Jai Courtney has made a career out of playing the tough guy. He played a villainous tough guy in the Divergent series. He played a time-traveling tough guy in Terminator: Genisys. He played son-of-Bruce-Willis-tough, tough guy in A Good Day to Die Hard, and he played the unicorn-loving, chaos-causing tough guy of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. So sure, Jai Courtney is tough. And he’ll keep playing tough now that he’s been confirmed for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad follow-up. But the actor’s also got a knack for adding layers to the action-hero stereotype that Hollywood’s tried to cast him in, something he continues to do in his latest flick, a war movie called Semper Fi.
The film, which stars Courtney as a cop and serviceman in the Marine Corps Reserves, dives into the heartbreak and guilt that comes with the job when Courtney’s Cal is forced to arrest his own brother for murder before heading overseas to defend his country. When he comes back, he hatches a plan to break his unjustly tried sibling out of jail, with the help of his fellow Marines. Courtney explores the kind of layered machismo most war films just don’t have time for with his interpretation of Cal, which means Semper Fi is a fairly muted look at military life that relies mainly on the friendships between its talented cast (and that’s a good thing). We spoke with Courtney about bonding with his costars during Mardi Gras, getting in touch with his soft side, and how The Suicide Squad is shaping up.
According to your buddy Finn Wittrock, the key to this movie was getting drunk during Mardi Gras. Did that bond you as a cast quickly?
We had grand plans to have a month-long boot camp and slowly build the trust and bond gently in the hopes that we would kind of find love for one another and be able to portray that organically. What ended up happening was we met on the Saturday before filming on a Tuesday. So, you had a weekend to build 20 years of history between us. We figured the only way to do that was to go out and get in a bunch of trouble.
Alcohol is a quick fix for anything.
We kind of joked about that, but even that wouldn’t save a group of people who didn’t find something very genuine between them. We were fortunate in that sense and I think what you see on screen is an accurate portrayal of something that we did find that was very real. We all became really good mates really quickly, and I don’t think we could have developed that onscreen relationship in the same fashion if that wasn’t the case.
Did you have any moments when you thought, ‘Oh sh*t, we might have to actually break someone out of prison to finish this film?’
There was an altercation on the first night between one of us and, but you know, we’ll let that kind of fade away with stories from the movie.
It was just some real-life rehearsal.
That’s what it was. It’s all about the work.
This is a movie about a group of Marines who go to war, come back, and try to get on with their lives but it doesn’t strictly feel like a war movie. Were you more interested in diving into the relationships between these men?
I didn’t take any of this at face value. I didn’t think, “Oh, it’s a film about a cop,” or “It’s a film about deployment.” It doesn’t boil down to that sort of stuff. I think that’s the interesting thing. The relationships are really the hero of this movie and the breakdown of them. I’m someone that’s close with my family, but the closest people to me on this earth are the guys I grew up with. I’ve known these guys 20 years; we’ve grown up together and I really relate to that relationship. I was interested in finding a way to put that on screen.
If it were between duty and loyalty to your friends, like it is for your character in the film, what would you choose?
I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a cowboy which is probably not true, but who knows? I mean, I’ll try the breakout approach straight off the bat. I probably would never have been a cop in the first place though.
This idea of brotherhood is a very layered bond which we don’t always see in these kinds of films. Did you want to explore the softer side to these friendships?
You make an interesting point because sometimes within these films there’s a resistance to explore the vulnerability that sits within masculinity and I think that’s actually the key to it. None of this works unless you really buy the bond between these guys and that’s got to be as much about busting each other’s balls as it is about leaning on each other for help and for guidance and for support. I’m a soft person. I don’t think that diminishes my masculinity at all. If anything, it makes you more in touch with it in some way.
Which audience is more frightening: comic book fans or Marines? They’re both tough audiences.
So they should be. I’ve always been involved in stuff where the audience is somehow baked into it. I’m not a stranger to it. I think there’s always a responsibility to try and portray things as accurately as possible.
James Gunn is directing the next Suicide Squad installment, and he’s a great comedy writer. Is Boomerang going to get some more one-liners this time around?
I hope so. I mean James is going to do something incredibly original with this and things are going to evolve and move in a new direction and I’m really excited about that. I’m supported by an amazing cast and yeah, we’re pumped. We’re as excited as audiences are to see how people respond to this.
Do you think having Gunn work on both a DC and a Marvel film might finally end the rivalry?
Maybe they’ll all merge up one day? I don’t know. I don’t think we need to be so bound to those things, you know? He’s an amazing filmmaker, and there’s such great property out there and amazing stories to be told. I think it’s cool that those barriers are being broken down, and we’re lucky to have him.
You just finished up an action-comedy with Kate Beckinsale, who has a really interesting pantomime horse costume hobby …
[Laughs] I didn’t know that was a hobby of hers.
So she has roped you into wearing one yet?
Maybe the press tour there’ll be some pantomime horse costume gear. I’m a little disappointed that I’m only learning about this just now, so yeah, I’ll be sure to play that conversation further.
‘Semper Fi’ is currently playing in limited theaters and streaming digitally and On Demand.