'Die Hard' Casting Drama: Five-Month Search to Find Bruce Willis' Son

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Casey Rogers/AP Images for AMC Theatres

'Spartacus: Vengeance' star Jai Courtney beat out Liam Hemsworth and Aaron Paul for the meaty role, as 20th Century Fox scrambled to agree on a suitable (and available) candidate.

This story originally appeared in the March 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

On Feb. 22, when Jai Courtney landed the role of John McClane’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard, it marked the end of an unusual five-month search that illustrates the challenge of casting major franchise movies.

In November, 20th Century Fox, director John Moore (Max Payne) and star Bruce Willis thought they had their finalists in Liam Hemsworth (Hunger Games), Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Contraband) and James Badge Dale (Shame, The Pacific). But chemistry reads with Willis left the filmmakers unable to settle on a choice for the meaty role in the Moscow-set actioner, so additional actors were tested in December.

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Part of the problem, according to sources close to the project, was that Fox, Moore and Willis each had their own idea about who should play the part. Willis pushed for D.J. Cotrona, with whom he stars in this summer’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation and who screen-tested at least twice. Hemsworth, who co-stars in this summer’s Expendables 2 with Willis and is about to become a big star in The Hunger Games, was a favorite throughout the process, but the studio was concerned about pairing him or Cotrona in a second action movie with Willis.

Courtney, a star of Starz’s Spartacus: Vengeance with little film experience, came to the fore in late January when buzz began to build about his work as the villain in next winter’s Tom Cruise thriller One Shot. Soon it was down to Courtney and fellow Aussie Hemsworth — but even then, the studio put the duo on a 10-day hold to conduct a last-ditch search in Australia. (Fox didn’t like that One Shot is due to open a week before the Die Hard film next February, worrying there might be confusion in the marketplace.)

When Fox finally got over that fear, Courtney received an official offer. But by then, the studio’s option had lapsed and Courtney had moved on, taking a supporting role in the monster movie I, Frankenstein.

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Producer Lakeshore Entertainment wasn’t about to let him go, so Fox — facing the prospect of starting the process over — booked a new round of tests, only to scrap them and quietly negotiate with Lakeshore. Once the schedule issue was resolved, Courtney was again offered the part, catching even the actor’s reps at UTA and the Collective by surprise.