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