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Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson fits 'The A-Team' to a Mr. T

The mixed martial arts fighter takes on the iconic role of B.A. Baracus. The fury that serves him so well in the octagon is never far below the surface.

May 30, 2010|By Chris Lee, Tribune Newspapers

VANCOUVER -- Talk about a Bad Attitude.

As early December darkness fell on the Vancouver set of Fox's $100-million movie reboot of "The A-Team," one of its stars, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, found himself fending off an all-too-familiar impulse. The urge to, well, rampage.

Pride of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and a former light-heavyweight champ (he was scheduled to fight May 29 for the title in Las Vegas) — a guy whose day job consists of beating the toughest men in the world into either submission or unconsciousness — Jackson stood in the middle of his trailer spewing invective with a glint of real menace in his eye.

At issue: a movie crew member had wandered in on this final day of principal photography and — whether jokingly or not — called the muscle-bound movie star a homophobic epithet. Jackson had responded with barely contained fury. He threw the guy out, shouting him down with every conceivable gay slur. "You're a punk!" Jackson finally bellowed.

He claimed the crew member's intent had been to provoke a physical assault. "That … wanted me to punch him so he could sue me," the professional body-slammer explained, using a certain 12-letter curse word that he lets fly often in conversation — a word that has no business appearing in a family newspaper and, for the sake of this article, will here on out be substituted with "individual."

But the outburst seemed to also prompt Jackson, 31, to wrestle with other issues: his experiences in Western Canada, his choice to take time out of the octagon (as the UFC's fighting ring is known) and how his stardom in "The A-Team," Fox studios' tent-pole adaptation of the '80s action-comedy series that's due in theaters June 11, might affect his fighting career.

"Acting is kind of gay," Jackson said. "It makes you soft. You got all these people combing your hair and putting a coat over your shoulders when you're cold. I don't want a coat over my shoulders! I'm a tough-ass [individual]!

"Vancouver strikes me as a San Francisco-kind of place," he continued. "And I don't want [individuals] getting ideas about me. I feel in my heart I'm the toughest [individual] on the planet. And I don't want nothing changing my train of thought. If you don't believe that when we step inside the octagon, it shows."

Jackson's knuckles were adorned with temporary tattoos that he had sported for the duration of the movie's shoot — 72 days of blocking scenes and performing stunts alongside such bona-fide movie stars as Liam Neeson (as team leader Col. John "Hannibal" Smith) and Bradley Cooper (as smooth-talking lothario Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck). "P-I-T-Y" read the letters on Jackson's right hand, "F-O-O-L" on the left.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new B.A. Baracus.

The story of how Jackson — the most recalcitrant movie star appearing in any blockbuster this summer — came to be cast in "The A-Team" is a creation myth that begins in 1982. That year, "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone had the good luck to watch a TV game show featuring a toughest bouncer contest and took note of a resplendently Mohawked, Grade-A tough guy. His name: Mr. T.

Stallone cast the granite-faced former bodyguard as Rocky's trash-talking boxing nemesis Clubber Lang in "Rocky III" — "I pity the fool" being Mr. T's unforgettable line. And after the film became a box-office smash, NBC built a hit series, "The A-Team," around Mr. T. A winking extravaganza of cartoonish violence and witty repartee that ran from 1983 to '87, it followed four Vietnam vets "convicted of a crime they didn't commit"; they became soldiers of fortune to battle evil on a freelance basis. And portraying the Special Ops Alpha Unit's snarling enforcer, Sgt. B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracus, Mr. T became a global phenomenon.

In the process, he captured the imagination of one Quinton Jackson from Memphis, Tenn.

A wrestling prodigy who earned the nickname "Rampage" when he was 8, the young Jackson parlayed his physical talents and devastating punching power into a lucrative career as a mixed martial arts fighter, first becoming a sensation in Japan's Pride organization and, later, a superstar in the UFC. His signature lights-out move: the body slam, which Fox Sports Net's "Sport Science" measured as having a "head impact criteria" of 3,500 — a hurt index 3 1/2 times worse than what one would typically suffer in a car crash.

Inevitably, Hollywood beckoned but Jackson's fight schedule precluded him from appearing in films, save walk-on parts in schlock fare such as 2008's " Midnight Meat Train." "I've had the chance to do other movie roles before but I took the fights instead," he said. "I was supposed to do 'Transporter 2,' 'Wolverine.' But I couldn't do it because UFC was in the way."

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