From a well-received turn in Jack Reacher to a memorable run on Spartacus, Jai Courtney has been steadily garnering more and more attention for his nuanced, tough guy roles. Today, Jai will be in his biggest role to date as the CIA operative son of John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. The Australian actor sat down with us to talk about his role in the new film, the documentary he’s working to finish about his good friend Andy Whitfield, and where he goes from here in this candid conversation.
Nerdist: When you hear somebody’s going to play John McClane’s son, you can be trepidatious. When you first heard, what went through your mind?
Jai Courtney: It’s funny. I can relate to that. Certainly as an audience member and when you get, I guess, passionate about a franchise or a series of films or whatever, it’s easy to be skeptical of new directions that people or studios want to take that in. I can certainly see how the introduction of Jack McClane seems like, “Oh, what will they think of next?” kind of thing. “Really, they’re doing a fifth one?” and all that.
In truth, they’re doing a fifth one because they are great films. It’s an iconic franchise, and certainly a pleasure to be a part of. You’ve got Die Hard 1 through 5, but they all stand alone. I think John Moore’s done a great job of elevating this latest installment and creating a picture that is an execution of what he saw in it and what he wanted to do.
It introduces some very new things. I think the relationship between John and Jack is a really interesting one. It’s a bit of buddy film, at times, and it does kind of carry that theme, but, it certainly doesn’t alienate anyone when it comes to the scale of the action and the wise cracking humor, and all those things that we’ve come to love through the whole series.
N: John Moore is such an enthusiastic guy about, not just film, but the stuff that you’re doing in the movie, like the detail of the guns, and things like that. How much did that help you as an actor?
JC: For me, when it comes to getting enthusiastic about that stuff, it’s all faking it. It’s all learning what it is I need to do in order to appear like I know what I’m doing with it. You know what I mean? John is incredibly good at … he likes gear. You know what I mean? Whether it’s a helicopter or a vest or a gun or pair of binoculars, he’s absolutely on that, involved in that. The art department obviously did a great job, and the armor is in the props department. That sort of stuff is John’s thing. He really gets off on it.
When it comes to that stuff for me, it’s more about, hey, it’s cool, sounds good. How does this thing work? What am I doing with this one? I was telling some friends last night about this one shot in the film where I’m loading a AK-47 in the elevator, and my mate was saying, a friend of mine from Australia, “That’s a little cool. What’s it called when you do that thing with it?” I was saying, “Oh, that’s just like charging the rifle.” It appeared to me, it occurred to me rather, that I had learned some stuff. Obviously, very base-level simple things. I was really interested to hear about how it took me about 12 times to do that. There is a tiny little tooth on the front of the magazine, and every time I would try and do it without looking at it, I would fumble and drop the fucking thing, have to call for another take, which doesn’t look very cool, or CIA, or how cool about us at all. You got to rely on the people around you to help you out in this situation, and just try to familiarize yourself as best you can in order to pull off the job. That’s the end of the day what you’re doing. It’s a character, it’s a role, and I’m might share something interests with the parts that I play, those guys. When it comes to guns, and all that sort of thing, it’s really not my territory. Look very different, but a lot of fun, and an interesting challenge to be a part of that world.
N: With a lot of wise-cracking in the film, I can imagine that it was hard to not be wanting to get out some riffs of your own as you’re going back and forth with Bruce Willis. What was that like on set?
JC: I kind of leave it to him in that department. He’s very good at that, ad-libbing and some of the lines, a ton of the lines that are in the film are just those wild things that he said in response to stuff. Some things become tag lines. You know, “Yippee ki-yay..” was an offer that Bruce made once that just kind of worked and it’s become this, it’s the catchphrase. Look, I really didn’t, I wasn’t necessarily game. There was certain occasions where, of course, we’re having that thing, we’re having an argument or something, and you improvise a little. As far as the one-liners go, and the wise-crack, I left it to the pro.
N: That’s great. I want to talk to you briefly about “Be Here Now”, if you’d like. That’s the documentary about your friend Andy Whitfield, who we lost to cancer. How is that coming along?
JC: Yes, it’s being finished as we speak. We raised in excess of the figure we were hoping for and it’s in post-production, and should be finished really shortly. Look, it’s a compelling story. I think it was a really interesting thing that Andy did to make that choice to, he didn’t know it at the time, but have the last year of his life documented. I saw a small portion of something once, and it’s kind of tough for me to watch, but it will be really interesting to see that when it surfaces. I’m proud to be involved with it.
N: I know you’ve got I, Frankenstein coming up. What else is on your plate?
JC: I, Frankenstein is coming out later in the year. That should be interesting, a total leap into another genre altogether. Kind of interesting to go back to a little, the heavy green screen stuff that I became used to on Spartacus. That would be cool, man, it’s totally other worldly, very conceptual. Stuart Beattie is a great story teller, and I hope it does great things.
I’m also really excited about this project that I just finished called “Felon”. Joel Edgerton wrote that script and I worked on that with he and Tom Wilkinson. Fantastic actor, he’s a very talented guy. That’s a really interesting story. It’s set in Australia, in Sydney, about three detectives. It had lots of change after an incident that occurs with Joel’s character and it’s basically a crime he’s involved with.
After that, then, it’s going to be a big year. I feel where I go onto to work on next will just have to wait and see. There’s nothing set in stone at the moment that I can talk about, but, so still exploring interesting opportunities.
N: It’s great to see more Australian cinema making it over.
JC: Yes, I would agree, man, I think there’s something that we do really well, and, you know what, I’m not even really sure what it is. There’s a certain flavor of film making that creeps out of Australia, and it’s great to see.
N: Did you happen see Griff the Invisible?
JC: I saw Griff the Invisible.
N: You couldn’t have gotten an American production company to make that.
JC: No, you couldn’t. That’s an interesting project. Some of my favorite Aussie films are probably ones that have stretched out to a global audience, and I’m sure you’re familiar with Chopper?
N: Oh, yes.
JC: Animal Kingdom enjoyed a great success a couple of years ago, but that’s older stuff. Look, it’s just great, man, it’s great that more of the Aussie actors are getting exposure on an international stage, but also the film makers as well.
N: It’s also nice to, this is just my opinion, but Australian comedies were always pretty widely accepted, Welcome to Woop-Woop, things like that.
JC: Yes. It’s nice to see that get laughed at.
N: Now they’re showing they can do more than just that. They’ve gotten really smart and intelligently focused films coming out of Australia.
A Good Day to Die Hard is in theaters today.