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Jai Courtney, 'A Good Day To Die Hard' Star, On Playing John McClane Jr.

02/11/2013 09:58 am ET | Updated Feb 11, 2013

"A Good Day to Die Hard," the fifth film in the "Die Hard" franchise, is a "kind of ageist tryptic." Those were the words of star Bruce Willis back in October of last year when we asked him about once again playing "Die Hard" hero cop John McClane. "How fast can I run? How well can I fight?" Willis rhetorically asked. "There's a story. If you look at all of them from the first film to the one we just did, you see me age over these films."

He's right. Bruce Willis, now 57, isn't the youthful 32-year-old, yippee-ki-yay-yelling action star he was in 1988. (It should come as little surprise, however, that Willis' now-patented yippe-ki-yay taunt does appear in "A Good Day To Die Hard.") Perhaps this is why the newest "Die Hard" film introduces audiences to a brand new McClane -- John McClane Jr., played by Jai Courtney.

You may know Courtney as the antagonist in this past December's Tom Cruise film "Jack Reacher." Or you may know him as Varro on the Starz series "Spartacus." Now, as McClane, he's an undercover CIA agent who gets himself into a bit of trouble while in Russia. Naturally, his father (Willis) attempts to help him out, which, of course, makes things worse. We spoke to Courtney about playing the young McClane and his fairly swift rise from "struggling Australian actor" to "Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis' co-star."

Between this and "Jack Reacher," I feel that you're having a nice year.
[Laughs] I hope so. It's certainly been a nice year. I hope there's another nice one ahead.

When you're around your friends, do you say things like, "Yeah, I'm doing that Tom Cruise movie. Then I'm doing that Bruce Willis movie"? Is that weird to say?
Yeah, look, at times it is a little strange. And I tend to downplay it a little bit. But my friends have had as much fun with it as I have -- it's just been kid of crazy at times. You know, you have those moments where, I don't know, sometimes maybe I kind of play it down too much. And it will be a buddy who points out, "Dude! This is awesome, man!" Yeah, it is. It is. It's totally surreal.

Trying to put myself in your shoes: If I got the news that I would be playing John McClane's son, I would first be excited then terrified that I would screw it up.
That is exactly the evolution of my reaction. Yeah, I was like over the moon ... and then doubt set in and I realized, "Oh, God, it's 'Die Hard,' man. It's a huge iconic franchise. What if I suck?" I think it's important -- it certainly helped me -- to take a deep breath and remember that they've shown some faith in me by casting me in the project. And you obviously have something to offer -- just rely on those instincts. Go and get the job done and have fun while you're doing it.

Not everyone likes how "son of" characters have been done in the past. Did you look at past examples and say, "I don't want to do it that way"?
No, I didn't really pay too much attention to it because it probably wasn't going to help me much either way. The relationship here was something that I could relate to and that was kind of my only point of reference. I mean, I wasn't trying to emulate any other relationship I had seen on screen or anything like that. You know, a lot of it is that I really didn't know how it would go down. But, Bruce and I got along really well from early on in the process and I was comfortable in thinking that I'd just get out there and the guys would make it easy to become part of the family and we'd have fun doing the shoot.

Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis both seem like intense guys, but in completely different ways.
It's kind of like comparing two directors at the same time. They are two guys who are obviously incredibly successful and really good at what they do -- they've mastered their craft. To kind of contrast and compare, I don't know, it's not something i concern myself with. They have completely different approaches the way they do things -- just like one of your friends is different from another who runs in a different circle. You know what I mean? It wasn't better or worse, just different at times.

"Jack Reacher" and "A Good Day to Die Hard" are completely different kinds of action movies. "Jack Reacher" was kind of quirky while this one is all out madness.
I would agree with you there.

It looked exhausting.
It was, yeah. It was the biggest undertaking for me, at that time, professionally. But, yeah, it was. It was absolutely exhausting. We knew we'd have to work hard, but I kind of love all of that stuff. It really is play time. I'm still kind of young enough and new enough to not be jaded or bored at all.

Were you a fan of the "Die Hard" movies?
I was, yeah. I wasn't like ... I think the story that people would like to hear sometimes is, you know, I was a crazy, devout "Die Hard" fan.

That you had the posters in your bedroom.
Yeah, they were films that I caught as a teenager. You know, I was a little young for the early installments and I obviously didn't see them in the cinemas. But I caught the films in my adolescence -- they're great. I mean, they are classic action films. Good fun, entertaining movies.

As an actor, when did you start feeling like you were breaking through. I know you had success with "Spartacus," but all of a sudden you're in these back-to-back big movies.
"Spartacus" gave me the opportunity to come out to the States for the first time. And then I felt like it was a whole new chapter. That show offered me a lot of experience and a bit of exposure and enough of a talking point to get in rooms. But, then, I was totally new to this scene. So, I'd never auditioned as much as you do through pilot season and I had never had a concentrated period of time working in the American accent. And I think the two years that followed that were really about maturing as an actor myself. I think "Reacher" happened at the right time and I guess that was probably the catalyst for this kind of roller coaster that has been the last eight months. I mean, I only had that on the agenda at the time. People would ask me on set, "Oh, what are you going on to next?" And I'd kind of be like, "What are you talking about? I have no idea. Nothing. I'm just starting to have a job!" I had never been in that situation where I knew what was happening next. And I kind of had to get used to that quickly.

Are you at a point now where you can sit back and choose what you want to do?
Well, hopefully I find myself in that position. I'm by no means resting on these, but I do feel like now is the time to take a breath and kind of use it to my advantage. And hopefully I can be strategic and smart about decisions we make.

You mentioned the American accent. Is that hard?
Obviously, every actor has a different approach. You know, there will be takes I'll do where I say something and I completely fumble on a word or it just comes out Australian -- so, it definitely requires work. Occasionally I'll stay in accent all day if I've got a lot of speaking to do so I'm not really thinking about it too much. And that was weird the first time I did that -- I felt like I was playing a character all of the time and I'm certainly not a method actor by any means [laughs]. I'm usually interested in conserving the energy rather than wasting it when the cameras aren't rolling.

I would have liked to see Bruce Willis' reaction if you would have came in as a method actor and not broke character in front of him.
Oh, that would be fun [laughs]. Maybe when I get a little more comfortable in the industry I can try out some pranks like that.

Bruce Willis has been doing some smaller roles like "Moonrise Kingdom." He's said he wants to do "Die Hard 6," but when there's a day he's not interested in doing a big action movie again, is taking over this franchise something that interests you?
Yeah, it interests me. Look, we'll have to see. It will have to be the kind of marriage of a few things. I mean, if I get the call to be involved, then great. You know, hopefully it's in a capacity where there's still a character to work with and a script that's really interesting with a good filmmaker. There are rumors about the kind of "passing the torch" and "handing the baton" and this sort of thing. I mean, I'm really not concerning myself with it, to be honest.

I see how people might think that, but when you see this movie, it feels very much a partnership between the two characters.
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I'd love to reprise the role. It would be great. But I can't imagine not doing it alongside Bruce. So, we have to wait and see. It's a great franchise, it really is. When I sort of step back, it would be good to see another one. Or another two or three. Whether I'm involved in that or not, who knows? But, yeah, of course, it would be a lot of fun.

I always wonder why we never see a cameo from Bonnie Bedelia as Holly, John's now ex-wife. Since her son is a major character in this installment, I was kind of hoping for that. Was that ever discussed that you know of?
I'm sure it probably was, but not in any discussion that I was involved in. But, who knows? Maybe that's a good opportunity for number 6.

I have been wondering about the fight you have with Tom Cruise at the end of "Jack Reacher" ever since I saw that movie. That looked rather intense.
That was the real deal, man! I mean, we were gassed. There's one moment ... and [director] Christopher McQuarrie wanted to shoot that in a specific way and have it kind of messy. It wasn't a Bourne film or "The Matrix" or something. It wasn't going to be that sort of fight. He wanted two guys slugging it out in the rain. And that's exactly what we got him. You know, even though we're faking it, Tom and I ... we were puffing! It was exhausting. I think it turned out well; the preparation for that was pretty scary for me. Obviously it was my first big job and he's not the person you want to miss a piece of choreography with.

You don't want to hurt the guy.
Exactly! One-hundred percent. I mean, I was terrified of that. But, fortunately, I've had enough experience in fight choreography. I tend to do a little bit in every job, strangely. To know there's a way of keeping things safe and also making the movie look as real as possible -- that was a great fight to shoot. That was kind of the nature of that film: to keep it as real as possible.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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