Australian actor Jai Courtney is seeing his star rising quickly in Hollywood. He made his breakthrough on the Starz television series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” as Varro, a Roman who sells himself into slavery in order to pay his debts, and we got to see him try to beat up Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher.” But now he gets a role many actors would love to play, John McClane’s son Jack in “A Good Day to Die Hard.” Acting opposite Bruce Willis in his most iconic role must have been an exciting proposition for Courtney, and he more than rises to the challenge in this latest “Die Hard” movie.
Everyone of course wonders how Courtney got the role, and it’s no surprise that dozens of actors were being considered for it. He told Inquirer Movies that he ended up auditioning a number of times for the part and didn’t think he had much of a chance of getting it. When he got the call to have a meeting with Willis, Courtney almost missed it because he was on his way home.
“I had just wrapped ‘Jack Reacher’ in Pittsburgh, and was homebound to Sydney,” Courtney said. “Literally, I was walking down the jet way to my connecting flight at LAX when my agent called and said, ‘don’t leave – they want you to read with Bruce!’ I did a test with him a week later, and some time afterwards got the good news. It’s been a fantastic experience. Bruce is one of those guys I grew up watching on screen and the ‘Die Hard’ franchise is so iconic.”
Jack McClane is seen shooting someone in a nightclub at the start of “A Good Day to Die Hard,” and it is assumed that he has long since become a hardened criminal. But when his dad John arrives in Russia to help him, he discovers that Jack is actually an undercover CIA agent looking to stop a nuclear weapons theft. Courtney worked out a lot for the role and also did a lot of research and training for it, but in talking with Jordan Hoffman of the New York Daily News, he said the biggest challenge of all was mastering the Russian language.
“More than the fight choreography or weapons training, that was the biggest challenge,” Courtney told Hoffman. “I had to learn a very specific dialect, that of an American who speaks Russian. When you watch it, you think, ‘no big deal.’ But it’s the result of lots of tutoring.”
Of course, coming into an established franchise can seem very intimidating. With this being the fifth in the “Die Hard” series, we have come to like these movies in a certain way and don’t want to see anything or anybody come along and compromise what’s good about them. Just look at what happened with Jar Jar Binks in the “Star Wars” prequels or Shia LeBeouf’s character in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull;” the fans never let filmmakers forget when they have screwed up. While being interviewed by Matt Risley of TotalFilm.com, Courtney discussed how he approached the character of Jack and his overall place in this film franchise.
“It’s hard to say what I wanted to bring,” Courtney said to Risley. “I didn’t really set out with a set of objectives as to how I could improve upon things or add to it or whatever. I just kind of had to rely on my instincts in that sense and I think it’s kind of what we bring to it (he and Willis) with this (father and son) relationship that’s interesting. It adds that extra little element. It set against the epic action backdrop as all the ‘Die Hard’ films are, but it’s kind of rooted in this domestic family thing and it’s an interesting relationship where we set off with the guys and where they’ve got a get to in order patch things up.”
Everyone also wants to know from Courtney what it was like working with Willis who is still standing tall 25 years after the release of the first “Die Hard” movie. While other action stalwarts like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have seen their movies (“The Last Stand” and “Bullet to the Head”) suffer at the box office, Willis still gets a lot of love from audiences around the world as John McClane. Courtney had already worked with Cruise previously on “Jack Reacher,” and he found working with Willis to be an equally great learning experience.
“Bruce is such a pro, and Tom knows cameras inside and out,” Courtney said of them both. “They’re so economical in how they make decisions. It’s part of what makes them so good. For example, knowing what lens is in the camera, they’ll create just the subtlest of shifts. They calculate their performance accordingly, but without losing spontaneity. They know what they’re doing. I feel like I’m just figuring all this out. It’s been a coincidence that the films so far have been action-heavy. I’m aware I have certain strengths, but I’m eager to branch out.”
Willis himself said that Courtney “got the character and he just seemed like family – like a McClane,” and John Moore who directed “A Good Day to Die Hard” noted that the actor “brings an intelligence and suaveness” as well as a big physical presence to the role of Jack McClane. While this latest “Die Hard” movie is not getting the warmest of reviews, there is still a possibility that Willis and Courtney could be doing another one of them in the future. Courtney, while at the movie’s press conference in Los Angeles, made it clear how much playing this character has meant to him.
“It was pretty unreal of course,” Courtney said of the whole experience. “I never imagined I would be a part of this franchise, especially not one of the McClane family. Yeah it was a pretty daunting prospect but I certainly had fun doing it, and Bruce was a great onscreen dad.”
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“Aussie actor Jai Courtney doubles the action and thrill in ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,'” Inquirer Movies.
Jordan Hoffman, “‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ star Jai Courtney is another young Australian actor trying for the big time,” New York Daily News, February 15, 2013.
Matt Risley, “Jai Courtney Interview – ‘A Good Day To Die Hard,'” Total Film, February 13, 2013.
Ben Kenber, “Interview With Bruce Willis And Jai Courtney On ‘A Good Day To Die Hard,'” We Got This Covered, February 14, 2013.