Jai Courtney on acting emotional scenes with real pelicans for his new movie, and the backstory of his cameo in 'Alita: Battle Angel'


Storm Boy 2 Good Deed Entertainment

  • In “Storm Boy,” Jai Courtney is given the chance to show off his dramatic acting chops.
  • In the movie, based on the beloved Australian children’s book, Courtney plays “Hideaway Tom,” who lives with his son Michael (Finn Little) in a deserted stretch of coast on the Southern Ocean.
  • Courtney talked to Business Insider about playing the role, in which he had to work across from real-life pelicans.
  • He also spoke about his cameo appearance in “Alita: Battle Angel,” and if he’ll return as Captain Boomerang in James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad.”


Jai Courtney is known best for action movies like the “Divergent” franchise, “Terminator Genisys,” and “Suicide Squad.” But the actor hopes that starring in the latest adaptation of a beloved Australian children’s book will prove he has the range to play more than tough-guy roles.

“Storm Boy” (in theaters Friday) is a classic in Courtney’s native Australia. Written by Colin Thiele in 1964, it’s required reading throughout the country in grade schools, and was adapted into a feature film in 1976. The story follows a young boy who lives on a remote coast off the Southern Ocean with his father, known by the name “Hideaway Tom.” In the latest adaptation, director Shawn Seet cast Courtney in the Hideaway Tom role, in which he plays the character with a powerful vulnerability he has never shown on screen before.

The movie’s core is the relationship that’s built between Tom and his son Michael (Finn Little) and the pelicans they raise after the pelicans’ mother is killed by a hunter (the pelicans in the movie were trained since birth to star in this movie). In fact, one of the most touching moments is when Hideaway Tom opens his soul about his relationship with his son to one of the pelicans.

Business Insider talked to Courtney about working across real-life pelicans, his journey to find more diverse roles to play, why he agreed to the very brief role of Jashugan in “Alita: Battle Angel,” and if he’ll return for the “Suicide Squad” sequel directed by James Gunn.

Jason Guerrasio: It sounds like having grown up in Australia you were familiar with the 1976 movie and the book as a kid.

Jai Courtney: A lot of my generation and even our parents were so familiar with this story. It’s such an iconic piece of Aussie literature. And it’s actually still on the syllabus at school. At least in New South Whales, which is where I’m from. And I’m sure a couple of other areas.

Guerrasio: It’s one of those books all kids in Australia grew up with?

Courtney: Exactly. Everyone’s got a relationship with it. And the original film, I remember it being that thing the teacher would put on at the end of term to kind of run the clock out.

Guerrasio: The thing you put on at the end of the day on a Friday.

Courtney: Yeah.


Guerrasio: So back as a kid, what did you think of the Hideaway Tom character?

Courtney: It’s interesting, seeing it through the lens of a child, Hideaway felt a little more grizzly — a little meaner. Different from how I approached the material now. I realized that back then I was much more in line with how young Michael saw his dad. We didn’t explore that much in this adaptation, but there’s definitely a tough love aspect. But I don’t think Hideaway is like that to a point where the relationship with Michael is broken. He’s not mean to his kid, but he’s in his own world and it’s a different kind of love. This is a father and son in the 1950s who have retreated into the fringes of society, running away from the injustices of the world, and I think that changes Hideaway’s emotions.

Guerrasio: Seeing you are known more for action movies, did you have to sell the director and producers that you could play a character like Hideaway?

Courtney: They actually came to me, so that was nice. I know I’ve done a lot of action stuff but I was actively pursuing material that can change that mold a little, and I think the producers recognized that and wanted to give me a shot. It was really interesting playing a father.

Guerrasio: Is it tough to find a dramatic role like this, that doesn’t involve a gun or a crime aspect to it?

Courtney: Yeah, you’re probably right. Convincing people that I’m the person for that job sometimes might be a little trickier, but it’s a balance. Sometimes you go out for that stuff and it doesn’t happen. And I love shoot ’em up s— as well. You kind of want to shift the landscape every now and then, and if I can continue to do that I’ll be happy. And I feel as my work matures I think people will be able to accept that more.

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Guerrasio: Finn Little is great, you have a really talented young actor across from you in this movie, but we have to talk about working with pelicans. How was that like?

Courtney: [Laughs.] It was interesting.

Guerrasio: And was Shawn straight with you when you got the job and told you this entails working with animals?

Courtney: I was stoked because I thought with something like this they are going to do it all CGI. You can creative such believable things these days. And when I spoke to Shawn he said, “No, we’re going live-action for 99% of it.” So I was psyched about it. I know what goes into that kind of work. I’ve worked with horses before on movies. I mean, these birds were reared as chicks for this film. The movie adopted them and they were raised to do this.

Guerrasio: So they bred them for this role?

Courtney: Yeah, they did.

Guerrasio: Wow. I mean, there is a touching scene in this movie where Hideaway Tom is sitting on a stoop having a heart to heart with a pelican.

Courtney: [Laughs.]

Storm Boy Good Deed EntertainmentGuerrasio: What was doing that scene like?

Courtney: It was crazy because they are just huge animals. And when they want a treat, a piece of fish, to perform on screen, they can get in your face. Those beaks got a snap on them. We all caught one from them every now and then.

Guerrasio: This is not the only time we’ve seen you in a movie this year. You were in “Alita: Battle Angel” playing Jashugan, who in the mangas is a motorball legend. But we only got a very brief glimpse of you playing him in the movie. What Robert Rodriguez has said is this was a tease to introduce your character, and then in a sequel there would be more focus put on Jashugan. Was that how it was pitched to you?

Courtney: It was interesting. I had gone in and read for another part. I actually think I read for a couple of parts. He and I got to know each other a little and we were trying to see if there was a way for me to fit into the movie. It didn’t quite work out, but then he called me up when they were in production and said, “There’s this role, it’s a little small on paper but if this thing blows up I’ll need someone who I can rely on when we revisit it.” And I was like, “F— man, of course!” For Robert Rodriguez, I’m going to go down there and do it. I’ve done some big things when it comes to green screen but seeing how James Cameron’s team works was mind boggling. I thought the scene I was in was a visual masterpiece. But I have no idea what the future holds with that. I just approached it totally with zero expectations. If I get the call again then fantastic.

Guerrasio: But right now nobody has reached out about anything happening.

Courtney: Yeah, I have no idea. I don’t know what their plans are. Honestly, it was a bit of fun for me. I didn’t invest in the idea too much. But it would be fun to do it again.

Suicide Squad Warner BrosGuerrasio: What’s going to be your involvement with James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad”? Will you be a part of it?

Courtney: I’ll be going down there. We’re getting ready to shoot in a few months’ time. There’s not much else I can reveal about it but yeah, you’ll be seeing Boomerang back for sure.

Guerrasio: That’s great. With these reports of people leaving and James thinking of different characters to bring on, this is a good thing. This makes me happy.

Courtney: So am I man, I’m happy. It’s going to be fun. It will be different, for sure, but it’s going to be great. 

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