Cruise MODE

He may have his big break play­ing the bad guy, but there’s noth­ing evil about this burly Aussie, writes Neala John­son

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

LONG be­fore he was trad­ing punches with Tom Cruise and wise­cracks with Bruce Wil­lis, Jai Court­ney was just an­other aim­less high school grad­u­ate with a dead- end job.

‘‘ I didn’t see the point of try­ing to go to uni to study some­thing I wasn’t really in­ter­ested in,’’ says the Syd­ney- sider, now 26. ‘‘ Although I didn’t feel in­cred­i­bly lost at the time, I just didn’t really know what I’d do. It wasn’t im­por­tant . . . it was all about go­ing out with your mates.’’

Court­ney’s pri­or­i­ties changed when, a year out of high school, he was ac­cepted into the West­ern Aus­tralian Academy of Per­form­ing Arts. He met his long- time girl­friend, fel­low ac­tor Gemma Pranita, there – but per­haps more im­por­tantly fell in love with act­ing.

‘‘ When I first ar­rived there I thought I’d made a huge mis­take. I felt out of my depth, but I grew to love it.’’

But the work didn’t come eas­ily. Court­ney ( pic­tured) re­calls au­di­tion­ing for TV guest roles and com­mer­cials ‘‘ that I just had no shot of get­ting – I had mates who were more suited to the ‘ in­tel­lec­tual’ type.’’ When the brief for US TV se­ries

Spar­ta­cus, shot in New Zealand, came through to his agent, Court­ney fi­nally felt he was the right type. ‘‘ I was like, ‘ Cool, a job that’s ac­tu­ally look­ing for guys who are big­ger and kind of burly’.’’

Court­ney got the gig . . . and fans be­moan the fact his char­ac­ter, Varro, was killed off af­ter only 10 episodes. Still, it af­forded him the chance to go to LA, where big­ger, burlier Aussies are in de­mand.

It took a cou­ple of years of fly­ing back and forth to LA for au­di­tions be­fore Court­ney fi­nally put a crack in the dam wall. By the time the ac­tion thriller Jack

Reacher came his way, he was just as re­lieved as he was ex­cited.

There is no big story to how Court­ney got the job of No. 1 bad guy in the movie, about an ex- mil­i­tary cop ( Cruise) called in to in­ves­ti­gate a sniper shoot­ing. The ac­tor just put an au­di­tion on tape.

Writer- di­rec­tor Christo­pher McQuar­rie ( writer of The Usual Sus­pects and Valkyrie ) was in Pitts­burgh prep­ping the film when his cast­ing di­rec­tor sent him a link to Court­ney’s au­di­tion.

‘‘ I watched Jai do a cold read­ing,’’ the di­rec­tor re­calls.

‘‘ He played this scene with such rel­ish, he so clearly en­joyed be­ing the bad guy, but at the same time he wasn’t a mous­tache- twist­ing psy­cho.

‘‘ What’s so in­ter­est­ing is how well he em­bod­ies such a de­spi­ca­ble vil­lain for some­body who has such a good soul. I mean, Jai really is a truly un­af­fected and gen­uine per­son.’’

McQuar­rie sent the au­di­tion to Cruise, who was also the film’s pro­ducer.

‘‘ Five min­utes later Tom emailed me back and just said, ‘ Cast him’,’’ McQuar­rie says.

Shot in late 2011, Jack Reacher set Court­ney on a roll. From Pitts­burgh he re­turned to Aus­tralia to shoot the hor­ror/ thriller I, Franken­stein with Stu­art Beat­tie. Then he was on a plane to East­ern Europe to start blow­ing things up with Bruce Wil­lis in A Good Day to Die Hard.

Court­ney plays Jack, long- lost son to Wil­lis’s iconic cop John Mc­Clane, in the fifth Die Hard film. Mur­murs of ‘‘ hand­ing over the fran­chise’’ to the younger ac­tor weren’t just in­ter­net gossip. Court­ney ad­mits: ‘‘ There was talk around that through the cast­ing process but it’s not some­thing I’ve thought too much about.’’

JACK REACHER

Now show­ing Vil­lage Cinemas

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