According to Ike Barinholtz, his first encounter with Jai Courtney went something like this: During pre-production on Suicide Squad, the comic book movie where they met and became friends, Barinholtz and Courtney were selected by their fight sensei to spar with one another as part of a training session. We’ll let Barinholtz take it from here. “I remember being like, ‘Okay, this guy’s an actor. He’s not an MMA fighter. I saw him in Die Hard, so I know he’s not going to really hit me.’ And he gave me a punch to my sternum that, for a brief second, my balls and dick went backwards and shot out through my asshole like a tail. For, like, one second. If you could see me naked when it happened in slo-mo, you’d see my penis head pop out of my butt. And I remember trying to play it off, like, ‘Good hit, bro,’ as I’m coughing up blood and a bit of lung.” In other words, Jai Courtney is a bit of a bruiser, at least on screen.
Since his breakout role as John McClane’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard, the 34-year-old Australian actor has been a consistent presence in some of the biggest action movies around, from the aforementioned Suicide Squad (and its upcoming sequel), to the sci-fi reboot Terminator: Genisys. But Courtney’s latest project sees the actor taking on a different kind of fight. The Cate Blanchett–produced Netflix drama Stateless tells four interlocking stories set in an offshore Australian detention center, where refugees and asylum seekers are held with little regard for their rights. Courtney plays a guard at the center, who, across the six episodes, gets a firsthand glimpse at the injustices being carried out there. Last month, he and Barinholtz reconnected for another sparring session, and this time, neither of them held back.—BEN BARNA
IKE BARINHOLTZ: How are you, man?
JAI COURTNEY: I’m good. Thanks so much for doing this. dude.
BARINHOLTZ: My pleasure. It’s a nice way to spend my lunch break. I wish it was in person, but it’s definitely better for my health that it’s over the phone. And I don’t mean COVID, I just mean for my liver.
COURTNEY: I realize I have a negative impact.
BARINHOLTZ: You have a very positive impact on the world, and a negative impact upon your friends’ bodies.
COURTNEY: It’s the price you pay. Look at the damage I’m doing myself.
BARINHOLTZ: You’re very different. You’re part horse, and I just have some of that Eastern European Judaism in me that makes it hard for me to do some of the things you do. Are you in L.A. or Australia?
COURTNEY: I’m in L.A. We thought about going home at one point, and then we got a puppy, so now we’re fucked forever. Australia has this mandatory quarantine when you get down there. They throw you in a hotel and it was all paid, but now the government got sick of the fact that they were paying for everyone to do it, and they’re like, “Fuck it, you have to pay for it yourselves.”
BARINHOLTZ: They’ve been handling it pretty well over there, haven’t they?
COURTNEY: Compared to the United States, everyone has.
BARINHOLTZ: What are you talking about? President Trump is killing it! He’s been on top of this since day one.
COURTNEY: Ike, you know that sarcasm doesn’t translate in print very well.
BARINHOLTZ: I was thinking about this the other day. I can’t remember exactly what day it was, but it will end up being one of the most consequential dates in history, where on the same day Trump was briefed that COVID is now in the United States and that the Russians were putting up bounties to U.S. soldiers for the Taliban, he spent the day in the Oval Office with Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson, and they performed scenes from their low-budget conservative play. Basically, while all this shit’s going on, he watched a bunch of shitty actors do a terrible play.
COURTNEY: Is this true?
BARINHOLTZ: One-hundred percent true. It’s the modern-day equivalent of Nero fiddling as Rome burns. But I would rather fiddle than watch a play with Dean Cain. What’s the puppy’s name?
COURTNEY: The puppy’s name is Velvet. She’s a pit bull. It was my girlfriend’s birthday and we were drinking Aperol Spritzes all day, and at some point we were like, “Let’s just go and acquire an animal.” So we did. How are the kids?
BARINHOLTZ: The kids are good. I can’t tell what’s the best age to have kids during all this shit. I’ve got a little girl in first grade, and that’s kind of tough, because that’s when they start learning things that they need to know. My wife and I were doing the virtual homeschooling thing. First of all, teachers are the greatest human beings in the world. They are the fucking heroes of the universe. To watch her sweet 68-year-old teacher have to learn how to work the mute button on a fucking Zoom call is heartbreaking. I would have Foster literally four feet from me, and, I’d be writing comedy in a Zoom room with a bunch of people, and I’d be pitching these horrible jokes like, “What if she queefs and then she ends up shitting in her thong?” And I’d hear my kid’s teacher be like, “Foster, you need to tell your dad to hit mute.”
COURTNEY: [Laughs] That’s amazing.
BARINHOLTZ: I’m just hoping that they’re young enough that they won’t remember this specific time. But it’ll be a long time before things start to feel normal again. Even with a vaccine, the world as it was is just done, so I’m glad that they’ll be able to be a part of the generation that ends up fixing it.
COURTNEY: It’s pretty fucking bleak. It’s been hard to maintain a steady sense of how we think it’ll end up being, whatever the fuck that means. Because, really, we’ll just be waiting until the next disaster.
BARINHOLTZ: Exactly. It’s like we’re watching capitalism fail in real time. And some countries are going to be able to look at all these broken pieces and be like, “Here’s a way we can adapt and change and come back stronger.” The real question is going to be: “Is the U.S. going to be able to even do that?” A third of our country won’t even wear a fucking mask. We’re just too big and too fucking free. We need someone to come in here and kick our asses a bit.
COURTNEY: There’s such a divide. What one person thinks we need, the other person is terrified of. How the fuck is there no central sense of what’s healthy for society right now? If someone wants to shut everything down, we’re criticizing them for how shortsighted that is and how damaging it is to small businesses. And then we’ve got a president who’s saying we’ve got one of the best mortality rates in the world.
BARINHOLTZ: What a cool thing to brag about!
COURTNEY: We’re doing the best with the mortality!
BARINHOLTZ: It all comes down to the internet. If you had some crazy fucking belief where you were like, “5G networks are going to tap into your brain frequency and make you into a government-controlled robot,” someone in the real world would tell you that you’re fucking nuts. But once you’re online and you’re protected by distance and anonymity, you can find people who are like, “I heard that! I also heard about this other crazy fucking conspiracy.” Once you get to a point where you can’t agree on facts, then it’s time to just pack it up and start a kibbutz in Norway.
COURTNEY: That’s not such a bad idea. You can get a place on some fjords out in the remote parts of Scandinavia for, like, 65 grand. That’s what I’m striving for. I used to think, “Why would people want to retire early? I want to do this shit forever.”
BARINHOLTZ: I’ve had these moments of existential crisis over the last few months where I’m like, “Who fucking cares about movies and TV? I just have to make sure I do everything I can over the next four months to make sure Donald Trump’s not re-elected.” But then I’ll get a call from my agent, and I’m like, “Oh, they’re shooting? I’ll put myself on tape.”What have you been watching that’s making you feel good during this?
COURTNEY: Normal People. That was a killer.
BARINHOLTZ: I heard it’s amazing. We’ve been watching a really funny show called Search Party.
COURTNEY: What’s that?
BARINHOLTZ: Dude, it’s on HBO Max. They’ve done three seasons of it. It’s four best friends in Brooklyn and they commit a murder in season one, but it’s a comedy. I think it’s one of the funniest shows on TV. I’ve also been having a little cocktail a few nights a week.
COURTNEY: What are you kicking back with? Are you actually shaking a drink, or are you just cracking a Bud Light?
BARINHOLTZ: I’m shaking drinks on the weekends. We have really nice neighbors and they’ll come over and sit 10 feet away, and when that happens I like to show off with a whiskey sour. I’ve also been drinking a White Leprechaun. That’s my go-to at the end of the night. It’s a White Russian—just sub the vodka with some bourbon.
COURTNEY: I’ve been on the Negronis a bit, which has been refreshing. I fucking love a Negroni.
BARINHOLTZ: Did you see the video of Stanley Tucci making a Negroni for his girlfriend?
COURTNEY: I haven’t seen it.
BARINHOLTZ: It’s a video she took in their fancy kitchen in New York, and he’s just sitting there, so casually, showing her how he makes the perfect Negroni. And I’m like, “Oh, man, I want to fuck Stanley Tucci.” He’s so adorable and sweet.
COURTNEY: We just did a movie together!
COURTNEY: It’s called Jolt, with Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, and Laverne Cox. I don’t know when in the hell it’s coming out.
BARINHOLTZ: I’m so grateful for those movies that got finished before all this. Friday night I’m going to watch The Old Guard, and honestly, I feel like I’m going to go see Star Wars in a theater.
COURTNEY: We’re going to run out soon.
BARINHOLTZ: You’re going to see a lot of shitty low-budget movies, shot in one house.
COURTNEY: All the ones that never got distribution deals all of a sudden are getting picked up.
BARINHOLTZ: Let’s say two months from now, you get a call to go back to set. What are you thinking on the first day back?
COURTNEY: It’s really hard to imagine that happening in this country, which is just such a shame. I can see a world where I’m quarantined for two weeks, and then get started. But you have to be somewhere where they’re not recording any new cases of COVID-19. I don’t want to be imprisoned somewhere while we’re doing a movie, but if that’s what it’s going to take in order to get the thing done, then absolutely. I want to get back to my art.
BARINHOLTZ: Me too, man.
COURTNEY: I say this with the full observance that I’m in a privileged position of being able to have a roof over my head and food in the fridge, but mentally, I’m still going through those periods of, “What the fuck is my purpose in this place, if I don’t have that?”
COURTNEY: But if we jump the gun, we’re just going to wind the clock back further. A few months ago, we accepted the fact that shit was shut down and it sucked. But then they do these soft openings and you wind up with states that are completely fucked again.
BARINHOLTZ: I was talking to someone and they were like, “Well, the George Floyd protests, that’s the reason you’re seeing a spike.” And I was like, “Is it the fact that people were walking around outside with masks on, or the fact that all these fucking states were like, ‘Here’s the deal, bars are reopened, but you should have a mask in your pocket’?” I wonder which is more irresponsible for the threat. Let me take a wild guess. Every studio right now could be like, “We’re starting up next Monday.” But the minute one fucking key grip gets it on one set, I just don’t see how they don’t close down right away.
COURTNEY: And how do you insure against that sort of thing? You can’t.
BARINHOLTZ: RIP to Craft Service. Just fucking done. If you’re hungry on a movie set now, they’re going to throw a PB and J sandwich in a plastic bag at your head.
COURTNEY: That wouldn’t be so bad. That might save a few of us gluttons from putting on the obligatory 20 pounds over the course of a big shoot.
BARINHOLTZ: I’m always like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll do two breakfast burritos for breakfast.” I’m going to be acting all day, so I’m going to be burning off the calories.
COURTNEY: It’s the best thing about going to independent films after working on some huge budget studio thing, because all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, there’s only one thing for breakfast.” You can’t sit there and fucking graze all day.
BARINHOLTZ: I want to ask you about your show, Stateless. I haven’t seen it yet, because it’s not available. In my relationship, my wife is in charge of everything, except for two things: food and entertainment. Those are the two areas where I present things to her. Now, with entertainment, I have to pitch things to her. Stateless might be the easiest pitch in the world. I’m going to tell you why. Three things: A, she knows you and loves you, B, she loves foreign dramas, and C, we’re a very big Cate Blanchett house. Tell me about the show.
COURTNEY: It exists at a time when the onshore detention facilities in Australia for people seeking asylum and refugees were coming to an end. They’ve since moved all those facilities offshore, which raises all sorts of questions about the accessibility of the media and public advocates.
COURTNEY: It doesn’t tell the audience how to feel about this fucked-up situation that wasn’t working for anybody. It offers a unique perspective from these four different angles. What we come to understand is that it’s a system that’s failing everybody. It’s an Aussie story, but it’s a universal problem.
BARINHOLTZ: I was going to say, it totally intersects two huge things that are happening in America right now. You’re watching people really become in tune with how intrinsically fucked our criminal justice system is, but now the criminal justice system is enmeshed with the immigration system and the way people in our country have treated people seeking asylum, especially in the last three years.
COURTNEY: It couldn’t be any worse.
BARINHOLTZ: It’s the perfect fucking storm, where you have a somewhat new wing of law enforcement, whether it’s ICE or Border Patrol, and taking people who are the most vulnerable people in the region—they literally had to leave their home to come here—and putting them in prisons run by rejects from the federal prison system. It’s so fucking depressing.
COURTNEY: You’re absolutely right.
BARINHOLTZ: It’s so frustrating that we are now living in this show that you are doing that was based off this time that has already passed in Australia.
COURTNEY: Well, here’s the thing, though. We did something thatthe States are guilty of, too, but in moving our facilities offshore, it created room for less oversight, because now it’s being swept even further under the rug. And it’s easy to not fucking know what’s going on, or to understand who’s in there or how they are. The show kind of centers on a delicate time for us, but I would argue that things are probably even worse now than they were then.
COURTNEY: The most desperate people in the world are those fleeing trauma, fleeing life-or-death situations, religious and racial persecution. We sweep them into the bowels of our society, and we imprison them and turn them into criminals for something that isn’t even a crime. It’s not a crime to seek asylum.
BARINHOLTZ: It’s also the irony of men like Scott Morrison and Donald Trump to say to people trying to come to the country they live in, “No, we can’t have you.” I’m like, “When did the Trumps move here? 1412? No, you all came here from somewhere.” Jesus Christ. In Trump’s case he came from Satan’s asshole.
BARINHOLTZ: I want to ask you one more question, because on the show, you do something that I find spectacular and worthy of discussion. On Stateless, you play an Australian. I think it’s very brave of you to do that. What research did you do, because you’ve been playing Americans for a long time?
COURTNEY: I had to take on some rigorous dialect coaching. There was a lot of drinking in pubs. Taking the piss out of myself a lot more. These are all important parts of engaging with your culture.
BARINHOLTZ: A lot of American actors I know are very hurt that they don’t get the roles that a lot of Australians get. I guess what I’m asking you is, do you feel bad taking work away from hardworking American actors?
BARINHOLTZ: Okay. Follow up question: Will you pledge right here and right now to never again play an American, and leave those parts for those of us who will do them not as well?
COURTNEY: But I do invite any American to come down and join us on Aussie shores and take on some of these stories, too. If you guys can get the accent down.