Something is rotten in Gotham City. Forgive the Hamlet reference, but considering how depressing superhero films have become, it’s pretty apropos. This year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was, as many reviewers noted, basically two and a half hours of moody he-men brooding in the rain. And though this summer’s Suicide Squad didn’t thrill critics quite as much as it did fans, the box office record-breaking hit full of DC supervillains did wonders to lighten the mood.
And no one electrified the screen like the perennially jacked, feral-eyed Jai Courtney, whom The New York Times singled out as “scene-stealing.”
If one thing is true of the 30-year-old Aussie actor, it’s that his mere presence seems to lift any project he takes on. With his near-trademark villainous sneer, he thrilled opposite Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher and shone as Bruce Willis’ son in A Good Day to Die Hard. He “popped” on-screen as a sinister baddie in the sci-fi Divergent films. Then came 2015’s Terminator Genisys, which asked little of Courtney but to get lean fast (he dropped to 6% body fat in just eight weeks); and though the film wasn’t exactly Oscar material, Courtney was singled out for his performance.
But it’s as the lethal Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad that he really busts out, delivering a deranged, hilarious performance one could call “Tom Hardy-esque.” Before filming, director David Ayer offered him one piece of advice. “He said, I want you to find your inner shitbag,” Courtney says, laughing. “I’m not sure he knew just how close to the surface my inner shitbag really was.”
Courtney—whose first name, Jai, comes from a character in Tarzan—grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, where his father worked at the local high-voltage power station. As a teen he got into his share of bar fights. “I guess it was just the marriage of testosterone and ego and fucking beer and stupidity,” he says. “I was never a thug. We were just idiots.”
He played rugby and cricket as a kid but had as much fun playing dress-up, an interest that led him to the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Asked if his bros gave him shit about acting, he says: “It probably wasn’t as bad as Billy Elliot, but yeah.”
In the DC Comics universe, Flash nemesis Captain Boomerang is a jewel thief who hurls razor sharp boomerangs—that is, when he’s not knocking back cans of beer or unsuccessfully hitting on Katana, the film’s silent assassin. “He’s part class clown, part pit bull—a conniving backstabber,” Courtney says, “and a handy guy to have on your team.”
No stranger to getting ripped for roles (“For Terminator I was literally drinking salmon through a straw,” he says), Courtney logged mega gym time for Suicide Squad. “I’d never done clean-and-jerks and snatches and that sort of shit,” he says. “I did a lot of back squats, deadlifts, old-school moves that were great for when you’re packing in the calories and really fueled up. I probably put on about 20 pounds of muscle. I was 230 pounds and 6.5% body fat.” He was also “eating unbelievable amounts of flesh every day” to pack on the protein.
But Courtney will leave pumped-up villainy in the rear-view altogether for the upcoming The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, a film about a German soldier who falls for a Jewish woman in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. “It’s a complete departure from boomerangs,” he says. And even though the guy who once crashed on his manager’s couch just bought his first house, on the hip east side of L.A., his success still hasn’t sunk in.
“I don’t I feel like I’ve made it yet,” he says. “But every job elevates your confidence and your ambition. What’s dangerous is comfort.”