Jai Courtney can currently be seen helping save the day as John McClane’s son Jack in action fifthquel A Good Day to Die Hard. But the Australian had to ruin the day of a planeload of folks — or, at least, mildly inconvenience them — to play Bruce Willis’ offspring. “I was in L.A. boarding a plane home to Australia when my manager called and said I had to get off because they’d like to see me test with Bruce,” recalls the actor, whose other credits include the Starz show Spartacus: Blood and Sand and last year’s Jack Reacher. “I had to literally walk off the flight. I was tempted to say, ‘I’m sorry, Bruce Willis is calling me.’ But they would just have thought I was a crazy person.”
Below, Courtney talks about acting with Bruce and reminisces about the late Spartacus star Andy Whitfield.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did Bruce Willis offer you any fatherly advice in real life when you were making A Good Day to Die Hard?
JAI COURTNEY: Not specifically. For me, it was more about picking up whatever I could whenever I could. Occasionally I’d have moments where I clocked something he was doing which I just thought was fantastic. We had a ball. He’s got a really relaxed, cool approach and knows this genre and this world and the character of John McClane so well. It was very easy to play his onscreen son and have fun whilst doing so.
Did you do a lot of your own stunts?
Bits and pieces. I mean, this was a crazy shoot. It was a lot like one big explosion in a way. Whatever they’ll let me do, I’m up for. I like to get as involved as possible. I’m still learning when to tag the double in. I think I get a little too enthusiastic sometimes. It’s only a few takes before you realize that, yes, you should have said, “I’d like some knee pads” or a hip pad or whatever. But I certainly can’t take all the credit. We had fantastic doubles and coordinators around us.
You mostly shot in Budapest, doubling for Russia. What was that like?
Oh, it was great, man. I kind of missed out on those years when a lot of my friends did big backpacking trips around Europe and that sort of thing. So to be able to travel and see parts of the world on the job is kind of a double whammy. It’s just incredible. And the Hungarians were a really hospitable bunch. They made us feel really welcome. I had a lot of fun out there.
I thought I heard a quote from Bruce Willis in which he said you had filmed in Chernobyl. To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether that guy is joking or not half the time.
[Laughs] Yeah. [Laughs] What do you think?
I think you did not film in Chernobyl.
[Laughs] Yeah, I can’t confirm or deny.
Would you be up for doing another Die Hard?
If they invited me back to do another one, I would happily oblige.
When did you decide to become an actor?
I loved it from a young age on a hobby level, just being involved with drama groups. It probably wasn’t until I decided to take it a little more seriously and go and study acting that I really decided it was a career choice.
Is it true you took a ballet course at college?
Yeah, I failed ballet.
What was the problem?
I don’t know. My plié was no good. It still isn’t.
Then you got the job on Spartacus, which I think is fair to describe as one of the craziest TV shows ever broadcast.
Yeah, that was bonkers, man. That was mind-blowing. To be given a lead role in something as cool and fresh and crazy as Spartacus was was a real thrill. That had a lot to do with the evolution of my ambition as well.
Was there a specific day on Spartacus when you thought, “Well, this is one for the record books.”
Yeah, definitely. I remember a scene, like it was yesterday, when myself and Andy Whitfield were having a conversation and it was supposed to be an intimate serious discussion, and we were just in the middle of an orgy. I mean, yeah, it was for camera and people were faking it. But you get a bunch of extras in a room, naked, and everyone’s throwing around baby oil and getting off on the excitement of being on camera and they’re splashing water around…It was supposed to be a party scene and, oh, man, things got pretty wild.
Is it true you are one of the folks who is helping to support the documentary Be Here Now, about Andy and his struggle with cancer?
Yeah, yeah. Really just more on a support level, with the fund-raising and that sort of thing. Look, I really believe in that project. I was around when they started filming that and it’s being finished as we speak. It’s quite a compelling tale.
You just shot a film in Australia called Felony, written by Joel Edgerton. What can you tell us about that?
That’s right. Just came off that. Look, I’m really excited about this film. It was such a fantastic shoot. It was so good to go home again work on a production not only staged by Australians but set there as well — and in my home town of Sydney. I’ve got a lot of belief in it. The script was one of the finest scripts I’ve ever read, so full kudos to Joel Edgerton for that and to go work alongside him as well was just a thrill. Very talented director, Matthew Saville, and also the addition of Tom Wilkinson, just rounded things off. I can’t wait to see what happens with that.
What is it about?
It’s set in the world of a Sydney detective unit. An off-duty officer basically hits a cyclist by accident and lies about it on the spur of the moment and everyone’s lives are changed because if it.
The Andy Whitfield documentary Be Here Now is currently being edited. You can find out about the project at the movie’s official website. And you can find out more about Jai Courtney in the current edition of Entertainment Weekly.