Jai Courtney looks mean when he sits down with Time Out. Not that he's in a bad mood – the Cherrybrook-born actor is affable and friendly. But like precious few actors, Courtney carries a very subtle sense of underlying menace, like he could be laughing at a barbecue with his mates one minute and unloading a high powered rifle at innocent bystanders the next.
That's exactly what he does in Jack Reacher, the new film by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) based on Lee Child's bestseller One Shot. McQuarrie explains he was 'blown away' by the actor's video audition. "He did two versions of it, one with his natural accent and one as an American. His American was so effective I thought he was pretending to have an Australian accent." McQuarrie emailed it to his leading man –Tom Cruise – who emailed back with two words: 'cast him'.
Trading blows with Cruise in one blistering fight scene, Courtney plays a cold, clinical sniper who sets a conspiracy in motion in the opening scenes. "You've got to find compassion for your character somewhere," he says of playing a (very) bad guy. "Obviously he's capable of some pretty nasty things but it's easier to work on a character when you understand where they're coming from regardless of what they're capable of in the script."
Courtney is a commanding presence in the film, and Hollywood agrees. After small roles in Packed to the Rafters and All Saints, he secured a coveted role in TV's Spartacus – one that showcased his stellar abs and installed him as an action star.
After Jack Reacher, he's joining an even more iconic franchise as Bruce Willis' son in A Good Day To Die Hard. He's spent time at home to work on two local productions just as he's set to 'arrive' in the US, Felony (alongside Joel Edgerton and Tom Wilkinson) and I, Frankenstein (a comic book adaptation directed by fellow Aussie Stuart Beattie of Tomorrow When the War Began).
Is he ready for Hollywood to clamour to have him back? "I hope this opens up a lot more opportunities. It's been awesome the last 12 months and I've worked with some incredible people. I feel privileged to be in that position."
Jack Reacher screens from Thu Jan 3.