In downtown Sydney in the heritage-listed State Theatre on an extremely warm evening (especially in a suit), the world premiere of The Water Diviner took place with first time director and star Russell Crowe alongside many of his fellow cast in attendance. Well acted with fantastic cinematography, the journey to the battlefields is an emotional one and told with true passion from Crowe. When catching his eye, Russell tapped me on the arm and said, “Hell, how you going mate?” As an admirer of his career, smiling I responded with a professional “Hello,” however on the inside I was stoked he recognised me from previous interviews.
It’s obvious speaking to him on the ruby rug this film was hard and rewarding work. I asked if it was difficult for him to act in many of the scenes, being a parent himself. “Oh yes, any parent would, and there are many emotional family situations in the film. There is not just one thing to take out of it. It’s a love story, a father’s courage.” I also asked what unexpected challenges he came across making the film. “If you are a film person working, you know there is nothing you can anticipate while making a movie. Whether it be weather or other conditions, including when we were shooting a whole week in 49.5 degrees for example. I’ve done 25 years now as lead roles in feature films; it’s in my DNA. I speak this language and have picked up things along the way.” There was a certain glow to Russell as he waved to the adoring crowd across the road, taking time out to have selfies or sign autographs.
I mention that Olga Kurylenko (former Bond Girl, Quantum of Solace) beams across the screen in an important low-key role, and Russell agrees. “Olga is perfect. She came to film at Fox Studios here in Sydney and hit her stride immediately. Very kind, loved working with her, so professional.”
During the final credits, his beloved Soth Sydney Rabbitohs gets a mention, so when I ask him about that, Russell smiles, looks me in the eye, and says I have to indulge myself – couldn’t help it.
The anticipation for The Water Diviner is quite big considering many Australian films fall by the wayside of Hollywood blockbusters. Personally, I found it overly slow in pace with a questionable ending, however the emotional moments do strike a nerve with mostly commendable performances while the production itself cannot be faulted.
The day before the world premiere, I was lucky enough to meet and speak with Jai Courtney, a Sydney born actor who may not be a household name now but already has worked with much Hollywood royalty. Handpicked for a role by Russell, Jai tells me why it is important for him to keep making films Down Under. He also talks Insurgent mementos, working with Tom Cruise, and gave me a measured but exclusive taste of the ultra-secretive Terminator: Genysis.
Shane A. Bassett – Congratulations on the last few years of work, you really have not looked back since Jack Reacher. You were so impressive as the villain opposite Tom Cruise. Would you like to work with him again?
Jai Courtney – I would work with Cruise again for sure, he sets the bar high with hard work. That was a great introduction of international cinema for me; there is none better than him to exemplify someone who is passionate about just going for it, working as hard as he can to make the best product possible.
SAB – I am from the Central Coast Newcastle region – do you get up that way very often?
JC – I have friends in Newcastle, used to have a friend at Tascott (Central Coast) until he moved, so I am familiar with the areas. I probably don’t get there often enough but love the serenity.
SAB – On Water Diviner, did Russell handpick you for the role or was there an audition process?
JC – There wasn’t an audition. We met about it, I read the script and was forthcoming in making it clear I really liked this role. It was funny because I was told he was interested in me for a different part, and when I got there it turned out to be misinformation; he was in fact interested in me for the role I ended up playing. Russell and I were always on the same page. He mentioned a few previous things he liked I’ve done, we had a really good chat about the script and what would be involved within the character. I instantly made it clear enough I was up for the challenge, willing to do whatever it took to be on board. Yes, it was cool he saw something that he wanted to bring out in me; it was great to work together.
SAB – He didn’t make you watch every South Sydney game as part of the process, did he?
JC – (Laughs) That’s funny, but you know, coincidently I’ve always been pretty fond of the Bunnys, and so I wouldn’t have a problem if he did.
SAB – What was the on-set vibe like filming such an iconic part of Australian history, especially while you were wearing the uniform?
JC – Remarkable, pretty awesome while wearing that uniform. I remember we got handed some boots, the gear and our slouch hats before we went off to this training boot camp so I tried to get as much sweat, dirt or mud in them as much as I possibly could. Doing research into the historical significance of that war, some of the soldiers, how young many of them were, what they went through, all that stuff is simply amazing and heartbreaking, but awe-inspiring. It’s very special. There’s a responsibility there and Russell certainly felt the same to honour these chaps, soldiers and real life characters. All fought for their country and rewarded very little – he really wanted to do them proud. I hope we have. Everyone worked incredibly hard to keep it as authentic as possible.
SAB – What did the boot camp consist of?
JC – It was different, we had a program laid out for about ten days. Horse riding in the morning, go off on a mountain bike ride in the afternoon, then come back and there might be some archery or weapons training. At night we could have a guest speaker come out to talk about the war, break bread together; it was a harmonious summer camp type thing cementing comrade relations.
SAB – Was there any part of your own personality in your character Colonel Cyril Hughes?
JC – Yes, I firmly believe there is a little bit of yourself in every role I play, some actors don’t feel that way. For some it’s about a complete departure from themselves or transformation. Maybe I’ll be challenged on that but I feel building that performance you give is born out of your own instincts. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re staying yourself and doing someone else’s words. I was interested in this role for the responsibility – he wasn’t an old guy at the time and I wanted to build the character. I wasn’t the comic relief or anything but had a lighter side of compassion. It was a huge task he had heading up the military war graves commission, but he saw something in this father with an understanding for.
SAB – Working with Russell as director, also recently for Angelina Jolie in Unbroken, do you find actors are different as directors in any way to regular directors?
JC – Yes, it’s not something that’s not present in a director who hasn’t acted, there is certainly an understanding of an actor turned director of what it’s like to be in front of the camera. We just talked about the boot camp – that’s something you wouldn’t necessarily get from a director as they might be focused on their prep on shooting the movie. I’ve done boot camps before but never under the guidance of the film’s director. I can’t help but think it’s because Russell is an accomplished actor.
SAB – Will you continue in your career to come back to Australia to make films in between overseas productions?
JC – I hope so, I’ve filmed a few films here, some Aussie some not. Don’t like being away for too long; I always hope to make movies here. The funding system is a little different and harder to get a project off the ground if it’s strictly independent. Some of my favourite movies growing up were Aussie films; I can’t tell you how many times I watched Chopper or Two Hands. It was around this period that I wanted to be an actor, maybe one day – they were just as important to me on a dream level as anything blockbuster. You don’t need a lot of money to have fun on a film, of course that doesn’t mean it can’t be fast-moving or loud either. Exploring all sorts of different stuff is interesting to me as an actor whether it’s dramatic, comedic, or blowing shit up.
SAB – Not having made a comedy, is it something you would like to do?
JC – Yes, definitely. Who knows what shape or form or timeline that will present itself? I want to tick every box. It’s about challenging yourself creatively. There is no genre I would shut down without considering if the material is intriguing.
SAB – Is it hard to keep up the American accent while filming overseas? It must have been great in Water Diviner to speak naturally.
JC – Pretty used to it now, although there’s always a bit of work involved. Sometimes I’ll stay in it all day if I’ve got a lot of dialogue – it’s easier on a muscular level in the mouth to keep that there. Majority of my work has been in an American accent and it almost seems strange to work with my Aussie accent. Obviously I’ve done a couple of films recently when I’ve had the chance to do it, and that’s cool, it’s amazing freedom. I don’t think all Aussies are good at the accent but it takes a lot of hard work, people forget that if you’re not American it’s an extra hurdle or an extra piece of costume you’re putting on for us to get parts. Sometimes that can get in the way of a performance or it can enhance it. To be able to have that device is cool – it can also be incredibly freeing when you don’t have to worry about it.
SAB – Did you keep any of the mementos from any of the sets you have worked on?
JC – Mate, I steal something from every film I work on (laughs).
SAB – I see. Well, what did you take from the upcoming Insurgent?
JC – Hmmm, let me think, what did I nick? Oh maybe nothing from Insurgent, I can’t remember. Usually it’s a piece of costume or a boot, or maybe I’ve outed myself there. I don’t know if I have any Insurgent mementos (laughs). I truly think the haircut of my character is enough to walk away from on those movies. You will see more of Eric during Insurgent, that’s enough (laughs).
SAB – What can you tell me about Terminator: Genysis, if you can tell me anything at all?
JC – What I can tell you is that I can’t tell you anything. It’s going to be huge in scale and scope; it’s not a remake or reboot, it’s something completely different and we are somewhat pressing reset if you will. I think it will pay homage to the James Cameron films to honour those, but will bring things into the present and discuss some really relevant shit when it comes to the state of technology, where society is at. Yes, man, it’s going to be really cool.
SAB – Any more Die Hard films on the agenda? Maybe you should talk Bruce Willis into filming one in Sydney: DHDU: Die Hard Down Under.
JC – Mate, that is not a bad idea. I don’t know, but we joked about that when we were promoting the last one we should just pick a nice location and go to do another one. Look, I’m in no rush; if I get a call to reprise that role it would be fun, but I also think it’s not so bad to chill out a little between drinks when it comes to most sequels or franchises.
SAB – Keep up the great work – you’re an understated, down-to-earth, talented guy. Thanks so much for your time.
JC – Appreciate it. Thanks Shane.