Bit by bit it’s been coming but with Suicide Squad, Australia’s Jai Courtney has finally arrived on the A-list, discovers Drew Turney.
It’s a quintessentially warm, clear LA day when I sit down in a diner in trendy Los Feliz to meet Jai Courtney. He walks in looking like an equally quintessential LA guy (cap on backwards, tattoos, muscles, white t-shirt, scraggly beard and slightly shaggy hair – he’s off to the gym straight after the interview).
The 30-year-old from north-west Sydney who shakes my hand warmly is nothing like a “throwback” – the term snobbishly applied to Australians in a recent Vanity Fair profile on his Suicide Squad co-star Margot Robbie. Courtney has the air of someone who belongs. He’s urbane, focused and – when he starts to talk – still unmistakably Australian.
As we go over his growing gallery of tatts and he wolfs down six scrambled eggs and a bowl of fruit, I wonder aloud if he’s bulking up to prepare for a role (“Nup,” he drawls, “this is just breakfast.”). Not that he shouldn’t be preparing. Courtney’s self-described slow growth as an actor in Hollywood is set to change if the buzz around the release of Suicide Squad is anything to go by.
“When I did Die Hard a producer told me, ‘When this comes out it’ll change your life forever’,” he remembers. “But it’s not like the phone started ringing that day and that’s because of a whole lot of things. There are no regrets at all, but I was a little younger and a little more naive and I played into that for a second.”
After getting his ‘big’ start in TV’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Courtney’s been in some hugely anticipated movies that – let’s be frank – have let audiences down (A Good Day to Die Hard, Terminator Genisys, I, Frankenstein). It’s put him in the curious position of being able to perfect the art not just of acting but of navigating Hollywood life at an arm’s-length distance from the tabloid spotlight. Moreover, it’s refreshing to hear he’s proud of the work even when it hasn’t connected with moviegoers (“What’s the point of analysing it deeper than that?” he states).
But the fact Suicide Squad garnered more buzz on social media than Star Wars: Episode 7 – the Force Awakens does cause Courtney to agree it might shift the spotlight squarely onto his performance as Aussie bad guy Captain Boomerang.
“Sure, Suicide Squad will change things,” he says. “The film’s fantastic and I’m certainly the most excited I’ve been about something to date.” Still, perhaps mindful of past experience, he offers a caveat. “But I’ve also been around long enough to learn the value of not anticipating things too much. I’ve felt pretty good about [films] I’ve worked on before but you can’t predict how things are going to go.”
He also agrees it’s hard to ignore all the online chatter, a place Courtney doesn’t maintain a big presence (he muses that it might be why he’s been able to fly under the radar). “It’s pretty crazy. We were aware of the momentum picking up. Obviously the studio has led a pretty serious publicity campaign, more intense than anything I’ve ever been involved with. It’s something people are excited about and that’s reflected in the online presence.”
After the relative financial disappointment of the jewel in Warner Bros/DC Comics’ crown (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), industry gossip says the studio is pinning even higher hopes on Suicide Squad. And since we’re seeing more sequels greenlit before originals even come out nowadays, based purely on audience buzz, it begs the inevitable question of whether Courtney will play Captain Boomerang again.
“No official talks,” he says, “but I’d be devastated if I didn’t get the chance, to be honest. The potential to take these films on a bit of a journey is definitely there.”
When it comes to his career trajectory, however, there’s a real chance Courtney might not leave things in the hands of executives and casting directors as much in future. He’s seen contemporaries – including Robbie – shepherd their own projects and thinks he has the confidence to take a crack at it. One project almost got off the ground this year before falling apart (far more common in Hollywood than the movies that actually get made), so he’s developing his producing bona fides.
Though as he talks about this, that famous Australian self-deprecation Americans love so much emerges. “I mean, I don’t know shit from shit, so I’d certainly need mentoring through that process,” he says. “But as long as you’ve got an eye for quality and something to say then, yeah, it’s possible.”
But he’s comfortable in front of the camera for now, saying directing is a “long, long way off yet”. Under the leadership of his Suicide Squad director David Ayer (Fury, Training Day), he still found directing to be “the hardest fucking job on a film set”. “I’m in awe of every director I’ve worked with regardless of whether the film’s turned out to be a masterpiece or not,” he says. “It’s amazing films ever get finished without the whole house collapsing.”
Wherever Courtney ends up in the future, as Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad he appears to have finally made that sometimes difficult leap from ‘promising newcomer’ to ‘bona fide star.