The Verge: Jeremy Renner
Though he's enjoyed success as an independent film actor and even toplined a television series, Jeremy Renner's commanding performance in Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming thriller The Hurt Locker is poised to catapult him to a whole new level of recognition. As Staff Sergeant William James, Renner takes an already tense onscreen profession -- defusing bombs as part of the U.S. Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) -- and invests it with layers of riveting unpredictability. He talked candidly to Movieline about the explosive role and the perils of making an independent action film with no money.
Do you thrive on chaotic environments? Your character certainly does, and this set can't have been a piece of cake...
Well, yes and no. I build homes, and there's fifty workers there...chaos, and constant fires. You come up with solutions constantly. It's not that I function better in it, but there's a certain mindframe you have to be in. I'm comfortable in that mindframe, but I don't want to be in it. Other people, they like that chaos. Personally [pointing out the window], I'd like to be on that beach right now. That's how I operate, that's how my soul lies: peace and tranquility.
We talk about James, and it's a little tragic, I think. What he loves to do happens to be in that environment. Because he's so good at what he does, saving lives, he has to be [in Iraq]. He can't go to that grocery store and be a checkout clerk -- that seems so minuscule compared to what he was doing. Some people might misconstrue that to be "addicted to chaos," but I don't think it's that at all. It just happens to be that that's what's important to him.
So what was he doing before the war? Did he live a quotidian life, and then this gift hit him?
Yeah, I think he lived this pretty dismal life. I related to that as a kid who grew up in a really small town with limited resources for jobs. Most people my age -- and I'm going to my twenty-year reunion next weekend -- they're all three divorces deep, and if they're happy, right on. But that just wasn't the path I wanted to go on. I was just getting into trouble, drinking, and doing stupid things until I stumbled onto acting class my junior year in college. The sense of self, the purpose...it opened this Pandora's box of emotions and it went from there. So I can relate to the idea of doing something you were born to do.
What was that discovery like for you?
I was nineteen in this town where as a man, I'd have all these feelings I didn't know I had. I was always "the happy kid," right?
You mean people thought you were happy, or you were happy?
[laughing] Oh yeah, people thought I was happy. My sister was the complete opposite, she had a hard time growing up, and I was just always the happy kid. I played the drums, had my mullet, drove around on my motorcycle making out with chicks, just having a good ol' time. But it just happened while growing up -- all these divorces, separations, moving to a different school every year -- that things started to take a toll. The stage became a great playground for me to express feelings, and in my household there wasn't a place for me to do that. It was a great venue for me to hide in a character and express rage and sadness, and I created these really disturbed, complicated characters.
And you've certainly portrayed those types of characters in film, although you've done some television lately: You did the pilot for The Oaks, and your series The Unusuals lasted a half-season on ABC. Is that a direction you could see yourself committing to?
Ummmm...no, not necessarily, no. The drawback to it is just the commitment to it. I'm certainly open to it because the landscape of television has changed a lot and the cast on The Unusuals was stellar, and it was a great role. But I did it also as a business move on top of that -- I think more people saw me in The Unusuals than almost anything else I did. So it's like, let's get more people seeing me in a role that I'd like to play in films so that it's not so far of a jump. [Mimicking a studio executive] "I can see Renner in this kind of role, this interesting, complex antihero..."
Did you feel like you were being offered the same sort of stuff in film?
Well, I think that's standard for the industry, that people aren't that imaginative. And, you know, I understand it. Name an actor...like, you think of Bruce Willis, you think of Die Hard and all those movies and that thousand-yard stare. Well, he's a better actor than that. But you kind of have to prove that to them -- what else you can do and what else you are -- or they won't think that about you. Nor should they!
You've done that Bruce Willis-type role once, in SWAT. Can you groove on that filet-mignon-on-the-craft-service-table vibe, or do you prefer a shoot that's more run and gun?
I can dig on that, don't get me wrong, but when it comes to the artist part of it, I'd much rather be working every day. If I'm gonna come to work, I'd rather not take a nap and eat a steak. I come to work to work. In independent film, you're not getting filets and you're barely in a trailer sometimes, but you're there in a larger role. I'm there to make it happen.
Well, on The Hurt Locker, I don't know if you were in a trailer or not, but--
[Explosive laughter] No! No.
--what was it like to be living in Jordan for that shoot?
It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It wasn't just living there -- the work was really hard, the conditions were immensely difficult. It's an independent film that looks like an $80 million movie, shot for a fraction of that. There were all those independent film problems: the armory, the camera department, the miscommunication, no guns, how can we have a thing with no guns, no tanks, no this or that...it was absolute chaos. That's the unfun part of independent film, when the money gets in the way of creative. We're all there to be creative, but then it's like, "Whoa, where are the cameras? We don't have cameras today? So, what do we do...?" We're there to tell a story and do our job, but it takes so many people to make that happen.
We were as close to being EOD in the war as probably anyone has ever gotten without being EOD or in the war. That's as close as I wanna get! I'm just a jackass actor playing that part. There was such realism...I mean, we had square-mile sets, and we'd just be released...like, "Go! Don't worry about where the cameras are -- they're out there, and they'll find you." Don't get me wrong, we're not getting shot at, there's not real bullets or that sort of thing, but it's as real as we could have gotten as actors in Hollywood.
How did the native Jordanians respond to these Hollywood people coming in?
You know, I don't know. Still, to this day...sometimes I felt like I was welcome, and sometimes, it'd be like, "OK, we're in this Palestinian refugee camp." I'd look on the map and Israel doesn't exist, it's Palestinian-occupied territory. I'd think, "Ok, let me think about the history here. Do they like Americans, hate Americans? How do they feel about me being in fatigues in a tank in this refugee camp? Am I hated or am I loved?" I still don't know, truly. ♦