guy and looks the part physically, so you can believe him when he gets into action. It was just a really terrific fit.”
It wasn’t a difficult decision for Cooper to tackle the role. “It’s always been a dream to do a big action movie,” recalls the actor. “I love sports and I love pretending to fight. And to take on such an iconic show, one that I grew up on, and to do so besides the likes of Liam Neeson, is just amazing.” Cooper particularly enjoyed that the role gave him the opportunity to be a part of some physically demanding action scenes. To make sure he was up to the task, Cooper adopted a strict diet and rigorous training regimen – which included doing ‘The Grouse Grind” a grueling speed-hike up 2,800 feet of Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain.
“I keep pretty fit, but I had to up the ante for this film,” says Cooper. “Action scenes are tricky and take an enormous amount of energy. You have to pay close attention to so many things – your body position, how you move when you fight, and how you move when you handle a gun. Face is a soldier; he doesn’t mind getting a little rough so I had to be ready for the physical stuff.”
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Starring by: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Quinton Jackson, Yul Vazquez
Screenplay by: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Production Design by: Charles Wood
Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore
Film Editing by: Roger Barton, Jim May
Costume Design by: Betsy Heimann
Set Decoration by: Elizabeth Wilcox
Music by: Alan Silvestri
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking.
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 11, 2010