Australian actor Jai Courtney has been making great inroads into Hollywood in the past few years since first starring on the Starz television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
Since then, Courtney has been involved with a number of studio franchise and a few smaller films, playing Kyle Reese in 2015’s Terminator: Genysis and Eric Coulter in Divergent and its sequel. It’s probably Courtney’s turn as Captain Boomerang in the Oscar-winning superhero film Suicide Squad that’s done the best for his reputation, since Boomerang is one of the longer mainstays in that super-villain group in terms of the comics. Sure enough, Courtney is back for the sequel The Suicide Squad, so he’ll have to survive another movie wearing the explosive collar of Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, who runs “Task Force X” (the official government name for the program).
Courtney’s latest film Semper Fi brings him back into the indie realm, as he plays a smalltown police officer named Callahan, part of the Marine Corps Reserves, whose brother “Oyster” (Nat Wolff) accidentally kills a man in a bar altercation. Worrying about his brother’s safety, Callahan has to have to make some tough decisions, and he calls to his Marine brothers for aid.
Directed by Henry Alex Rubin, best known for his doc Murderball, the movie is definitely an action-thriller than some might imagine since it starts out more like a drama.
The Beat got on the phone with Courtney a few weeks back to talk about the movie, as well as ask about how things are going on the sequel, The Suicide Squad… which actually hadn’t started filming yet.
THE BEAT: I’ve seen Henry’s documentaries and his other drama, but this one went to places I wasn’t expecting. I knew it involved soldiers from the title, and I feel like you’ve played a soldier or a police officer before… but I couldn’t remember where or when.
JAI COURTNEY: I’ve played a Marine before in a film called Man Downwith Shia [LaBeouf], and look, I put different uniforms and badges on at times – I’ve played a couple cops, as well – but it’s always different, man. It’s always a different story, different world. What I found interesting about this jumping in, there was a slight familiarity in some of those elements, I guess, but obviously, the subject matter is completely different. Playing a smalltown cop was something I hadn’t done. It was really interesting to get into that headspace a bit and get to know some guys who live that reality. I went on a few ride-alongs with a detective outfit from one of the Parish sheriff’s departments in Louisiana, and it was awesome, dude. It was great to roll with that little crew for a bit and see how things get handled. You really can’t know that until you experience it firsthand. I found that quite interesting. They were really generous with their time. As far as the prep for the Marine stuff went. I mean, we were pretty limited this time around, but we had a really amazing spiritual leader in a man called Rudy Reyes, who is kind of like Captain America in the Marine Corp. He’s I think a four or five-tour veteran, and he was in forced recon, so he’s like one of the bad, bad, bad motherf#ckers when it comes to heavy-hittin’ Special Forces guys. It was amazing to have him as a real teacher and consultant and just a brother to have around on the movie, because obviously, so much of this film hinges on its authenticity and the relationships of the guys. He’s really the hero but training the men and women that make these incredible sacrifices is also our honor and our duty to do it justice, so having someone like Rudy around was an imperative part of figuring out that puzzle.
THE BEAT: I imagine that Henry, coming from his background as a documentarian, I assume he is always going for authenticity as much as possible as well. Was that something you talked with him about?
COURTNEY: It was, yeah. I think we agreed that if we don’t buy the relationships between these guys, then we don’t really buy what’s at stake in the story, and we don’t really believe what is possible for them. It all had to stem from something that felt real and organic and believable. It’s interesting. We had grand plans at one point to have a month-long preparation and a boot camp and get on the road for a week or two and really build this love and trust between these guys. We just didn’t have those resources in the scheduling, so the guys all met on a Saturday and we were rolling cameras by the Tuesday. We really had to figure that out in a hurry. The beautiful thing about the relationship between these five actors is that it happens really organically, and we did build a love and a trust and an appreciation and a respect for each other in a really short period of time. I guess that was kind of lucky and just a magic mix of ingredients. We were fortunate to have each other. I think we pulled some really good work out of each other, and there are some really talented actors there, and it was a really beautiful experience. I appreciate them every day. We’re proud of the movie we made and we were all there. It was all about the work. There was no ego, no bullshit, and what you see on screen feels real, because it kind of was.
THE BEAT: Did you shoot this movie a while ago? I know Nat plays a soldier in another movie called The Kill Team, which also comes out this month.
COURTNEY: We shot this at the start of 2018, so yeah, it has kind of been a minute now.
THE BEAT: I’m curious if he shot that movie before or after this one, but I guess it’s hard to tell when you’re shooting movies in different orders from when they come out.
COURTNEY: Yeah, sometimes that’s the case. It just depends on your distributors and when things kind of come into the mix, and when the right time for something to release is. There’s a whole lot of strategy that can go into that stuff, and sometimes it’s just down to the nature of filmmaking, man. Sometimes get cut real quick and thrown straight out there, and other times, and particularly with independent cinema, it can be in an interesting place for quite a while. It’s kind of wild how quick time flies. It does feel like yesterday. It’s hard to believe that it was a year and eight months ago, but sure enough, there it was.
THE BEAT: Have you had a chance to see the movie with any military or police or anyone in those fields yet?
COURTNEY: I haven’t, I haven’t. Unfortunately. I’ve been on the road with other projects, so we haven’t had any screenings yet, but they’re coming up, and I will get to do that. We got some stuff planned. We’re going to invite some guys who contributed on the movie and helped us out, and have a screening for them and some friends and family soon. Hopefully, I can assemble with all the boys and get to share it with some service men as well.
THE BEAT: I want to ask about The Suicide Squad, knowing you won’t be able to say much, but Captain Boomerang has been one of the mainstays of the team. You have a new director and some new cast. What can you say about what the biggest difference will be with the sequel bearing that in mind?
COURTNEY: Well, we haven’t started filming, so I can’t really speak to the experience of how this is going yet. We’re gearing up, as we speak, but look, man, I’m really looking forward to working with a whole bunch of new people, and a bunch of old people as well. It’s been a long time between drinks now. It was 2015 when we shot the first one, and I think there were a couple years there where it felt like it was going to happen straight-away, and then they didn’t, and then plans changed. Then we wondered if it was going to happen at all. It’s just really cool to be back with these guys and back with this character and working with the same stunt team. It’s nice to have some familiar faces around, but also, I’m really excited to see it going in another direction and see what James does with it. He’s obviously such a gifted filmmaker, and he’s really done some amazing stuff with the “Guardians,” so I think we’re really lucky to have him. He’s got a great energy, and I’m looking forward to it, as much as everyone else.
THE BEAT: I’ve known both David Ayer and James Gunn for quite some time now, and I can’t think of two more different people, let alone filmmakers…
COURTNEY: They are – totally different energies and probably completely different approaches to their stuff, so it should be a different experience, but it’s gonna be fun nonetheless.
Semper Fi opens in select cities, on digital, and on demand Friday.