Fast-forward 24 years, however, and here's the Australian actor playing McClane's son in A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth film in the lucrative series. "I think Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) was the first one I remember seeing," Courtney says, "and I don't remember having any particular reaction to it, other than that it was a fun action film. Obviously you have no foresight that you're coming to this point here. It was just entertainment for me back then.
"It was obviously a highly recognisable franchise," he continues. "It's Die Hard, man. People grow up watching these things. I wasn't ever a particularly devout fan, but I certainly enjoyed seeing them. Once I became involved with possibly doing A Good Day to Die Hard, that's when I had to familiarise myself with them a lot." Courtney may be recognisable to American audiences for two previous projects. He played Varro on the cable series Spartacus (2010) and, more recently, portrays Charlie, who goes toe to toe with Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), in the current film of the same name.
Speaking by telephone from Los Angeles, Courtney explains that he had wrapped Jack Reacher when his agent called. Courtney had only one day in Los Angeles before he was to fly home to Australia, but his agent suggested that he spend that day auditioning for the role of Jack McClane, estranged son of Willis' series hero.
"My agent said, 'They haven't found the right guy yet. You're in town, and they'd be happy to see you," Courtney recalls. "I said, 'Yeah, of course,' and I went on in. I'd actually read for it months earlier and, just like any other audition, nothing happened. I tore up the scenes, forgot about it and got on with my day. So it was kind of funny to see this one come back around again. "I went in, the audition went well and I went to the airport," he continues. "I was almost on the plane, to go home to Australia, and my manager called and said, 'You've got to get off the plane. They want to test you with Bruce.' "I was a little deflated, to be honest," Courtney admits, "because I was just itching to get home and see my family and my friends and my girlfriend. That subsided fairly quickly when I realised what I was in for and how exciting this opportunity could be. So I got them to drag my bag off the plane, which probably held up the flight."
A couple of days later Courtney found himself in a studio with Willis and director John Moore. The three spent about 90 minutes getting to know one another, he recalls, chatting and taking a few passes at the script's father-and-son patter. It was surprisingly low-key, the younger actor says. "I just remember that session being really fun," Courtney says. "We mucked around with the scenes and played with them, kind of like you would on a set.
John would direct, and Bruce and I toyed with scenes and improvised a little too. I remember walking away from that session thinking that, no matter what happened, it was a really cool experience, a real positive to work on that stuff with Bruce. "It was even more fortunate that it worked out in the end!"
The new film sends McClane to Moscow to bring back his estranged son, Jack, who has been arrested. He quickly learns that Jack has been working undercover to protect a whistleblower. Naturally, given that it's a Die Hard movie, it isn't long before both McClanes have to put aside their differences and attend to some serious running, jumping, shooting at bad guys and blowing stuff up. Cast and crew spent five months shooting in Hungary, with Budapest doubling for Moscow. It was Courtney's first experience with a Hollywood blockbuster, and he revelled in the excitement, the novelty and, yes, "the chaos of shooting a production of this scale, with military helicopters, epic car chases and blowing up buildings.
"We just had a ball, man," he says. "It was a lot of hard work, too, but I was there, I was up for the challenge and was working with some really cool people. So I just embraced that wholeheartedly and tried to have as much fun as possible and work as hard as I could the whole time, and I hoped it would pay off.
"I think it did," Courtney adds. "I saw the film the other day. I'm really happy with it. It totally fits into the world that is Die Hard. It's fun, it's witty, it's jammed with action and it's got a sentimental side as well, this one, certainly in the exploration of the relationship between Jack and John." Willis will turn 58 in March, though he looks great, he can't go on forever as McClane. Is Courtney being groomed to carry the Die Hard torch? It's a frequent question, asked. (Ian Spelling/The New York Times News Service)