- Published: Tuesday, 12 November 2013 02:17
- Written by coolshades
There is something about Jeremy Renner that distinguishes him from Hollywood’s other leading men. And it’s not just the construction company he still runs on the side.
Despite his newfound stardom, there remains an everyman quality about him. He’s helped drive three of the biggest franchises in recent movie memory–The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol –but Renner admits that he stumbled upon fame too late for it to have affected him much. And it shows. In fact, Renner was almost 40 when he landed his breakout role as a bomb disposal expert in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker in 2009. The part earned him his first Oscar nod. It was followed in 2010 by Ben Affleck’s The Town, and a second Oscar nomination in as many years. After that came the three mega-franchises that have cemented his star to the firmament. It certainly didn’t look as though it was all going to end like this. Perhaps Renner’s biggest role to date has been starring in his own rags to riches story. He began in Hollywood as a starving actor, waiter and make-up artist who couldn’t afford to keep the electricity running on his $5 a week budget. It got so bad that Renner started a construction company with a friend in 2000, partially for the money and partially to keep a roof over his head.
Now he has his own Avengers action figure.
Little wonder the actor admits to living his live “ten minutes at a time.” With a trajectory like the one he’s already experienced, who knows what might come next. Then again, maybe short-term thinking has just become a necessary survival mechanism. Renner already has a slew of projects on his plate, including a Steve McQueen biopic, a creative re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel that sees him partnered with Gemma Arterton to play a vengeful witch hunter, and a historical drama opposite Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. Then there are all the speculated follow-ups to the aforementioned blockbusters.
A guy would have to be some kind of superhero to fit all that in.
Many of the characters that have made you so famous have been obviously flawed–from Jeffrey Dahmer to William James in The Hurt Locker. What is it about these people that attracts you?
Being human doesn’t mean being flawless. I’m very comfortable with that idea. I like the reluctant heroes. I love characters who have weaknesses. Those are the things that make us human.
Humanity is something we can all connect to. Especially in stories like The Bourne Legacy where the audience expects authenticity. It’s easy to connect to the humanity of a character like Aaron Cross. It’s more difficult with The Avengers because it’s fantasy. It’s difficult to connect to superheroes because you don’t have references.
It was also challenging to play Jeffrey Dahmer, a guy who killed 17 young boys. It’s challenging to find the humanity in killers.
What is your approach when it comes to taking on the roles of some of these ambiguous or complex characters?
You can’t really play ambiguity as an actor. You must just play a human being, with all our contradictions and surprises.
I think that every one of us has the potential to become a killer if he’s put against a wall and he has to protect the people he loves. It doesn’t matter if you are a wonderful person or not. In some circumstances you might be forced to change.
The ultimate good guy is flawed. No one wants to see a good guy who does good things. It’s boring. It’s not human. The same with the villain. Nobody goes around twisting their mustache, saying ‘Let’s hurt somebody today!’ There’s usually a reason, even if they are not right.
I like villains with empathy and good guys with flaws. Those are characters I would play everyday.
You’ve experienced huge success fairly late in your career. How has life changed now that you’ve become a lead?
I had success too late in my career for it to mess with my head. There was a stage in my life when I was forced to get by on just 20 dollars a month. Knowing I can do that gives me strength because I know I’ll never be forced to accept work just for money.
Obviously it was not easy early on, but I felt I had complete control over what was happening to me. Now that everything has changed, I still keep my feet on the ground.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 years, surrounded by people whom I respect and share a similar vision of life with. It’s a wonderful moment for me—and it is unusual that, at my age, something like this could happen.
In the end, it’s better to have all these things when you know how to enjoy them and not at 25 years old when there’s a bigger risk of burning through it all. I believe that everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for what I’m living today.
Where in LA is home?
In Hollywood: a house that was once owned by Preston Sturgess, a director whom I have always loved.
Looking back over your career, what do you think has been the most important and decisive step? What’s got you here?
There are many: Dahmer, and the film by Kathryn [Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker]. Roles like those don’t usually go to actors like me. They’re usually offered to famous and fantastic performers like Russell Crowe and others.
I was very lucky because Kathryn didn’t want familiar faces. If you’re famous in Hollywood, you rarely die in a film. Having three relatively unknown actors meant you could keep the audience on their toes and make them think that at any moment each of them might come to a bad end.
Personally, I like dying on the screen. The last time I died in a movie was a couple of years ago in The Town. I’m so far from being an immortal. I’m not Thor.
Speaking of whom… This year has been incredible for you, bringing with it both The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. What was it like taking over the Bourne franchise?
I was excited and honored to be part of it. I worked really hard on my stunts and I really enjoyed working with such great actors and director Tony Gilroy, who also did tremendous writing. It was very cool.
And you really had some great screen chemistry with Rachel Weisz.
We’ve tried to work together on many films but this is the first time it actually happened. She’s a great actress who’s perfect to play a strong female character in such a masculine series of movies. She made my work very easy. She has a very alluring vulnerability.
Our chemistry was easy because we’ve known each other for so long and we respect each other greatly. Working with her is a joy.
What was it like starring as a comic icon in The Avengers?
It was a crazy experience. When we were announced at Comic Con in San Diego it was incredible. For the first time in my life I think I understood how Bono must feel every time he is on stage.
Were you surprised by the phenomenal success of the movie?
I think we all were. It’s been incredible. I always figured that it would do very well, but I don’t think anybody imagined it could do so well across the world.
I think it was so successful because it had a crossover audience. My parents loved it. My niece loved it, too. Even if you weren’t a fan of the comic book you would have been struck by the attention to detail and the work on the characters. I think that’s the basis of moviemaking: You want to follow a character on his journey, even if they have a hammer and they fly. It doesn’t matter.
Think Hawkeye might ever get his own spin-off?
Is it possible? Sure. Is it going to happen? I don’t know. The audience probably has an appetite for the character, but I’m not aware of any talk about it right now.
With the cast and multi-picture lead-up, it was probably a given that The Avengers would do well. But why do you think it exploded like it did? Does it have anything to do with the times we’re in? Are we desperate for heroes?
Well, that’s been true of storytelling for thousands of years. Everyone wants to be inspired and look for something bigger than themselves. Life is hard, and it can be depressing, and cinema can be a form of fantasy and escapism. The beauty of going to the movies is that it’s a fun ride in the shoes of somebody who’s living something very different from what our daily experience is.
Which leads us nicely to your next project: Up next you’ve got Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, from director Tommy Wirkola and co-starring Gemma Arterton. How did you end up doing a modern adaptation of a fairy tale?
I was captured by the idea behind the film: Hansel and Gretel, 15 years or so after they lived with the witch. She was so evil that they decided to become witch hunters. It’s a great concept that immediately sold me on this role.
What’s your favorite fairy tale?
No doubt: Red Riding Hood.
Think with all your recent success you’ll have to stop starring in indie films?
I’m only interested in the content. That’s what matters. I’m interested in a movie regardless of its size or the role that is offered to me, if there’s enough for me to do. My personal challenge everyday is to grow as an actor.
Is that the reason you started your own production company–to make sure those roles were being created?
Studios bet on things that are obvious and movies that make money: superheroes, spies, aliens… From time to time, they end up producing a movie like The Town, but they don’t bank on those.
I want to produce independent movies that people see. We should take more risks in cinemas, like they did in the ’70s. As Greek mythology and William Shakespeare have already demonstrated, you can tell stories all over again. What you need is a point of view. So, with my company I want to produce movies I’d like to see—films that are interesting to people, thanks to talented directors and actors.
As an actor, what is it that you hope to achieve?
It’s a question I often ask myself. Do I really want to be known as a star of action movies? I’m more interested in being an actor who has starred in several action movies without precluding other possibilities.
I am a perfectionist. For me, acting is character study. It’s absorbing everything there is to know and eventually discovering the truth of the role and the story.
Are there any actors you consider role models?
Sean Penn, because he is a performer of immense talent who’s always been able to take on great roles in movies that today, unfortunately, are no longer made in Hollywood.
I like actors like him who are fearless because, as a performer, you must have no fear. I studied psychology in college in order to get rid of all my fears. I like people who can speak volumes without uttering a single word. If you can do that, you have reached the pinnacle of what an actor can become.
We’ve heard that you’re planning to actually take on the role of another iconic actor— Steve McQueen.
Eventually. It will take some time. The screenplay is being written by James Gray, the director of Two Lovers. It’s very beautiful, but he’s working on another set of revisions. A biopic is always difficult, but a film based on the life of an actor who is as universally known as Steve McQueen requires even more care because it forces you to reflect on what you really want to say about him.
I’m less interested in recreating the famous scenes from the films that we all love. I want to have a more intimate approach to his roles and his personal history, because it’s always the personality strengths and weaknesses that make things really attractive.
Were you a fan of McQueen?
I think he’s a compelling individual. I’d like to explore his life as human being, because nobody knew him as a person. We love him as an iconic character but we’d like to explore what life was like in his shoes. He was a walking paradox, a dichotomy: the most masculine and powerful man you could probably meet and, at the same time, very insecure. I want to dive into who he was.
In the meantime you’ve taken on another movie directed by James Gray, co-starring Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix? Still no name for that one.
The terribly short version of the plot is: ‘A magician, a pimp and a prostitute face terrible circumstances when they arrive on Ellis Island, and they change.’
But there’s more to it. It’s the story of people who change when their lives are shaken by events. James is very good in writing characters that you and the audience want to follow in their journeys.
Did you ever have second thoughts–think that maybe you would never get here, that this would never be your career?
I never had any doubts that this would be my life. Even in difficult times, renovating houses with my brother or waiting tables, I never had any doubt that this would be my fate.
In difficult times I discovered how much force just the idea of being an actor would give me. I had some hardships, but I was happy and conscious of the fact that I was never desperate. Today, now that going to work is like taking a vacation where you travel the world and you enjoy telling stories, I can say I was right to stick with it.
What’s the most important lesson you learned along the way?
Don’t sell out. And never give the impression that you might, because, if you do, you’re finished.