Jeremy Renner: 'Shooting Kind of Took My Soul'

We introduced you to Jeremy Renner in The Verge a little over six months ago, when the rugged The Hurt Locker star with the deceptively boyish face (he'll be 39 on Thursday) was still relatively unknown. That was then; now, Renner's moment has arrived. As Staff Sergeant William James -- a courageous, crazy, compassionate military technician who thrives on defusing bombs for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit stationed in Iraq -- Renner has crafted a war film hero for our fraught times. It's a marvelous performance, both subtle and bombastic, and we therefore offer it up as another "For Your Reconsideration." Fresh off shooting Ben Affleck's second directorial effort and busily running the awards season gantlet, we checked back in with Renner to see how life has changed since the film's release.

What's your take on awards season?

It's pretty awesome. I feel great. A little run down and tired, but so fortunate. I realize every day how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. This whole awards thing is obviously new experiences, and I just take it day by day, meet a lot of cool new people, and we'll see what happens.

Have you put work on hold to focus on this now?

Yeah, it's pretty impossible to work right now. I just finished a movie three weeks ago, so the timing worked out pretty good.

That was The Town.

The Town, yeah.

How was working with Ben Affleck?

It was a lot of fun. We had a blast. It was like shooting a short film with one of your good buddies. He set a really good tone on the set, just really affable as a human being. He made it very pleasant for everyone.

Did anything about him surprise you or not conform with his public persona?

I always knew he was smart, because I'd see him on interviews and he was such a charming dude. And every day, I was surprised by just how smart he is. He's almost autistically smart, the guy is. It's ridiculous. And so experienced in the industry. He's obviously been through a lot, as an actor, as a writer, in good and bad ways. With that experience, he's very wise to a lot of things. And it's invaluable.

What's your part?

Ben and I play career bank robbers, and we're best friends. The movie is sort of a crime/romance/action movie, similar to something like Heat. He's trying to get out of the life of bank robbing, and I sort of refuse to let him go. It was a lot of fun.

It seems like The Hurt Locker has become more than just a movie -- it's become a sort of mental touchstone. Every time I hear about troop surges, or car bombings, it's the first place I go to in my head. I'm wondering, what's your year been like since it came out? Have you been approached by many soldiers?

That was another big surprise for me doing this -- when I do get approached by military, especially, because those are the guys that we wanted to portray in a good way. Those were obviously our toughest critics, and did they pick apart the film? Sure. But they get what the film means. I get approached by guys on the street, families of fallen troops. I support a group called TAPS, that supports families of fallen soldiers. And I realized how it's changed me so much just shooting it. I've realized now it's not just a moviegoer and a piece of cinema connecting, but a piece of cinema that affects people's lives. And that is not why I did the movie, let's just be honest. That wasn't my intention. But what a wonderful gift that has been given to all of us -- something that can connect civilian life and soldier life. I cannot take responsibility nor accountability for that, but it is happening, and it's a powerful, powerful thing.

It's kind of hard to take, to be honest with you, on the street. Because again, I can't be responsible for how they're affected. But I'm glad they're affected. It's so wonderful, yet so hard to take, when you got some guy who literally, almost creepily, comes up and stands next to me at the ATM. And he's a big dude, so he's kind of intimidating to me. He stands there, a stranger invading your personal space for about 30 seconds. That's a long 30 seconds with no one saying anything. And I could see the guy is having trouble talking -- his lip's quivering and he kind of starts crying. And he just wanted to thank me. He begins to tell me that he had just gotten back from Iraq, and he was EOD, and I stop him, and I say, "Look, my friend. Thank you, for your service. I didn't do anything." He just wanted to explain that if he ever saw me, he promised his wife that he'd come up and thank me; because it helped him a lot to explain to his wife, using the movie, maybe a fraction of what is going on over there, in a very visceral way. How does one really explain that? So it really helped him a lot, and he said it really helped his marriage, which was falling apart.

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  • HwoodHills says:

    Fantastic interview, Seth. Good job.
    The Hurt Locker is scheduled for a January 12 DVD release so it'll probably do crazy business that way.

    • Ryan says:

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  • Rhymes with "Winner" says:

    Renner is so amazing in this film and seems like such a really down-to-earth guy. He deserves all this attention and then some. Yes, reconsider... and then never forget!

  • "David Webb" says:

    Yeah, it's been out for a year but not that many people saw it. But they've heard about it; the buzz is still there. And it's bound to do really good business on home video.

  • Chris says:

    Great interview. I so hope this film gets best picture and best director. Renner was also fantastic in it, but he's not my top choice for best actor. All the same, he sounds like an intelligent guy who doesn't take himself too seriously.
    And, I don't mean to be a hater, but that certainly wasn't Affleck's second directorial effort. I pulled this off the "Gone Baby Gone" trivia on
    "Ben Affleck's directorial debut in a major motion picture, although he did direct two other movies that never made it to the big screen."

  • bajeha says:

    I saw The Hurt Locker in July and was blown away by it and Renner's performance (pun intended). I told friends then that both were award worthy and to see them while they could. Both have been on my mind ever since, especially as I've been volunteering at the airport lounge my employer sponsors for active and retired military personnel travelling with their families over the holidays. THL has been brought up in conversation as both realistic and cathartic.
    The same theater has brought the film back for another run. I just saw it again, and the impact was just as powerful. I've pre-ordered a Blu-Ray DVD copy, but nothing beats seeing this movie on a really big screen.
    Renner sounds like a decent and hardworking professional who is mature enough to appreciate his growing celebrity and take it all in stride. I wish him all the best.

  • Trubie says:

    Great interview, but it would've been nice to hear more about Kathryn Bigelow, who directed "The Hurt Locker." Instead we hear about Ben Affleck and Spike Jonze.

  • Livie says:

    I absolutely love Jeremy Renner. Having met him a number of times over the years, he is the most down-to-earth guy you’ll ever meet in Hollywood. He hasn’t changed ego-wise one bit, for those reasons, he will always have my support.
    I've said it on another post here before, and I'll say it again, it's about time he's getting some much deserved recognition. With every accolade that has been bestowed upon Jeremy recently, it makes me happy that people are finally discovering what a truly gifted actor he is.

  • or says:

    Glad of the interview and of the information about the film. But what of Kathryn Bigelow? You didn't ask him about her directing style or anything.

  • Seth Abramovitch says:

    This is our second interview with Renner. For more on the Hurt Locker shoot, please read the first interview.

  • JAB says:

    Great piece.
    This guy sounds like 1 of the few actors I'd ever like to meet. I've seen this movie 3 times. Renner's performance (along with Mackie's & Gerraghty's) gets better each time.
    As much as I liked UP IN THE AIR (& Anna Kendrick's equally stunning breakout work) I find myself cheering for this movie & everyone who made it --especially Kathryn Bigelow-- to take home a lot of Oscars.

  • Camgirls says:

    Nice read. Thanks for the work you put in to this site.

  • Valda Pizer says:

    Who do you think is gonig to win the most awards at the VMA's tonight?

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