Hitting theatres today is the tense drama Man Down, which deals with how the horror of war affects those fighting it. Jumping back and forth in time – and packing an intriguing twist – the story focuses on Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf), who joins the U.S. Marines with his best friend Devin (Jai Courtney) and ends up being sent to Afghanistan for a tour.
Gabriel leaves behind his wife, Natalie (Kate Mara) and young son, but promises them he’ll return. While in Afghanistan though, a tragic incident occurs that badly scars Gabriel. He returns home, but finds that things have drastically changed and becomes desperate to reunite with his wife and son.
Earlier this week, we sat down for an exclusive chat with Jai Courtney to talk about the relevancy of the story, what he learned from playing his role and what is was like working with Shia LaBeouf.
Hear what he had to say about Man Down below and be sure to check out the film as it’s now in theatres!
How was it tapping into a reality military veterans face today?
Jai Courtney: In preparation for the film, it really became apparent to me how relevant it was, the discussion about the ongoing battle men and women face when they do return home. And how many families it affects, not just the individuals themselves. The ripples out from that, children, husbands, wives, parents, they also suffer because of this stuff. I’ve had a few friends who have remarkably been in really similar situations to Shia’s character, Gabriel, where horrific things have happened to them while serving. And then they had to pick up the pieces of what their absence has done to their home life. [The film] is pretty close to home in that sense.
Men coming home from war damaged has been happening forever, but do you feel these days it’s worse?
Courtney: You’re right, it is a historic thing that goes back through the ages, but our understanding in society of any scars that people carry has grown and evolved. I still don’t think it’s up to date with where the reality of the situation lies, though. I don’t think people really understand what an illness post-traumatic stress disorder can be and how crippling it can be. I think it’s important to see more topics like this covered in mainstream cinema, and [director] Dito [Montiel] handled this discussion really well.
You’ve played a few military types in your career. Is there a trick to it?
Courtney: No real trick. For me, it’s just about engaging with individuals who that’s a reality for. That’s always something I’ve sought for preparation. Whether it’s just through training and getting to know guys, having an understanding of their experiences or really going out an meeting individuals who live that day to day. It’s one of those things, you really get into an understanding of how you’d fit into a lifestyle that demanded that of a certain person, but I’m much happier being an actor playing a Marine.
Those guys are the real heroes and seriously hardcore individuals. Even just through some of the takes we do, training for these roles, you really get an understanding of what people have gone through, and what they put their bodies through in order to do something that is incredibly important to them. And to the rest of us. I’m in awe of that. It’s always an eye-opening and humbling experience.
Was there a particular story from someone you talked to that struck you in preparing for Man Down?
Courtney: What I learned this time was how tough it could be for individuals to go through stuff in war and come back. They know what they put on the line and what they’ve been through and how it affected them. Whether it’s seeing death up close or at their own hands, it’s obviously a traumatizing experience, for everybody.
But then there’s that total insignificance when they come home and try to acclimatize to something we take for granted. It’s interesting because they are conditioned to set themselves up – their minds, their bodies – for a really specific set of skills and environment. I think a lot of them feel when that’s taken away, they’re expected to just pick up where they left off in the real world. And that’s a lot harder to do.
I know people who they may have been decorated or seen people killed, and they really struggled to come back to the real world. To become just some guy in a grocery store, who’s in someone’s way. And this person whose country they fought for is like, “fucking hurry up, I’ve got some place else to be!” There’s just no understanding. They’re anonymous. Dealing with that rearrangement of the respect, of who you are and how you fit in, can really take its toll and plays on people. It’s hard to deal with and I get that. It was pretty amazing insight into something that is generally overlooked.
How was it working with Shia LaBeouf?
Courtney: Shia and I met on a gun range, doing some training with a couple of Marines. We didn’t know each other at all, but he says, “we’ve got to play best friends in this thing, huh?” And I’m like, “yeah.” He says, “okay, well, we better get to know each other, so I’ll pick you up on Monday and let’s drive to New Orleans.” I said, “alright, man, let’s do it.” So we got into a car together and off we went.
That was as much about preparing ourselves and our relationship to work with each other as it was about doing a bit of homework for these characters as well. I think what’s amazing about Shia and his approach in being so immersive is there’s a great amount of generosity and curiosity that comes with that. When you get a chance to work with an actor like that, it’s impossible not to take on the effect as well. It was just a great atmosphere, and obviously he was going to work harder than anyone else on this thing and give so much of himself over to it. I have a lot admiration for him and had a lot of fun working with him.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Jai Courtney very much for his time. Be sure to stay tuned for our review of Man Down, as it’ll be published later today.