Joe Carnahan's action-packed adaptation of the hit TV series arrives on Blu-ray and DVD December 14th
Director Joe Carnahan brings home his hard-hitting action romp The A-Team on Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, December 14th. An adaptation of the hit NBC series, the story follows four wrongfully accused Iraqi War Vets who bust out of a Military prison to become do-gooder mercenaries. District 9's Sharlto Copley takes on the task of reinterpreting Murdock for a whole new generation, and becomes a bright spot in this otherwise grim, gritty homage to the original show's aesthetic.
We recently caught up with Sharlto to discuss his character, fan reaction to the movie, his relationship with The A-Team creator Stephen J. Cannell, and his upcoming collaboration with Neill Blomkamp. Here is our conversation:
In the film, the team meets your character, Murdock, while he is in a mental institution. In the series, he only ends up in the mental institution after the supposed "crime" that the team is accused of committing. It is alluded to on the series that he is only "pretending" to be crazy as to not serve time for his crimes. Can you talk about that major change in the character? Was that helpful for you in creating this version of Murdock? And do you believe that your Murdock really is crazy? Or is he just pretending, like he was on the series?
Sharlto Copley: The first part of the question? The major difference in this version is that Murdock is actually part of the team. He was a ranger with them right from the beginning. The question then becomes, "Is he crazy or is he not?" In the original show, he was never part of their team. He was just their pilot. That was a strategic difference. It didn't make any difference to me in how I played the character. I still played him as I remembered him, and loved him. I tried to play him as close to the same kind of original, wacky fun that Dwight Schultz did that character with essentially. In terms of whether he is crazy or not, I took the same approach that Dwight had. That is, you never know. You never know whether he is just putting it on to abuse the system. Or if he really is insane. Or if it's a little bit of both. I made up my mind which one it is, but I am not going to say.
This movie is being set up as a potential franchise. Heading into the future, do you think we're going to find out the answer for ourselves?
Sharlto Copley: If they did another one, that would be great. Although, I'd have to say as a fan, and I'm biased, I would have liked everything to be as close to the original show as possible. That is my bias. If they did more, my prize would be to see these four guys go and help someone. It was a very cool cast that we got together. If we could do a movie that was about a very simple plotline where we go to help someone, and it is told from the perspective of the characters, I think that could be a really strong movie. Modern day mercenaries, as if you could find them right now. With all that stuff about how you would reach them, and the fact that they would have to come to you in disguise. That stuff to me would be awesome. To suspend that disbelief. Your neighbors are giving you shit in Los Angeles. You could actually contact the A-Team and hire them.
Did you view these variations in the Murdock character created for the big screen as a means to create a fresh performance for yourself, as opposed to relying on what Dwight did in the past?
Sharlto Copley: The thing that I concentrated on, and it may sound funny...There is an energetic resonance with the way that Dwight played that original character. Traditionally, when I have seen other actors do that, and they have to go after someone who has played a legendary character, I have, in my life of watching movies, said, "Why on earth would you want to do that?" Because the original guy did it well. Why would you try? You are just going too fail. But I have to say, I so strongly felt that I was coming at this character from the same place. Yes, he would be different. But he would have the same spirit. He would have the same level of entertainment value. I never felt as though I had to copy Dwight, but at a very deep level, I knew what Dwight was doing. I can best describe it as, watching Dwight as a kid, I started doing voices and impersonations, and making little movies until I was eighteen or nineteen years old. I must have made three hundred little films. Also, in that process, once The A-Team ended, there were other guys that had a similar energy and being. Eddie Murphy. Robin Williams. Jim Carrey. They are known all over the world. And there is a certain face of fun that they bring whenever they do a character in front of an audience. They are enjoying themselves, and there is a kind of enthusiasm that becomes infectious. That is what I did. What I did was play the character closer to the original more than any of the others. The reason I felt I could do that is because, when I watch The A-Team now, I personally feel...And I am biased...But I feel that the Murdock character ages the least. I feel that he is still entertaining. Because he is doing something that is different. It is larger than life characterization. Its more theatrical, but bizarrely, you buy it and you go along with it.
Did Dwight offer you anything that you carried on your person as you embarked on this journey of taking over Murdock?
Sharlto Copley: No. If anything, he came in after we had been shooting for quite a while. I showed him the test I had done in my hotel room, which was entirely me doing much more than what you see in the movie of the original character. I was doing the different characters and impersonations that Murdock would do on the show. The comedic hiccups. I showed him that, and he turned to me with tears in his eyes, and he gave me a hug. He said, "You are Murdock." The only piece of advice that he gave to me was, "Have fun." I said to him, "Do you have any advice after having watched that tape?" He said, "Dude, you are doing it exactly like it should be." He was so bowled over. He thought I had found the spirit of the guy. He wanted me to have fun with him. So I always did.
For fans of the original series, both Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict appear in a cookie at the end credits sequence. What was it like getting to act along the real Murdock? And will we see more from those two on the DVD?
Sharlto Copley: You know, that was awesome. It was a surreal experience. It was one of those things where I really wanted Dwight to be proud of what I did. It meant a lot to me to do that. I think, that show had a big impact on me as a kid. The bigger impact was that I knew, early on, that Dwight had signed off on it. He had literally passed the torch. On his website, he wrote, "Murdock is dead! Long live Murdock!" Which is what the British always say when one king dies and the next one takes over. That, more than anything, meant the most to me. He blessed it. I felt that if you are going to do someone else's character, you should surely respect what they did, and what people loved about it. Otherwise, do something else. About them being on the DVD more? There may be a cut that I haven't seen yet that actually has them in the place where they actually appear in the film. In the theatrical version, they just come after the credits. In the original cut, the longer cut, they were in the movie. So, they may have been put back in there. I know there were a bunch of scenes that were cut out for time. And those are back in the movie. Which is cool. And there are a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff, which is just us messing around. I did a whole thing where I am acting like a primadonna with everybody. After having only done one movie, District 9, and now I am giving everyone shit. They cut a little comedic piece together with that. There is a fun montage of Quinton Jackson just laughing. He has the most infectious laugh. And the warmest smile. It is a really moving piece. There is some very creative stuff on the DVD.
Speaking of District 9, we see that you are going to be in Men in Black III. Will there be a nod to District 9 in that sequel?
Sharlto Copley: With Men in Black III, that is one of those things where the story breaks prematurely. Nothing is confirmed on Men in Black III yet. I am in talks with them, and I am seriously looking at it. But we haven't confirmed it yet at the moment.
This Neill Blomkamp video was discovered in Wired Magazine. Do you know what this footage is? Is it a teaser for your upcoming collaboration Elysium? Or is it something else that Neill is working on?
Sharlto Copley: Again, because of the trouble I have caused, and as secretive as I think I have been, I somehow got into this with I Am Number Four and Men in Black III...God knows how...I have to say as little as possible. I can't tell you anything. I am so sorry. I saw the video, I can tell you that. Yeah.
It reminds me of the Montauk monster that washed up on the shores of New York...
Sharlto Copley: No, I haven't heard or seen anything about that. Is that a movie, or a little clip?
No, that was a real unidentified creature that washed up on the beaches just miles away from Plum Island. It's an actual mutant monster beastie...
Sharlto Copley: It's a real thing? No, no, I didn't see that.
Its very similar to what we're seeing in this new video from Neill. It's pretty creepy.
Sharlto Copley: Yeah, it's pretty crazy. I am not saying anything about it. Again, just beautiful silence.
Back to the A-Team, where does the franchise go from here? Do you know if you guys are set for a sequel?
Sharlto Copley: I haven't heard. I assume they are waiting for the DVD to be out and done. Then they will make their decisions from there. I know that the film performed differently in various territories. In London and Australia, which are two markets I am close to, it was a massive movie. But I don't know how so in terms of what it cost to make. I know that it has done pretty well financially. But I don't know what their thinking is about it. I haven't heard.
There are some major discrepancies between the TV show and the movie that the hardcore fans really had a problem with. One of the major changes is that Face now says the infamous line, "I love it when a plan comes together!" Being a fan, what are your feelings on that, and why do you think that change was made in the first place? Did you all take a turn saying that line?"
Sharlto Copley: For my part, I will say this. I come from a filmmaking background. I know what its like when you are working with actors who are getting involved in the script. Or they are getting involved with the directors. They are making it difficult for the film and the studio. I literally went, "My character is what I am responsible for. I am going to do this in a way the fans like. If I can't do that, I am not going to do the movie." It was pretty easy for me, because of my test. When I saw the first script, I said, "There is no way I'll play that Murdock!" I did the Murdock I wanted, I showed it to Joe Carnahan. He went for it. In terms of everything else, there were plenty of times that the filmmaker in me, the The A-Team fanboy in me, would have wanted all sorts of things changed. It wasn't my place. I don't think it's my place as an actor. You just jump on the bandwagon. I can say that we didn't all take turns saying that line. How it came about that it was now Face's line? I don't know. It was in the script in one of the earliest drafts that way. That is really a Joe Carnahan question.
What was so vastly different about the Murdock character in the original script that you were first given to read?
Sharlto Copley: He didn't do any different kinds of accents, for example. There was none of the wackiness. At one point, way back when they first tried to get this off the ground, Woody Harrelson was one of the people they were considering for Murdock. I guess, this was more of a modern day version of someone who is not going to be as wacky as the original Murdock. He was cool crazy as opposed to wacky crazy. I got that feeling. That this was a cool, slightly crazy guy. But all in all, he is a cool soldier. Which, to me, I thought that the original Murdock still holds up. That level of wacky is still entertaining. I didn't personally believe that it needed to be updated or coolerized, if you will. Toned down would be the right expression. The question was, "Is it too campy? Can we do that? Is it too much? Is it too over the top as a performance?" I thought, "No. It will still entertain people if you play it with this energy." That is what Murdock is. He is an over-the-top, almost caricature type of guy. You believe him. You accept it. That was my take on it. Fortunately, the guys all agreed with me, and they let me do it.
Being such a fan of the original A-Team, did you get a chance to talk with Stephen J. Cannell about this particular interpretation of his show?
Sharlto Copley: I did. They were probably the most profound meetings of my life. I got to him the moment he arrived on set. I think a lot of the people there working didn't even know who he was. It seemed that way to me. Maybe I was just too much of a fan. He literally spent maybe five or six hours in my trailer. He had lunch with me. And we spoke. I picked the guy's brain. Because I do come from a filmmaking background. I had started a TV channel in South Africa, I had a production company, I had a visual effects company. I picked his brain on everything I could. I asked him his advice on life, and on business. His experiences. How he did what he did. After that, I had a couple of meals with him just like everybody else. But the time I spent with just me and him, he came across as one of the men I respect the most in the world. It was quite astounding to see a persona that self-actualized and that noble, and humble, yet so legendary. It was quite something.
What piece of knowledge did he bestow upon you that you feel is most important, that you will carry with you for the rest of your life?
Sharlto Copley: It was very interesting. It delves more into a personal thing. Stuff that had happened to me in my life in business, with various business partners. This had left me very miserable, I had walked away from five different companies where I had a bunch of partners. I am expecting that he will give me some strategic financial advice. The first thing he said to me...It was weird, it was like the guy could read my soul. It was uncanny. He looked at me and said, "Don't let anybody shout at you." I was like, "I'm sorry?" It was so bizarre. I can't even explain to you how much things like that had influenced me in my life. Where I'd always been someone who never wanted to upset people. He said that, and I was like, "What are you talking about?" He said, "Interjectively, what you do when you allow someone to do that, you set up something that you can never get back." It was an amazing moment of clarity for me. He told me how he had been in ridiculous meetings where someone had lost their temper with him. It was the head of a studio, or something. And he just said, "Dude, when you calm down, I will speak to you. But I am not going to engage you like this." He would just walk out of the room. He had something that he would say to people when they would start acting in an unacceptable way. Whether it was his own staff or people he was trying to do business with. And there was no attitude. He would just say matter of factly, as if he were talking to you, he would say, like if you were behaving weirdly to me, he would say, "You are only doing this because you don't value yourself right. Now I know that. And you want to do business with me? Doesn't that worry you?" It wasn't about how clever he was by saying that. Its wasn't him saying, "Look how powerful I am." It was just a genuine understanding of human nature. You are only going to behave like that if you have some level of insecurity, right? That is why you are doing that. You are showing me that by behaving that way. Doesn't that bug you that you are demonstrating that to me? It was an amazing way of handling the few responsibilities you have as a leader. That is what he was saying to me. You have thousands of staff, you have all of these people, sometimes you have to be an asshole. This is what you hear from management. It was totally not his approach. He was more like, "Dude, value yourself." He never went to court. He never got sued. He treated people a certain way. The last thing he said to me that jumps to mind is, "When you go to Hollywood, don't go in there with a negative attitude. You will just make a negative situation for yourself. If you go in with a negative attitude, or you focus on negative things that happen, you will create that life. And you will go down that negative path." It was amazing to talk to him, and get his take. And in such a relaxed, honest way. He was very self actualized. It is very interesting.
The A-Team arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, December 14th.