It’s time to finally explain this one.
Long-time followers of my work may be aware that one of the most frequent targets of my scorn and mockery is Jai Courtney. I’ve accused him of being “a man who has heard about charisma from other people but doesn’t actually understand what it is” live on radio, his name is a punchline I throw around whenever casting news comes up, and I’m pretty sure I have at multiple times insisted that he just shouldn’t be in movies. Many people may also be confused as to where this vitriol comes from. After all, Jai Courtney’s just an actor and I’ve frequently made jokes about how interchangeable he is with Sam Worthington, another blank-faced personality-free Australian who isn’t really much of a bad actor, so what gives?
Well, I do actually have my reasons. Well thought-out ones, too, if I’m being honest. I’ve just never been incentivised to actually communicate them properly. However, thanks to a number of things that have cropped up recently – most of which we’ll touch on later, but primarily thanks to Elijah Wood’s thoughts on the devolving state of film criticism (which are actually really cogent and deserve reading) – I think it’s finally time to put this one to bed once and for all. And, more specifically, lay to rest my Jai Courtney hate once and for all.
See, I don’t actually hate Jai Courtney. He annoys me greatly, but it’s not actually rooted in the man himself. He’s not a terrible actor, he’s just predominately nondescript and lacking much in the way of leading man charisma. Hell, I can even give him credit when he does good work, like his smug weasely henchman role in Insurgent. He was one of that worthless franchise’s lone bright spots, putting in enjoyably dickish work, which at least means that he’s put in a higher number of interesting performances than Sam Worthington has so far done. And he seems like a perfectly nice guy, somebody who’s only real crime is wanting to become an actor, an offence on the same level as a 4 year-old saying that they’re going to be a tree when they grow up – it isn’t one and, if anything, it’s rather adorable.
No, my hatred of Jai Courtney is not rooted in the man himself. It’s rooted in what he represents: the outdated, stagnating status-quo of Hollywood filmmaking. Jai Courtney is not a leading man, his work in A Good Day to Die Hard and Terminator: TurboGrafx-16 is indelible proof of that, he looks hopelessly lost in both movies and is so incapable of making any kind of legitimate impression that you could replace him with a crew member carrying around a mouse mat with his face sellotaped to it and you’d get the same quality of a performance. But that’s OK and it doesn’t completely dismiss him as an actor. Not every actor is Blockbuster Leading Man material, instead blooming in supporting roles or in more offbeat or dramatic fare – the recent career resurgence of Ryan Reynolds is a perfect testament to the second part of that equation.
The problem is that Hollywood won’t stop trying to force a round peg into a square hole for no other reason for sheer goddamn imbecility and ignorance. Jai Courtney is not a leading man and blockbusters are not for him, and yet Hollywood is gonna keep trying to make him happen, like fetch, because it still, for some asinine reason, subscribes to the idea that audiences won’t want to see expensive blockbuster movies headed up by anybody other than a straight White man, no matter how personality-free their performance is or how ill-fitting they are for that role. Which, as I think we all know, is categorically untrue, but Hollywood clings to it anyway because they constantly shift the goalposts. One Sony exec believed that The Equalizer’s underwhelming foreign box office was because Denzel Washington was cast in the lead and that foreign territories don’t want to see African American leads, then implying that such casting shouldn’t happen again because “in order for any movie to succeed, it must also appeal to the rest of the world rather than just the inhabitants of the United States.”
Hence the continued casting of Jai Courtney in big blockbuster roles, and the inexplicably continuing career of Gerard Butler – seriously, look at his goddamn filmography, it’s more akin to a rap sheet than a resume – even though neither actor makes for a particularly good leading man. Hence why, even though he’s only in a supporting role for Suicide Squad and will most likely be red-shirted before the end titles roll, I still sighed at Jai’s casting in the movie and why I was annoyed but not in the slightest bit surprised that he’s more foregrounded in the latest banner poster than any of the film’s three goddamn lead female characters.
But none of this is Jai Courtney’s fault, and it’s honestly unfair to place that blame and representational hatred on him. He just wants to act, he’s clearly not awful, and his agent appears to have superpowers of some kind to keep getting him into big, most-likely fun projects that make him happy. He unfortunately is just in the wrong place at the worst possible time, his push coming at the point where a sustained railing against Hollywood’s diversity problems and a fatigue with stories about and/or led by interchangeable White men has truly set in. His push comes at the expense of change, of bucking the status quo, of telling stories about different people and trying to curb the industry’s discriminatory casting practices. Or, in other words: Hollywood is Vince McMahon and Jai Courtney is Roman Reigns, only with far more charisma than Roman Reigns has and ever will have.
And the moment I fully realised this was when I followed up that Elijah Wood interview from earlier with a news story about prospective Young Han Solo casting. More specifically, it was when I saw Jack Reynor’s name in that list; an actor who left less-than-no impression in Transformers: Age of Extinction is legitimately in the running for the role of Young Han Solo. I looked at that and thought, “Oh, yay, Hollywood’s newest Ken doll model(!)” But then I thought some more and realised that even if they did cast either of the other two front-runners instead, Taron Egerton and Alden Ehrenreich who have already put in several great performances elsewhere and who I’d be somewhat fine with seeing become The Next Big Thing, I still wouldn’t care because… why do we need a Han Solo origin story? I’m not just asking this because the original Star Wars already was Han Solo’s origin story, good lord, but why do we need to have his story take precedence over other potential origin stories?
Why have I heard no talk of a Princess Leia origin story, for example? Cos I’m pretty sure the incorrect belief that movies about or fronted by women don’t sell has been furiously refuted in the past several years. Why, despite having won a BAFTA, having put in strong performances for years, and having successfully lead 12 Years a Slave, is Chiwetel Ejiofor having to slum it in terrible ensemble pieces like Triple 9 instead of getting a chance to lead a franchise? Why does Chris Rock have to fight tooth and nail to get a film like Top Five financed? Why does Colombiana bombing mean that Zoe Saldana’s leading woman career is struck down with no second chances, yet Kevin Costner gets to keep taking shot after shot? Why does Catwoman bombing kill off any future attempts at female-led comic-book movies, yet we’re on course for yet another goddamn Spider-Man reboot and one that has once again pushed back Captain Marvel? Why – for the love of God, why – did the live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon series almost entirely devoid of any White people, cast three talentless White moppets in the lead hero roles yet leave the villains ethnically diverse?!
The problem is the system. Hollywood continuing to stick its fingers in its ears and refuse to get with the times out of its own idiotic stubbornness. Constantly shifting the goalposts in an attempt to justify why talented non-White actors, and actresses of any ethnicity – like, and this is just off of the top of my head and not including a laundry list of talented White female actresses who deserve to be way bigger: Tessa Thompson, David Oyewolo, Naomi Harris, Zoë Kravitz, Rosario Dawson, Selma Hayek, Harry Shum, Jr. – aren’t heading up the big blockbuster films. Until they do finally wake up and discover that it is 2016, they will keep plucking out any random, traditional-looking White guy from the pack, sanding down any unique personality they may have, moulding them into an interchangeable smouldering symbol of peak masculinity, and throwing them into any big franchise to fend for themselves. Sometimes they’ll get lucky and find a genuine star – the rise of Chris Pratt, for example – but mostly they’ll strike out, so then it’s onto the next model. Non-White guys don’t get that chance, though: either they swim immediately and it’s classed as an anomaly, or they sink like a stone and the whole enterprise is immediately written off as a failure.
So it’s time for me to retire my hatred of Jai Courtney. It’s not his fault that he’s trapped in a stagnant, broken system, and I can’t begrudge him for wanting to have a career, keep working, and get paid. He doesn’t deserve any real vitriol and he doesn’t deserve to have the problems of the system he is forced to operate in placed solely on his shoulders. So, no more. I am done with hating Jai Courtney. Maybe the occasional light ribbing, but nothing more than that.
Callie Petch will pick some other topic.