- Published: Tuesday, 31 March 2015 01:28
- Written by coolshades
Becoming an actor was something Jeremy Renner never thought of pursuing until a whimsical choice to take an elective drama class in college changed the trajectory of his life forever. After that fortuitous bite from the acting bug, Renner enrolled at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre and in 1992, moved to Los Angeles with one goal in mind: to be on film and TV.
Renner comes across as no-nonsense, yet easy-going, amiable but somewhat restrained: traits that have served him well, as he has managed to keep his off screen life, well under wraps. But if anything, it is Renner's face that pulls audiences in. It speaks volumes, reflecting intensity, passion, depth, life, confidence, humility . . . all packed into live-wire eyes as a million life experiences line the creases on his brow. Renner's is a face that communicates an appreciation for life that he has worked hard to attain for himself and his 2-year-old daughter, Ava. And for Renner, he has definitely paid his dues.
Success did not come quickly for 44-year-old Renner, who is considered a late Hollywood bloomer. After years of just scraping by -- he once had a odd job as a Lancôme counter makeup artist and lived with no electricity half the time -- with small roles on indie projects and TV guest appearances, the stars finally lined up. Renner's career took a surprising turn at the age of 31, with a breakthrough performance in what was perhaps an unlikely project, the 2002 biopic Dahmer. Portraying the real-life, tremendously infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Renner embraced the role of this heinous man -- Dahmer killed 17 boys and men, raping many of them and engaging in unspeakable acts of cannibalism -- lending unexpected vulnerability and some semblance of humanity to the ominous murderer. The role was so dark, that Renner admits he has never watched the entire movie.
The risky role paid off and Hollywood took notice. But Renner was just getting started.
In 2003, he appeared in S.W.A.T. alongside close friend Colin Farrell, and in 2007 he starred in 28 Weeks Later, the zombie-fuelled hit that kept audiences glued to their seats. But it was his Oscar-nominated turn as Sergeant William James, a single-minded bomb expert in the 2009 Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker, that catapulted Renner into the industry's spotlight. Kathryn Bigelow, the director of the film, admitted that it was Renner's character portrayal in Dahmer that got her so intrigued. Renner received a second Oscar nod for The Town, the 2010 Boston crime thriller directed by Ben Affleck, where he portrayed a dangerous, yet likeable criminal, which cemented his A-list status.
The previously underappreciated actor continued to carve out an enviable acting career with his roles as Brandt in Mission: Impossible, Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy, Hawkeye in The Avengers, Mayor Carmine Polito in American Hustle and as Gary Webb in the electrifying political biopic Kill the Messenger, a film he produced via his company The Combine. Renner proves that he is one of those rare actors that can straddle the best of both worlds: commercial blockbuster franchises and the artistic side of film making.
For someone who never thought of becoming an actor, Renner's ability to transform completely into his characters is an undeniable testament to the prowess and malleability of his talent.
Growing up in California, was there much of a pull towards Hollywood and the entertainment industry?
No, not at all. I was so focused on school and [just] wanted to get done and figure out what the heck I wanted to do, [so] no, that was really not even on my radar.
You studied computer science and criminology in college. How did you end up pursuing acting as a career?
You know, I picked a random, elective class to kind of fill my schedule. My dad sort of encouraged me to reach out. [He] gave me permission to kind of just . . . stretch out. I just tried stuff and one was a drama class and I ended up [really liking it]. The stage is a great place to play and it's really, really quite fun and then it's really kind of therapeutic. I started studying psychology, sociology, human behaviour and started really digging it and [I] didn't look back.
A lot of people move out to L.A. in January just for pilot season. They dip their toes in first, but you picked up your life and moved, permanently. [Laughs]
I was ready [Laughs], I was just ready. I didn't really know much about the business, but I knew I kind of had to be there if I wanted to do film or television. I had done a lot of stage prior, so going to New York [to be] on the stage was an option; but for me, I figured I [had done] enough stage to where I [had] honed my craft. I figured maybe I could make a career out of it and moved to L.A.
Was it difficult to initially get a good agent or manager?
The manager was more down the road but an agent came early on. It happened in the first couple of weeks or the first couple of months. Then [I began to learn how to go out and audition], which is a whole other process to acting and human behavior: quite terrible really, but it is the greatest way to see if somebody had skills or not.
One of your first big breaks was Dahmer. Is it true that you were not very aware of Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer?
I was aware of [him], but I didn't really know [about him]. I mean, you hear a name like Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy and you know, that's a bad guy or a serial killer, but I wasn't really following his situation. He was relatively unknown to me outside of [knowing] who he was and what he did.
You received great acclaim for your work on Dahmer. Were you concerned at all that the role could have stigmatised you?
No, never, never, never. I'm always willing to take a risk and to . . . I don't know . . . be willing to fail, I suppose. I have to at least stretch out and that was a way to . . . what was very challenging: [I] found a way into understanding a human I have no connection to whatsoever, but I had to find a way in. I saw it as a challenge, as a great opportunity for me to actually be challenged. I look for that every day.
Did you find it difficult after you were done shooting to wash yourself of the character?
Yeah, I never really [watched] the whole film all the way through. It's a bit hard for me to watch, but I am very happy about how it turned out. I mean, it just went so quick . . . to shoot in two weeks and it being a wonderful calling card for me as an actor: that's how I ended up getting the agent that I have now and so I was very blessed by that opportunity.
You recently started in the Gary Webb story, Kill the Messenger. Great film! You have a good eye for scripts. What most people will be shocked to learn is that after his ordeal, Webb committed suicide by [supposedly] shooting himself twice in the head. TWICE!
Yeah, I know. We didn't want to lean on that too much as filmmakers because it would really show our hand at what we were really trying to say. It would take away from what he really did, if it had become a kind of conspiracy because how does that really happen, you know? Privately, we all have our feelings about it and the family has their feelings about it. But we wanted the film to be more about Gary's story and what happened to him versus ultimately what happened to him. It's more important to me to hold in regard what he did and the courageousness [that was] behind a man who fought a system that fought him; that's the ultimate tragedy and in the end having to take his life. It's terrible.
Did you meet his family? Were they happy with the film?
It's a lovely, lovely family. It reminds me very much of my own actually . . . really lovely group of people. I didn't want to meet them in person until towards the end of it all. I didn't want to be swayed by any reserved thoughts or feelings. I didn't want to be uncomfortable. So, I only started hanging out with them during that last week of shooting and then onwards from there. They were very involved in the process, from the book to the script and that sort of thing. But I didn't actually want to get too involved with them until I could process it myself and not be swayed by anybody's thoughts or feelings or opinions.
That makes sense.
The Bourne Legacy has such an amazing opening scene: the cinematography, the real shots of the mountain and you diving into the freezing cold water. Amazing.
Yeah, yeah. That was fun.
Was the water as cold in real life as it looked on-screen?
It was freezing. I did all of my own stunts and the energy . . . that one was the one that most people were really concerned about because it was a very real thing. There was moving water and a waterfall: [it was] actually below freezing -- it just wasn't freezing because there was movement in the water at such a pace. But yeah man, I [would] come out of that water and the water on my beard would freeze by the time I got to the fire. It was pretty intense, but once I did it I was like, "It's not so bad" and because I was worrying about it for like months on end, once we did it I was like . . . it was totally fine. Don't get me wrong, I am not one to go jump in that kind of water -- at least I haven't since -- but it was certainly a great life experience.
Had you seen the Bourne trilogy before you did the film?
Oh yeah. I'm a big fan of it.
For The Bourne Legacy did you audition for the part or were you hand picked?
No, no. That happened in the middle of the whirlwind: I was doing Mission: Impossible and then signed on to Hansel & Gretel and I was in the middle of doing that, then I was about to go do Avengers after that. Then Tony Gilroy and the whole gang kind of came out to Berlin and we started talking about it. I read it and I was like, "Wow." There were a lot of new things happening to me in life at that moment [when it came] along. The tail end of having to shoot [the film] after the Avengers, I really had to consider what my life was going to be like in the next decade: was it the kind of road I [wanted to] go down? And it wasn't just one movie. I was like, "Of course, of course I should do this movie." However, I had to pause for a minute and call my family to bend their ear, my agent and some few friends: express my concerns for what that [would mean] for my life and that sort of thing because you become the face of another potential franchise and blah, blah, blah. So yeah, I paused for 24 hours, slept on it and woke up feeling like, "Okay, of course. I'm doing this." [Laughs]
Were you buddies with Matt Damon prior to taking on the role?
I was at the Oscars and he showed up in front of my when I was there for The Hurt Locker. He'd just seen The Town [directed by pal Ben Affleck], he turns around and he's like "Dude, dude, I just saw The Town! It's so great, it's so great. So excited for you," and I'm like, "Thanks man, really appreciate it." [Laughs] We had some mutual friends and we'd run into each other here and there. Matt's a really, really great guy.
Is it a sure thing that you and Matt have both signed on for the next Bourne film?
He is doing the next one with [Paul] Greengrass. I believe they are in London this year and then as far as the character Aaron Cross, I mean, he is a coexisting character in that Bourne world so I think there is a lot of hope that somehow, some way, they can get us both together. Man, I would love to work with him. I don't know, I don't have the answers to that, but I think it would be exciting if it did -- to get our paths crossed doing it. It is a really great world.
That would be brilliant. What an interesting script that would be for the fans.
Yes and for us as well. I mean, we love that idea. Ultimately, it would have to make sense. It would have to make sense truthfully to the characters, to the story and the everything else. If anything like that happened to work out, you know, I'm always game.
What was it like being at the Oscars for the first time [for The Hurt Locker]?
Wow, I mean . . . I had my mum as my date. We had a small crew. We had Kathryn [Bigelow] and the whole thing. The movie just did so well and it did so well at the Oscars. It was pretty glorious. We had such a small movie that ended up doing so well. I mean, it doesn't really get any better than that moment, that night. But I don't really think I would want to go through that again. [Laughs] It's mostly draining but it's a wonderful, wonderful thing. I have a lot of wonderful memories and pictures and the whole thing, dude. I will always hold that close to my heart.
Another film that has a great opening is 28 Weeks Later when all the zombies are chasing Robert Carlyle across the open field.
Yeah, that was a fun one. It was shot in London as well.
Your character's death in the film was quite unexpected, it looked like you would make it.
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. I tended to have those sorts of glorious deaths in cinema. It's actually funny: I knew I made it as an actor when I stopped dying. [Laughs] Now nobody kills me off, they keep me around to bring me back for more. You know once you die, you die. [Laughs]
You seem to have an affinity for real stories. Do you feel more pressure when portraying a real person?
There are absolute limitations when you portray someone that existed or exists, but there is also the fun end of getting into the character. There is a lot of information and things you can grab onto to jump into character. But there are limitations for sure, but you know, you just need to know what the parameters are and where you kind of go with it. I am definitely attracted to true stories: it doesn't mean I have to really play a guy that existed or not. I mean American Hustle is a version of a guy that maybe existed . . . I think a lot of the movies that we are doing at the production company [The Combine] are based on true stories. I don't know, I guess I am attracted to that sort of thing; the truth is an interesting thing.
Who would you like to play if you had the chance?
I don't know, it kind of shifts, you know? That's what's great about having a production company. At some point, somehow, I want to explore a Western . . . maybe Doc Holliday. I am working on Steve McQueen; it's very interesting to me because it is such a dichotomy. It's very human. I like to be challenged and I like things that are interesting. Whatever I'll do next, I have no idea: sometimes all I think about is taking a nap, you know what I mean? Now all that matters to me is spending most of my time with my daughter and then if I can squeeze out a movie or two, then I'll do that.
You are close friends with Colin Farrell.
Do you think that True Detective Season 2 is a good project for him?
Yeah, I think it is for a lot of reasons. That's where all really good drama is going and that's a great show. So yeah, absolutely. He's also got two kids and I think that keeps him pretty close to his family: he's a family man and for him personally I'm sure it's a great thing and then creatively it's also a really great project.
At the beginning of your career you did a lot of television. Would you consider working on a cable TV show at this point in your career?
If I was to, it would definitely be under that sort of work schedule and commitment level: just popping off seven months and doing a really cool extended show. I can see a lot of fingers pointing towards that direction. I am not out looking for that actively but I'm not ultimately 100 percent opposed to the idea because again, that is where all great character drama goes.
You seem to be completely besotted with your daughter Ava.
Yeah, I am!
Have you always wanted to be a dad?
Being a dad is something I always kind of wanted. But it requires two people and you know, forethought. I was always broke, I couldn't even . . . I didn't have electricity half the time, for a decade of my time in L.A. so I am certain I didn't want to raise a child in that environment. It was not even an option, but in the back of my mind . . . I grew up being the oldest of seven kids, I loved kids and have always loved kids, but I was okay not having kids and then I was okay having them and even having more. But now I'm in a place where I can actually spend time to do it. I'm really happy that it happened to me later on in life
Seeing that you come from a big family, would you also like to have a big family?
Yeah, I mean, I have such a giant family! They all live with me in L.A. so there are lots of little kids running around and it's pretty much all my immediate family -- outside of a couple [of] brothers all living in L.A. So it's really exciting to have everybody around. So I don't need to have like 15 kids or anything. I'm okay with one and I'm okay with a couple more.
Being a public figure, details of your life are made public in a way that can be painful.
Right, right. Your private life is your private life. Yes, I am a public figure, but I am very, very free with my tongue about my jobs and what I love about it [as a public figure]. As a private man, I keep my private issues private. And then, you know things get out that . . . it's part of it and you just sort of have to accept it. But [I'm] still very tight-lipped about personal things that affect other people. I'm still very expressive about myself and my personal life when it just has to do with me and it doesn't affect anybody else. I am very, very adamant [about] wanting my family to have a normal life.
I have to deal with it and so I always sort of circle the wagon with the family to keep it close and keep it tight so that my poor grandma doesn't get knocks on her door with some guy trying to manipulate her to get some photos or whatever it might be. This stuff happens, and my grandma doesn't know any better so she'll be like, "Yeah, come on in. Let me make you some coffee. . . ." [Laughs] to some jerk with some terrible news outlet or whatever. So, I just want to protect my family and protect their interests as well as my own and keep our family, you know . . . private and as loving as we are.
Still, it must get very hurtful when you see media splashing private information around?
I mean look, nobody could say anything that's really going to bother me, ultimately. As soon as somebody starts messing with my daughter or the well-being of anybody in my family, well then, sleep with one eye open because I'm coming after you. But otherwise, what do I care what people think to say because ultimately it doesn't even matter.
In today's age of free information flow, some people do really creepy things. You had a crazy experience with some guy actually following you around before stealing your cat. What happened?
Yeah, stuff like that happens I suppose. [Laughs] Life serves us strange things and it's how we sort of overcome adversity [and] overcome any challenges that determines our success and happiness in life. So, when something like that happens you sort of have to make decisions and then accept things and not get bogged down by fear. It's weird dude. [Laughs] I mean, ultimately, it is strange, but at that point I had to sort of figure out like alright, "Do I just sit here on my porch and cry about it?" or you know, do I have hope and have faith that he didn't become a meal and that he has a good home?
Did the guy actually break into your house?
No, the cat was on the porch of the balcony on the first floor of this apartment complex I was in at the time and then I saw the dude run off with the cat and I'm like, "He's driving away!" and I'm like, Okay, did that just happen?"
And you've never seen either of them again?
Maybe he was trying to get to you, to get to your cat?
Maybe . . . well, it worked out. [Laughs]
What can you tell us about Mission: Impossible 5?
There are certain things I can't talk about right now because ultimately there are a lot of things I don't know. But, the gang is back together, which is kind of cool. So that's really where it's going to hinge on, on the characters and these guys and girls caring about each other. I look around at all the great action that this thing has, but most importantly it will be about the character.
How is Tom Cruise to work with?
He's fantastic, fantastic. So much fun.
In what way? Is he a giving actor?
Yeah, very much so and [he is] just a giving, giving person. We talk more about life shit than movie stuff. We talk about stories from his experiences as an actor and also as a man -- we have a lot of circles that cross in life -- about what we went through and what we may go through. [He is] a really, really great confidant and a really lovely, giving dude. Actually, I'll see him randomly, we'll both be shooting in Atlanta after this so I'll be able to go out there and hang and ride some motorcycles or whatever we feel like doing.
You're now very established in your career. Do you ever get star struck?
I think it's usually only after the fact that I realise . . . get struck in the face that, "Oh wow, I just did a scene with De Niro," and I'm like, "What?! Did that really just happen?" It is only after the fact that it happens, it's never during that I realise that I've been through the strangest, most awesome experience ever. And you know . . . that's the greatest thing about opportunities that come to me in life and what I do: that I get to be inspired by my peers and people that are not famous. I just love to learn, be challenged and inspired by people.
Check out Jeremy in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, premiering May 1 and Mission: Impossible 5 hitting theatres on July 31.
Source: Destination Magazine
To see scans of the print edition of this article, click here.