I first met Jai Courtney at the junket for A Good Day to Die Hard, where I was able to interview him for the role of Jack McClane, John’s estranged son. We spoke about the Australian indie movie he’d filmed, Felony, written by and starring Joel Edgerton. By the time Felony came out last weekend, Courtney was in the middle of production on another franchise film, Terminator: Genisys.
Felony casts Edgerton as a cop who hits a child with his car, reports the injury but doesn’t admit he caused it. Courtney plays another cop, Jim Melic, who suspects Edgerton’s character and wants to follow procedure for holding him accountable. Felony is now in theaters and VOD services.
Nuke the Fridge: My friend Courtney wants to marry you so that her name will be Courtney Courtney.
Jai Courtney: Courtney Courtney. Yeah, does she really, really want a name that’s Courtney Courtney?
Nuke: For comedic purposes, she does.
Jai Courtney: Well, that’s reason enough.
Nuke: She is currently married so I wanted to make sure it’s okay with you before she goes ahead and gets a divorce and sets this in motion.
Jai Courtney: Yeah, let’s set that up.
Nuke: She’ll be happy to hear that. What’s interesting about Felony is in movies we see a lot of cops who are by the books, but Melic isn’t just a typical by the books cop, is he?
Jai Courtney: Right, no. He’s not. I think that’s a really good justification for his obsession with this case, and perhaps that’s the way he justifies it to himself, but I think it’s really more of a veil, what pulls him into this particular circumstance. There’s definitely layers of wanting to uphold justice and the law and do what’s right in his idealistic, ethical code, but really it’s about Ankhila, the mother of the boy. I think seeing her and her vulnerability at the crime scene intrigues Jim. I think that’s what pulls him into a place where he can’t quite let go of it and he has something I can relate to in a sense. There’s that idea of the kind of wounded bird. There’s some kind of innate quality within him to want to be the white knight that strides in and saves the day.
Nuke: Was it also interesting to you that we get to see Melic live his regular life too? It’s not just about this case.
Jai Courtney: It was very interesting to me. Perhaps one of the most interesting sets of conversations I had in preparing for the role, we had access to some active detectives in the Sydney New South Wales police force. What I found most fascinating was just talking to those guys about what life is as a cop. There’s certain thematic things that they tend to have in common. Marriage difficulties or failed marriages for instance, drinking problems, things like this that I feel stem from being active in a career that they end up living to work as opposed to working to live. It becomes their life as a cop. It’s a brand of human being and the people that are able to stick around in it are the ones that they’re a certain type of person and it’s kind of like they hand themselves over to that. So it’s good. Look, it’s not that these are general terms. That’s not to say that that’s going to be the case, of course, with police officers. I grew up with friends of my parents who were in law enforcement. Those sorts of issues weren’t present but I definitely found that stuff interesting. I think it just gives an extra layer of humanity and something we can relate to when you get to see the background of these guys. Look, that landscape that Felony’s set in is something that’s very familiar to Joel and myself. We grew up in that sort of rough area of Sydney in the western suburbs. Shooting on streets two blocks from my stomping ground was really cool and really familiar. I think it’s a really interesting portrayal and accurate, of that sort of suburban working class Sydney. When you come from that, I think there’s a certain satisfaction in being able to then bring that to the screen.
Nuke: How did you and Tom Wilkinson see the conflict between your characters? What discussions did you have and how did he surprise you?
Jai Courtney: Look, I’m kind of constantly surprised and never surprised in Tom purely because of his immense talent. We had chats about the overall universal themes of this which are personified by these characters. You’ve got three guys who one represents a very clear opinion of the world, it’s this kind of black and white point of view. Tom at the other end of the spectrum is someone who realized that it’s all about gray areas and it’s about interpreting circumstances and the law and molding it into a shape that fits the particular scenario. So they’re very different in that sense. There were some things that perhaps didn’t make it into the film, some other ideas, subtle hints at their differing opinions on society and race, that sort of stuff which became probably less important as you needed to cut this story together. Definitely an interesting exploration and there’s none better to go through something as complex as that than with Tom. He’s a real pleasure to have on board.
Nuke: You got into acting through things like Spartacus, Jack Reacher and Die Hard. Were you looking for more of a slow burn drama?
Jai Courtney: Yeah, definitely. I mean, Felony probably feels like that when you compare it to an action blockbuster, but it’s still a thriller in its own right I think. I think for me it kind of answered my prayers. I’d come off the back of Die Hard and definitely wanted to take a little bit of a sidestep from wielding a weapon of any description. The best I could do was still play a detective but one that has his gun holstered the whole time. I hope to be able to do that more. For me, acting isn’t about setting out to create a particular brand or image. I have had a lot of opportunities in a sort of more action heavy world and that’ll probably continue to happen, but my interests don’t stop there. I hope to become as versatile as I can.
Nuke: Nor do ours. We like both.
Jai Courtney: Exactly, precisely. As an audience member, some of the films I do aren’t representative of the things I necessarily love the most, but you have to juggle opportunity with what’s around and your own taste. Felony was great. I think it has that wonderful balance for us. There’s an intensity to it and it sort of moves along but has these wonderful undertones of remorse and love and regret. It’s interesting territory and it was just the perfect little escape to find something juicy enough to really explore some serious questions.
Nuke: I think most actors go the other way. They start in small, independent dramas like Felony and then get called up to the big franchises.
Jai Courtney: This business works in mysterious ways. There’s something to be said for that, something to be said for how much we all aren’t in control of our own journeys. It’s tough. It’s tough to be patient because you’re not always aware of your own position in this landscape and where the next job opportunity’s going to come from and of what caliber it’s going to be. You really just have to rely on your instincts and your representation, reading and absorbing as much content as you possibly can in order to shape your opinion and knowledge of where things are moving. It’s funny. For some actors, doing a Die Hard or a Terminator might be the absolute pinnacle of their dreams and aspirations. Whilst they certainly are wonderful for me and I’m grateful to be a part of things like that on that scale, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re having that much more fun or it’s more artistically fulfilling. You don’t have to have a big budget to really enjoy yourself. For me, being able to deal with the material, it’s what you start with on the page that really creates the amount of playtime you get on that set and when you’re in that character. Explosions and that stuff is all very good and well, but sometimes you just crave some scene work. The drama can be right in here, and that’s just as exciting.
Nuke: That said, you got to be in a Die Hard movie with Bruce Willis and a Terminator movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is that a little surreal?
Jai Courtney: It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely cool. It’s funny in hindsight because it doesn’t feel surreal after you’ve spent months with these people, but yeah, look. I’m not naive to the fact of how cool that is. Both two very iconic franchises, and it’s kind of bizarre. I cop a little jib from my mate back home. He thinks I’m just going to be in the fifth installment of every good ‘80s action thing.
Nuke: Rambo V is coming.
Jai Courtney: There you go, Rambo V, that’ll be me.
Nuke: But Jack McClane was basically a new character. He was a kid in the previous movie, but Kyle Reese is an established character. Is that a very different thing to approach?
Jai Courtney: It’s not very different. I think when you’re pushing reset on a movie like we are with Terminator, you can take some given circumstances and fold that into maybe the development of a character. Kyle Reese is still Kyle Reese. He still comes from the same place, but certainly in the way we’re telling this story, there’s room to invent so much more. If you go back and watch Terminator 1, sure it might be a good point of reference as far as what the world is, but we’re not hanging onto that movie hoping to recreate the magic on screen there. That’d be a foolish way, I think, to approach anything and unexciting. It’s a constant debate about remakes and these sorts of things and whether there’s a necessity for them. Whilst Terminator isn’t a remake, I think if you’re going in trying to emulate the performance of someone else or take their work and just do that on screen yourself, where’s the artistry in that.
Jai Courtney: Do they?
Nuke: Was it called Terminator: Genisys spelled S-Y-S in the script that you got?
Jai Courtney: F***, I wish I remembered. I have no idea. I was sort of unaware of that announcement and I got asked in some press recently, “Spell ‘genesis.’” I was like, oh, I see what’s going on here. It’s so funny the paranoia around releasing details and as you can imagine I am bound up by NDAs. Whenever it comes up, you always wonder if you’re going to put your foot in it somewhere.
Nuke: I appreciate you discussing it a little. Has there been any talk of bringing you back for the sixth Die Hard?
Jai Courtney: God, is there even talk of a sixth Die Hard?
Nuke: There is.
Jai Courtney: Well, I hope they hang out a little longer. I think something like that, if they really want to keep it alive, then I don’t think there’s any rush for something like that. Back in the day, four or five years went by without any problem before they resurrected something.
Nuke: There’s five years between Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard.
Jai Courtney: Exactly, so I don’t think it would hurt this franchise to give it a couple more years before they did a sixth one. But hey, if I get the call, I’ll be there.
Nuke: What can we look forward to in Insurgent?
Jai Courtney: I’m very excited about Insurgent. I think getting out of the Dauntless faction and spreading the scope of the film in this particular one will be great for audiences. We get a look into the worlds of the other people in that society. I think the script too is in a place this time around where it catered a little more to the cast that it had. They were able to refine things knowing what worked in the first one, what audience wanted to see more of. We all, I think, had a sense of security within it and felt like we could play a little more without being so unsure about what it was exactly we were creating. Look, it was fun, man. Eric is a character that, whilst I enjoy playing him, he’s probably not the most likable. It reached a point in Insurgent where I really had a moment of hate for myself so fans can look forward to that.
Nuke: Is that part of the diversity we talked about? Not only big and small films, but you don’t always have to play the hero.
Jai Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. I hope that stays the case as well. Some of the most memorable performances for me are not necessarily from heroes. I think if that’s all good cinema was about, we’d be bored to death. There’s wonderful value in a great villain and I have a lot of fun playing him. I think there’s strategy to be considered there but I hope I get to shake it up for the rest of my career.