With “The Bourne Legacy” hitting theaters this week and “The Avengers” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” under his belt, Jeremy Renner has officially made the leap to Hollywood action star. The 41-year-old Modesto native also plays a bounty hunter version of the classic fairy-tale character in “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” due out in January. Hero Complex caught up with Renner earlier this summer to talk about ”Bourne,” which opens in theaters Friday, as well as his role in “Avengers,” which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray next month.
HC: Before the last few years, you did a lot of indie films. Did you ever fancy you’d be an action hero?
JR: Not by any stretch of the imagination. It just sort of became opportunities that I don’t think anybody really would want to turn away. As long as it was in the realm of what I feel like I could bring something three-dimensional and truthful and honest, these are worldwide movies, which I thought was a great opportunity to be a part of cinema that people see. That’s interesting to me. Like “The Hurt Locker,” we didn’t know what the heck that was gonna be. And “The Town,” we had an idea, but who knows. You just never know. But these big movies like “The Avengers,” I couldn’t say no to, really, so I thought I’d explore that. It kind of just fell my direction, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunities to learn something new.
HC: Which of these films did you most enjoy making?
JR: They’re all different movies and exciting in different ways. Like “Hansel and Gretel,” I thought was really original content, a really original look and spin on that fairy tale. I’ve seen that one, and it is a lot of fun. It’s like “The Avengers” in a way. It’s the type of cinema where you go in, and you just get entertained, and you come out open-smiling and thinking, “That was a really great experience.” I’m not used to doing that kind of cinema. Usually it’s a little bit more emotional or psychological or something, so I try not to have too much expectation out of that. It’s OK to just go be entertained. That’s what I’m learning, because I haven’t really been a part of that for the last 25 years of my career. … “Hansel and Gretel” I think is also one of those things. It’s a bit darker, and it’s R-rated, and it’s not quite as light as “The Avengers,” and then “Bourne” had that blend.
For me, for personal reasons, it was exciting as an actor, as an artist, because it’s very smart, and it’s emotional. It has this fast pace to it, of course, and it’s great action, but it feels like a small little movie. It’s a very intimate movie in a lot of ways, versus the spectacle of these. Like say “Mission Impossible,” that’s a big, big massive spectacle, as is “Avengers.” And “Hansel and Gretel” not quite so much, but it’s a fantasy. But “Bourne,” to me, resonates because it’s a little bit more for an actor to kind of cling on to because there’s no fantasy in it. It’s all based in reality. Even the stunts are all real. There’s no green screen in that. It’s visceral. It’s authentic, and to me, that’s kind of where my heart and spirit as an artist reside, or at least where I think it does, so it’s a really great match. I feel like I used my brain and my heart, and it was really, really one of the most fun shoots I got to work on. And I worked with Rachel Weisz, one of my favorite actresses.
HC: They’re very physical roles. Was training a challenge?
JR: I love the idea of going to work and having to fight and learn a new skill set, whether it’s muay Thai or Kali or Filipino stick fighting. To me, it’s like college for life. You learn things from the experts of the world, and maybe you continue it, maybe you hate it, but I looked at it as a great opportunity to kind of explore things I would never explore.
HC: Are there things you learned on “Mission Impossible” that you were able to bring with you to “Avengers” and “Bourne”?
JR: Absolutely. I got to work with all the same guys for all the movies — Robert Alonzo was my guy on “Mission.” I got to have pretty much all the same guys through all four of those action movies, from “Mission” to “Hansel and Gretel” to “Avengers” and then to “Bourne.” It ended up being almost two years of training with these guys. I just thought, “Wow, this is so great, and I just kept rolling into it. And then starting off doing the big action movie with Tom Cruise — he was such an amazing mentor to me, and just so supportive and being so excited that I was doing some of these things. He gave me some really great advice about how to treat your body, essentially, how to take care of yourself. I’d always been an athlete and physical, but he turned it into a whole ‘nother thing about how seriously important it is that you don’t want to get injured. So he got me really headstrong about taking care of my body.
HC: Will we see you in a Hawkeye movie?
JR: I don’t know. I think there’s always possibilities of anything in the Marvel universe. There’s gotta be a want from people to see something like that. I don’t know if there is. Maybe there is maybe there isn’t. But who knows? We’ll see.
HC: In “Avengers,” you sort of get to play both sides. What was that like?
JR: At the end of the day, 90% of the movie, I’m not the character I signed on to play. I’m literally in there for two minutes, and then all of a sudden… All I could really work on was the physical part of it all, because that didn’t change. That was just the biggest challenge to overcome in playing the guy. Also, we’re pretty much introducing a new superhero character to everyone in a movie where there’s a thousand superheroes. So there’s not a lot of back story or understanding we can really tell about who Clint Barton is, or Hawkeye, and is he working for SHIELD or not. There’s a lot of unanswered questions, even for me. And I was OK with that. At least I was still in the movie. And I was glad for that. The closest thing I could really link to was Scarlett [Johansson's] character, Black Widow, because they have a history. And that definitely plays in the movie, I think. And obviously, you can’t go into too much just because there’s so much story to tell, but you definitely get a sense that they’re connected, and that there’s something really, really important that ties them together. And I could try to summarize it, but it can go a lot of places. That excites me, though, that there’s room for other things.
HC: It seems like Hawkeye is sort of on his own team.
JR: Yeah, just by his nature as a sniper if you will, as a guy who hangs out in rooftops, in trees, and takes out his targets from a distance. Joss and I kind of talked about that. About how he’s a loner and a lone-wolf kind of character anyway, and a rebel. I don’t know if he’s really such a team player. He kind of does his own thing… but still with goodwill and intent. So yeah, as part of this big team, I don’t know how he fits in, but he’s really interesting because of that.
HC: Did you prefer playing evil Hawkeye or good Hawkeye?
JR: I prefer the good, because if we go to the evil part, or hypnotized or whatever the heck you want to call it, it’s kind of a vacancy. Not even a bad guy, because there’s not really a consciousness to him. The interesting part was being guilty about the bad things I did do when I was hypnotized. I think he’s already an interesting enough character. To really kind of take away who that character is and just have him be this sort of robot, essentially, and have him be this minion for evil that Loki uses. Again, I could just focus on the task. I was limited, you know what I mean? I was a terminator in a way. So yeah, fun stunts. But is there any sort of emotional content or thought process? No. That doesn’t exist in that time [that he's hypnotized]. It happens to be for most of the movie.
HC: Are you disappointed?
JR: You know, there are a lot of people in that movie. And a lot of important characters. And my character, I felt like if I can help serve story, then I did my job.
HC: At least you had the coolest weapon.
JR: It’s a pretty cool weapon, yeah. I mean, cinematically, it’s really interesting looking, and then the stunt guys all came up with this idea for close-quarter battles, using it as a staff and a weapon, and then all the arrow tips that they kind of got into — I thought that was really cool. So it’s like OK, he’s actually formidable. He’s got a little arsenal.
HC: And it’s all him.
JR: Yeah, exactly. It’s something plausible. He’s a human being. He’s not a superhero with superpowers, he’s just a guy with a high skill set. So I thought that was kind of interesting. And that’s why I was really kind of like, “OK, I think I could see myself doing that role.”
HC: What do you have coming up?
JR: I just did a movie with James Gray directing, and Marion Cotillard, who is one of my favorite actresses (again, some of my favorite actresses. Marion Cotillard and Rachel Weisz. I got to work with both of them right in a row, and that was a real treat for me). And Joaquin Phoenix, who is one of the best actors out there, in my mind. And I got to play a magician. It was great. It’s a beautiful story about the early 1900s in America when all the immigrants were coming through Ellis Island. Marion plays the immigrant, and she sort of gets sold out or pimped out by Joaquin’s character. It’s a terrible way to describe it, but in the simplest way, it’s about a pimp, a whore and a magician. But it’s a little bit more complex than that.