Make ‘Em Count: Jai Courtney on A Good Day to Die Hard

John McClane's son also gives updates on Felony and playing a gargoyle in I, Frankenstein.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Live Free or Die Hard was Lucy McClane’s turn to grow up and be awesome. Now it’s Jack’s turn. When A Good Day to Die Hard opens, John McClane is going to Russia to bail his son out of trouble. It turns out he’s stumbled onto Jack’s mission, and they save the day as only father and son can. We got to meet the newest McClane in person in Los Angeles and chat about all things Die Hard, and his upcoming movies I, Frankenstein and Felony.

A Good Day to Die Hard opens on February 14, 2013.

CraveOnline: You actually look like you could be Bruce Willis’s son. Had anyone ever commented on that before you got this role?

Jai Courtney: No, no. No one had ever said that to me before but I guess it can’t hurt.

Did you see the resemblance when they said you might be Jack McClane?

Oh, I thought it was viable definitely.

Do you feel like you’ve made it now? You’ve been in a Die Hard movie!

I mean, it’s obviously incredible to be involved with something of this scale but there’s no sense of relaxation. The “made it” thing, it’s been great to be working but it’s presented new challenges now. Now the idea is to keep working so I don’t know. I think as I’ve enjoyed the process through some of these projects and then learned a lot about the business in the last year and a half, I’ve probably let go of that idea of making it. I’m sure other actors can relate. When you’re out of work, you kind of think that once you get a gig, that’s it. You’re off. Maybe I’m naive, but it hasn’t really set in yet.

Well, I didn’t mean that you take it easy now. I meant more in a sense of accomplishment.

Well, certainly, yeah, a sense of accomplishment and I want to just move up from here and make ‘em count, be strategic in my choices and the things I work on. Yeah, keep my priorities in order.

What are those new challenges that have come up?

Things like that. It’s now about being smart. I don’t just want to take any old job next. I think that if I can use the exposure of a film like this to my advantage, then I can pay a little bit more attention to what the project is and make the decision about whether I’m going to do it not based on “Yes, this is a great opportunity. I should take it because I don’t have anything else happening.” But I’m now in a position where I can afford to take it a little easier. If the right project doesn’t come along for a year, then I won’t work. Hopefully that’s not the case but there’s no rush now to go out and take a bunch of jobs necessarily.

Bruce Willis does that too. I’ve always respected how he’ll do these big movies and then he’ll take a chance with some director who turns out to be Tarantino or M. Night Shyamalan or Rian Johnson. Has that started for you already or is it after this comes out?

Probably after this. I’m not in a position yet to be fielding or rejecting offers. That process is growing.

How did Jack become this authority-respecting CIA agent?

Probably out of rebellion to John’s methods I guess. It wasn’t always the case. We sort of developed a backstory where Jack perhaps went off the rails a little and was getting in a lot of trouble as a teen with the law and all that sort of stuff. I think he probably just found independence quite young and wound up in the military, and it was through that. There was enough of his father left in him to want to fight for that sort of stuff without flying completely off the handle.

What did you think of this idea that the son can actually know more than the father in certain situations, like when John stumbles onto your mission?

Well, that’s it. I think that’s an interesting dynamic. That’s sort of something new that this installment’s introduced. John McClane is kind of indestructible as ever, but in a lot of ways he’s kind of met his match in his son. They have different ways of approaching things. Certainly Jack’s more strategic whereas John kind of likes to wing it and see what happens. Yeah, I thought it created some interesting tension and comedy.

What was the feeling on set when you were shooting machine guns alongside Bruce Willis?

It’s pretty surreal at times. You certainly have moments where you’re pinching yourself thinking, “Is this actually happening?” It’s funny. I guess once you’re in character and you’re kind of just doing your job, you’re just having fun with that. I certainly am anyway. I really do think of it as kind of playtime. It’s great when you get comfortable with a role enough to just be in it and have fun doing it. I kind of was able to let go of the Bruce Willis thing pretty early on and just respect him as a fellow cast mate and get on with the job.

This may seem like a silly question, but as someone who watches Die Hard every year, did you look back on that first movie in the scene with the kids?

Oh yeah. It was kind of just humorous to kind of catch that. Yeah, there’s that one scene with the kids in the first one. It’s funny to think that in the world of make believe that that’s me at a younger age. It’s been fun watching those other films and picking up little pieces of family history and stuff.

What did you do as far as the previous movies when you got the part?

I watched them. I watched them again. I didn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on studying them as such, or studying Bruce’s performance as such. For me it was just about wrapping my head around the genre and the style of filmmaking, kind of observing how the Die Hard films manage to nail that balance between the humor and the action and the drama and how those stakes are created, but they still manage to maintain a lightness.

The style is somewhat different from film to film, isn’t it? The McTiernan ones are different than the Renny Harlin and Len Wiseman ones, and I’m sure John Moore has something very different in mind.

Yeah, he did. I mean, this is the first one, certainly the way it’s shot, it’s almost got a documentary feel in that it’s very messy. John I know had a lot of ideas about putting the audience in the space with the action and making them really feel that and I think they’ve achieved that wonderfully. Some of the sequences are pretty epic and you really are on the edge of your seat feeling like you’re a part of that.

What was it like being on set around these explosions, to the extent that you were?

Pretty crazy. I was constantly surprised at the length these guys went to to create the world and those stunts, those big action sequences. It’s amazing when you look at a set, you walk into a room that’s been beautifully created like the courtroom or the ballroom, for instance. Just incredible set dressing down to every detail and it’s actually rigged with explosives. In two weeks’ time they’re going to bring the whole thing down. It’s almost a little heartbreaking but it blew my mind to see the scale of this production.

How much driving did you actually get to do in the streets of Russia?

A little bit. Not too much on this. The nature of the car chase, it’s obviously very dynamic and the stunts in that require a whole lot more skill than I certainly possess so we were fortunate to have guys around us that helped make that happen, and very talented, gifted stunt performers at that. So bits and pieces but on this particular film, you have to leave it to the pros at a point.

How competitive was the audition for this role? It must have been a big casting.

I think it was. It’s funny, it wasn’t something I was particularly aware of. I was working at the time when they were deliberating and I guess testing some other actors, so it’s not like I was tracking the process and really aware of it. I read very early on and then wasn’t involved in the process again until months and months and months later when I guess they were struggling to nail it. It was great to be given another opportunity to go in. It’s funny, I had one day in L.A. between two jobs that I was committed to and auditioned in that 24 hours and then was actually leaving town. I was getting on a plane when I got the call to say, “They’d like to see you with Bruce for a test.” I did get off the flight, drag my luggage off the flight and come back into Los Angeles and do that. That was such a wonderful experience. I was a little nervous, a little intimidated and all that stuff but somehow was just able to have fun with it and went in, got a great sense of how Bruce likes to work and John Moore’s absolute passion for it and the way he gets involved with things and shoots stuff. It was kind of an interesting experiment. Obviously I hoped that it would work out but wasn’t super aware of that. I walked away from that feeling like, “Well, if nothing happens, that experience in itself was once in a lifetime.” Fortunately it went further than that so I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

What was the scene for the test?

It was a couple. There’s one that didn’t wind up in the film in a gun store and then a couple of others. One that was a variation on the final scene in the movie.

How different was the test than what you ultimately built to in the film?

I guess not vastly. I came to it with a certain sense of who Jack was and physically I was kind of there. There were a couple months in between being cast in it and actually going out to shoot, but that period I spent mostly just preparing personally and so I guess they saw something in that audition that they’d been looking for and I was just lucky to be able to bring that.

Do they sign you for multiple movies with this?

I’m committed to being involved if there’s further projects but there’s certainly no promise as to in what capacity that is. We’ll see. There’s a lot of rumor around this passing of the torch. Is Jack going to blah blah blah. They’ve done that and had success with the Bourne franchise and things like that but I’m not concerned about that. There certainly hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation around that. I mean, it’s common for studios to do three picture deals with talent these days in just about any role. So if there’s further involvement in this franchise, fantastic. We’ll just have to wait and see.

It could even be like Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s role in this one.

Well, exactly. The beauty of this thing is it’ll keep rolling on and fans will stay dedicated to it. Bruce is still doing a very good job so I’m sure he’s not willing to give up yet.

Have you shot I, Frankenstein already?

Shot that. That was prior to doing Die Hard in fact. I’d come off Jack Reacher and was going straight down to Australia for I, Frankenstein when I went in to audition. So that was the sequence, and I’ve just come off a film back in Oz again called Felony. I’m very excited about that. Joel Edgerton wrote that and it also stars him and Tom Wilkinson. It’s kind of a police thriller if you will.

I loved their movie The Square.

Yeah, fantastic movie.

Is Felony a similar vibe and tone?

Well, there’s a similar kind of intensity to this. The drama is quite contained. Whilst it’s set in the world of law enforcement, it’s not about kicking down doors. It’s certainly not a shoot ‘em up film. I really chased that role hard and was really grateful to go and do that. Not only on such a cool project that I believe in, but also back home which is kind of a bonus.

What kind of characters do you play in those movies?

In I, Frankenstein, I’m a gargoyle called Gideon who’s basically a warrior more or less. He’s the leader of an army so whilst it’s very otherworldly and conceptual, it was in that military mindset again if you will. And then in Felony I play a young detective very new to the force and has a real true north moral compass and he’s hellbent on seeking justice.

Is Frankenstein a big special effects movie?

Yeah, a lot of that and I think that’s why the post-production process is probably taking quite a long time. It seems like a while ago. It’s nearly a year ago now we stepped into that and I think it comes out in September. Certainly there’s a whole other world they need to create with that film and I’m very interested to see what they do with it.

Were you entirely a special effect or did you have some prosthetics?

Fortunately no crazy prosthetics. The costumes were wonderful. There were some guys in insane makeup cruising around the set but I managed to escape that task. So I’m curious to see what they create digitally. It’ll be fun. It’s great to be able to shake up the mediums. Reacher was a kind of quirky somewhat contained kind of action thriller, then Frankenstein working with a lot of green screen and the text is heightened. The stakes are a little more epic. Then to be able to go and do Die Hard which is this gutsy balls to the wall action stuff and then felony, I feel very lucky to have worked in these different genres and filmmaking styles in such a short amount of time.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.