At Café Gratitude, a vegan restaurant in the Larchmont neighborhood of Los Angeles, the menu items are named for spiritual affirmations. Jai Courtney orders both the “I Am Guapo” and the “I Am Cool.” But while Courtney laughs off his lunch choices, the 26-year-old Australian-born actor is proving very guapo and very cool as he appears in his first major film role this December as a coldly charismatic sharpshooter opposite Tom Cruise in the suspense thriller Jack Reacher. “I don’t know if I’m an action star or if that’s just how things are shaping up,” Courtney says. “I would hate to be boxed into that forever, but it’s probably just a strength as far as my type goes, and I’m fine with that.” Courtney kick-started his acting career in 2010 on the Starz network swords-and-sandals series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, in which he played the ringleted gladiator Varro. But Courtney says that facing off against Cruise was far more challenging than enduring the Spartacus sewage-pit scene in which his bare torso was slathered in vegetable matter and cockroaches (an experience he describes as “disgusting but fun”). “Working with someone like Tom boosts the stakes,” Courtney says. “He’s not someone you want to accidentally land a right hook on because you missed a beat.” It also prepared Courtney for the back-to-back features that followed: a big-screen adaptation of the action-fantasy graphic novel I, Frankenstein, in which he plays the gargoyle warrior Gideon; and the fifth Die Hard installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, in which he plays Bruce Willis’s estranged son. “It was totally wacky meeting Bruce for the first time in a room in Burbank,” he says, “but the crazy, intimidating, buckle-under-pressure factor was gone because I had just done three months with Tom.” While Courtney won’t say whether he got a chance to utter the lyrical Die Hard catchphrase “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” (“I can’t reveal whether or not I shot that line,” he says), his own life has taken a recent turn for the domestic: He just signed a lease on his first L.A. home with his girlfriend, actress Gemma Pranita, proving even an action star can play against type.
PHOTO: JAI COURTNEY IN LOS ANGELES, SEPTEMBER 2012. PANTS: DIOR HOMME. NECKLACE: COURTNEY'S OWN. BOOTS: WESTERN COSTUME COMPANY. STYLING: DAVID THOMAS/OPUS BEAUTY. GROOMING: FRANKIE PAYNE/OPUS BEAUTY. PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: MATT SERSION.