After distinguishing himself with standout performances in The Town and The Hurt Locker – both of which earned him Oscar nominations – Jeremy Renner is poised to enter the world of big-budget blockbusters. Later this month he can be seen in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, playing an unlikely aide-de-camp to Tom Cruise’s indomitable superspy, Ethan Hunt. Next May, he’ll suit up for superhero action as the master archer Hawkeye in Marvel’s ensemble tentpole The Avengers. A few months later, he’ll inherit Matt Damon’s mantle as the face of the Bourne franchise in The Bourne Legacy. Earlier this week we spoke with the 40-year-old about his impressive slate of upcoming projects, including the Steve McQueen biopic he’s currently developing with writer/director James Gray.
Your our character in Ghost Protocol is sort of the new team member who thinks all of this IMF stuff is kind of crazy. Is that a fun position to be in?
Well, I mean, it was fun to play the character. It is a slightly different approach, because I had no more information than you do at this point … when you see the movie, there’s other things. So it was a great, sort of complex character to jump into. And nothing is as it seems in a spy movie, and this certainly delivers that, I think.
So was that more of the appeal, the opportunity to do something duplicitous, that you could go either way?
Yeah. I mean, I’m attracted to those kind of roles, that you could be good or you could be bad, and you just don’t know. I guess I just have one of those arresting faces that look like I want to beat you up or something. I don’t know whatever it is, but yeah, I like those parts.
Is it comforting to sort of walk into a franchise that has lan established lead? Does that give you an advantage, or is there a challenge to distinguishing yourself when Tom Cruise is leading the charge?
I think it’s great to be part of a franchise that is successful, and obviously a franchise, any franchise is successful, because there been a continuation of the people who see it. That’s kind of nice to be a part of a world stage, a movie gets all around the world and you know that, because 80% of the movies I’ve done, nobody’s seen. So - going into that’s pretty exciting. And getting the opportunity to work with Tom is really exciting … and I thought [the role] was complex enough to go do.
Given the fact that each of the Mission: Impossible films is independent of one another and you have a new director with Brad Bird, did you guys feel like you had to sort of take a crash course in what these movies are and what’s involved in them? Or were you creating your own thing from the ground up?
I was a fan of the franchise to begin with, so I was very aware of everything. And then re-watching it all again, which was informative, now that I know that I’m part of it. But, like you said, they’re all very separate movies. Tom never wanted to do a franchise or to do a sequel to any movie, and he hasn’t, except for Mission, which is his baby. And he’s always had directors come on that had a very specific sort of vision for it that keep them separate, as movies on their own, stand-alone movies, that if you didn’t see the first two, the third one still all makes sense. And the only through line is, Tom’s character for the most part. There’s been characters that have trickled in and out, but - so with this one, having Brad come in and have his sort of slant with the gadgets and the attention to detail and character, which brings tension and cutting tension with comedy; and you have, you know, Simon Pegg there for that, which is awesome, you know. Brad Bird is all over this movie, and there’s - if you’ve seen The Incredibles or any of those movies, you definitely see that in this.
So what can you tell us about your character in the film?
I might create more questions than answers for you. But that’s what the character is one of those hinge/fringe characters - you’re not sure what’s gonna happen. And that was the attraction for me. I can tell you that Will Brandt is a Chief Analyst for the IMF, the right hand man to the Secretary, which is always the voice, now a face, finally, in this movie, played by Tom Wilkinson. He hands out all the missions. And sort of buttoned up, sort of desk jockey, gets thrown into the mix of Ethan Hunt and two other agents, Paula Patton’s and Simon Pegg’s characters. And instead of having sort of a mission sort of dished out, it became, circumstances kind of fall apart, and we’re thrown together and have to be together. It doesn’t mean we like each other, but we have to unite, and to overcome certain obstacles. And then within that spectacle of action and mission stuff, there’s an interesting character. You will see, like all four characters are very strong archetypes and how they play off each other ends up being really, is Brad Bird’s strong suit, if you’ve ever seen The Incredibles - I think you’ll see a lot of that within that sort of structure.
Tom is known for his enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Are you that way as well?
I think if it’s required of me to do it, I think I’m attracted to challenges. So there’s a great physical challenge in doing stunts. And also, there’s no ticket you can buy for that ride, to go - the opportunity to do the stunts and to do the things that we were able to do this movie, this - people don’t get that opportunity. So yeah, that’s exciting. And if it serves the story and the character, and - I don’t want to just do a stunt just to do a stunt because - to have fun - but it just becomes sort of icing on the cake for, to help Brad Bird tell the story.
The sequence in the Burj Khalifa is gearing up to be one of the film’s memorable set pieces. What’s it’s like to be up there in that room, looking out of the window?
It’s one of those things, like if you get hit by a bus and you didn’t know it, that’s one thing. But if you see the bus coming and you can’t, you get paralyzed and you can’t move, and you just watch it come at you - it’s one of those things. Tom is out there, running around, doing his thing all over the building. And we’re just standing there, sort of by the edge, and that is more terrifying. And then once I hung out, 30 seconds of near vomiting almost happened. But once that went away, Tom was laughing, hanging upside down all red-faced and he’s like, “Look at this view!” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’m gonna vomit on you.” But once that went away, he was right. It was like, “This is beautiful.” It was fantastic. Once all the fear went away and all that stuff, it became, a really amazing experience. But before that, the anticipation of it all was terrifying.
You describe him as a desk jockey. How much physical stuff did you get to do? And then how much training do you have to do?
Just stretching kind of winded me, starting this movie. So I had a long curve to get ahead. After The Town I didn’t do anything physical; I didn’t break a sweat for a year, until Mission. And so we had to, I had to make up for lost time and spend like five hours a day learning certain disciplines, like Muay Tai and Filipino stick fighting and all this sort of random stuff that I never thought I’d learn, which was a blast. And then there’s stuff on a wire, you have to sort of prepare your body for, certain pick points and stuff, and trigger points in your body. I know much more about my body than I ever wanted to. But yeah, it’s a very physical thing and you have to treat it like you’re a professional athlete.
Has this film kind of prepped you for the Bourne film?
Oh, yeah, all of them - this - Tom has prepared me for, especially Bourne, but all - Hansel and Gretel and then The Avengers and then, now Bourne, for the sort of mental place to be to know, when you’re doing an action sequence, that - like in any professional sport, in America at least, if you get injured or you hurt your knee or whatever, second string comes in. But it doesn’t happen on movies. So you can’t get injured. So it’s sort of getting on this really great program to really just - not be in shape, but just to, just prevent injuries. And Tom introduced me to some really great physiotherapists and that sort of thing, to prepare my body for that sort of torture.
How do you deal with expectations when you have a comic book character [in Avengers] who maybe everyone knows, and now you have a series [Bourne] that people know, but a new character they’re inventing for it?
I don’t do well with expectations in my life; I certainly can’t think about it in other peoples’ lives. All I can do is do the best I can do, and I’m consciously aware, like specifically, in the comic book world, where there’s a built-in fan base to that. But there’s a little bit of leniency because there’s a couple different universes. There’s the Ultimates, and then there’s the old school version. And I wasn’t interested in wearing purple tights when I’m 50, so I love that they went the Ultimates route. Also, I wanted to serve the story and the script at hand that Joss Whedon wrote, and not bring a bunch of baggage, and where he came from, from Trickshot, and being a this and a that or what - what mattered to me is like page one to age whatever the heck it ended up being, and serve that story. That’s what mattered to me.
What can you tell us about Bourne Legacy?
We’re in the middle of shooting it, so I can’t say a whole lot about it. But what I can clarify, that there’s been some confusion about, that I was taking over for Matt, and there’s no taking over for Matt. Matt Damon will always be Jason Bourne, to that franchise. But the writer is consistent through them all, the same writer, and he’s also our director on this one. And so there’ll be, for the fan base that likes that type of movie, it’ll be - the continuity of that, the pace of it, the way it’s shot, just everything about it is - you’ll know it’s a Bourne movie. There’s just going to be different faces. There’s going to be Ed Norton and Rachel Weiss, which are some of the most talented actors out there. But it’ll be just a different program, and different - different spies, essentially. And - but I’ll have, it has that same sort of, same sort of pace to it.
And how long does the shoot go?
Until the end of February.
In Thor, Marvel afforded you the opportunity to set up a character in someone else’s movie for a brief scene, and then really establish your own character in Avengers. Is that a unique opportunity for an actor?
Yeah, but it’s actually difficult because there’s not a lot to do, like say, like in Thor, I just stand in a bucket and hold my bow and arrow. Well, what’s the character? I have no idea. I was thrown into that very quickly. Am I trapping myself by anything? I don’t know. So it’s - yeah, it’s a little strange. I don’t know if it’s a good thing. I mean, I don’t think I’d go about it normally that way, but it was a - certainly a different way to go about taking on a role.
Did it end up trapping you in anything?
No, no, it was so small and miniscule, that it was just, you know, saying a few lines. I felt like it would be hard to screw up.
Would you like to do a separate Hawkeye movie to explore the character deeper?
I don’t know; there are a lot of variables in that one: if they’d want to make one, what it would be about, a lot of things. I suppose if they all aligned, then it could be interesting, because I certainly like the character. But I don’t know what the future holds.
Do you really get the feel of an ensemble movie from The Avengers? It’s got a huge budget.
Huge! I mean, look at how many characters are in that thing. It was the ultimate challenge for Joss Whedon, who’s, you know, knows that universe so well - no one better to write it. And he was so challenged, to write and direct that thing. I don’t know how you put that many characters in a movie like that. It’s immense. But with that, you have to sort of pass the baton; you get to work with very few of them, because everybody’s got their own thing going on. Someone’s in the air, flying around; I’m on the ground, shooting a bow and arrow, and whatever - there’s a lot of things happening. So I have no idea what that movie looks like. Like zero. And like most of the time, I have a good idea of how it’s going to turn out because I’ve seen so much of it. I have no idea. I feel like I might be an extra in it. I’m not sure.
You were talking about sort of taking on different kinds of challenges. Does your upcoming film with James Gray sort of count as counter-programming to some of the blockbuster stuff?
What a great opportunity. It’s an amazing story. And I do it such injustice by giving it, you know, three words. But it’s, you know, it’s James Gray, man, and it’s Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. Some of the best talent out there. It’s not an action movie, which is kind of, at this point from where I’m sitting, is kind of a nice thing; I can actually take a break on my body, and just focus on just work, and the character and stuff. And so that’s refreshing. And to work with that caliber of talent is really exciting. And it’s a small role. It’s something I - we can shoot in a very short amount of time. And you know, there’s a pimp and a whore and a magician. And I get to play the magician, in a really cool, early 1900’s immigration movie - Ellis Island.
You’re attached to the Steve McQueen biopic. Are involved in developing it as well?
Yeah, involved in developing it. It happened because a script came around, and they asked maybe, if I wanted to look at it and potentially maybe play him. And I thought, “Ah, it’s interesting.” And you know, obviously, I loved his movies. And wouldn’t say like I was a massive fan of him, by any means. I’ve seen probably like three of his movies. But then as it came around and I started to study him more and realized wow, what a dichotomy of a human being. He’s really, really interesting, outside of what most of him know him as, like you just said, you know, the King of Cool or the coolest human being that ever lived or whatever it is. But he was also the most insecure guy that ever lived. And most, all these other things that undercut what we know him as. So I - that was really interesting to me. I don’t care if that’s a fictitious character, or if that’s a real person. That’s just interesting to me. So I thought, wow - the script, I felt like was just sort of a retelling of what everybody already knows about him. I didn’t know a lot about him, but it’s retelling the things I knew about him. So I thought, that’s really kind of boring and didn’t do him justice, I think, for what I ended up learning about him. So that’s why we’re developing this thing; from these images that I saw. For instance, there’s him talking, there’s a photo of him - a butcher in the shop is bandaging up his hand. And the movie set’s around the corner. And he’s just preparing to do a stunt, or just did the stunt of the famous bike jump - or whatever the heck it was, whatever stunt it was. Everybody knows about whatever that stunt is. So why talk about that? I want to know what that conversation was between that butcher and McQueen in that butcher shop. That’s more interesting to me. And I think an inside sort of look into his life as a human being is - could be fascinating. So that’s what we’re exploring. So James Gray is also, is actually the one writing that.
So it would be more of a personal look at him, than say a careerist view, like going through his filmography?
Yeah. I mean, you can’t avoid that, but I’d rather have that be the backdrop of his life, and to see like, what is it like to walk into a room and everybody stares at you because they know exactly who you are. Not a lot of people know what that feels like. So let’s let people into that world. I think that’s interesting.
Is that still a daunting role to take on?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen the script. I’m already imagining it to be almost impossible, but you know - I’d love to take on the challenge. It’d be an honor.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol opens in IMAX theaters on December 16, and everywhere else December 21.
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