Jai Courtney (“A Good Day to Die Hard,” “Jack Reacher”) plays a good cop who suspects a fellow officer of hit-and-run and quietly investigates the incident for fear of retribution by the close-knit community in the Australian police drama “Felony.”
Fellow Aussie Joel Edgerton, who plays a decorated police officer and family man at the center of the story, also wrote the screenplay. After celebrating an important arrest with his fellow officers at a local pub, his character starts driving home buzzed and hits a child riding a bike. He panics and soon a cover up involving another influential officer (played by two-time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson) ensues.
The 28-year-old Aussie, who stars in the upcoming “Terminator” reboot “Terminator: Genisys,” in which he plays John Connor’s father Kyle Reese, recently spoke about playing the moral compass of the crime drama and making a homegrown film.
Q: Can you talk about working with your co-star Tom Wilkinson, whose character is more concerned about protecting a fellow police officer’s reputation than telling the truth?
Courtney: I feel like I had a front row seat to the Tom Wilkinson show. It really felt like that. He’s a very hard-working actor. He is one of those guys who spent years and years in theater before he ever crossed over into film and TV, and you see he has that sort of sense of traditional, classical training and that respect for the text in the work. He maintains that, despite being a seasoned veteran. He never ever phones it in. He works incredibly hard on the material and gives you everything he’s got even when the camera’s pointing the other way. That, in any scene partner, is all you can really ask for. So it’s a real pleasure to work wit him. It was wonderful that he wanted to be part of this story.
Q: We hear he can be kind of a jokester. Do you recall a particularly memorable day on set with him?
Courtney: One day I arrived at set and, as tends to be my process, I’ll look at the week ahead when I’m filming and not necessarily spend an immense amount of time on each day kind of worrying about that day’s work. I was kind of tucking into some poached eggs or something for breakfast, and Tom’s sitting there on the step of his trailer looking over his (script), and he looks at me and says, “You ready?” I say, “What do you mean?” He says, “You’ve got a lot to say today,” and I was like, “Have I?” It scared me for a minute. I was like, “ I am absolutely like… What have I…” I bolted to my trailer and got the script and kind of cram studied and managed to get it there on time.
Q: You and your co-star Joel Edgerton have broken through in the U.S. and global film market while still occasionally making films in your home country?
Courtney: Reading an Australian script that I heard was going to be a movie was the most exciting professional possibility that had come. I hadn’t really been working for very long when this arose. There is always a special place, for want of a better word, in my heart for Australian cinema. The structure, the funding system and all that is very different (from Hollywood). But some of my favorite films are Aussie films and there’s often a hefty crime element involved. It is vibrant and there are some great stories to be told. It was kind of just an opportunity. It was exciting to be able to do that. It’s simple. I always wanted to come to the U.S. and be involved in big films once I decided to become an actor, but there’s something special about this because it was set in Sydney and shot in Sydney.
Q: Were you familiar with this location?
Courtney: It’s set in the western suburbs where both Joel and I grew up. Having that ultra-familiarization with what you’re dealing with and really feeling like you know these people and these issues is fun. It was straight up kind of weird in a way to go back and do an Australian accent in a movie. You forget about that little extra hurdle that we have. It folds into building your character. You have to work on it, but that’s something you do. You just don’t really see a lot of Australian characters in international cinema, which is weird because there are Aussies everywhere around the world.
Q: You are good at playing scenes without any tricks or showy antics. Is that a skill you’re born with or can you actually train for it?
Courtney: It’s something I’m learning. When I look at my own work sometimes, I’m very concerned about how animated I can be. I struggle with that because part of me feels like, “Well, it’s true.” If there’s truth behind it, it doesn’t matter how big your performance gets. But there’s also a wonderful quality to having a more contained performance. It’s great when you can see the wheels turning inside an actor’s head or the character for that matter without them having to sniff when they enter the room or chomp on their bottom lip or something in order to show that there’s some attitude. It’s not something you’re necessarily particularly worried about but I think an awareness of the value in it is certainly helpful.
Q: This film is called “Felony” and of course, Australia was established during colonial times as a penal colony. Have you ever looked into your roots to find out how your family arrived in Australia?
Courtney: I know a little bit but it doesn’t go back as far as the colonial times. I have a good whack of Irish in me, which is pretty common because it was the Brits that colonized it but most of the convicts were Irish.
Q: What can say about “Terminator: Genisys?”
Courtney: There’s not a lot I can say. It’s definitely not exactly the same as anything you’ve seen but it’s going to dig up some familiar aspects of the world that we know about in “Terminator.” They’re certainly kind of pushing reset somewhat, if you know what I mean.