Ever since Jeremy Renner got two consecutive Oscar nominations (best actor for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” and best supporting actor for 2010’s “The Town”), his career has been on a hot streak. Before the Oscar nominations, he was fairly unknown actor in independent films. After the Oscar nominations, he has become in demand in big-budget movies that are part of blockbuster franchises, such as “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “The Avengers” and “The Bourne Legacy.”
In “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” Renner plays William Brandt, an enigmatic analyst who joins a rogue team of Impossible Mission Forces (IMF) agents, led by Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise), who set out to find a courier carrying nuclear launch codes. While in Los Angeles, Renner sat down for this candid roundtable interview with journalists. He talked about “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” “The Avengers,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “Low Life” and possibly playing the late actor Steve McQueen in a still-untitled biopic.
Your character in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is the new team member. Is that a fun position to be in, to always be getting in Ethan Hunt’s face and have everything explained?
Well 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 these 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.
Was that more the appeal: the opportunity to do something duplicitous, that you could go either way?
Yeah. 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 walk into a franchise that has like an established lead actor? Does that give you an advantage, or is there a challenge in distinguishing yourself?
I think it’s great to be part of a franchise that is successful … Obviously 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 percent of the movies I’ve done, nobody’s seen.
So kind of going into that’s pretty exciting. And getting the opportunity to work with Tom [Cruise] is really exciting. I thought it was complex enough to go do. I had a lot of fun.
Given the fact that each of these “Mission: Impossible” films is kind of independent of one another, did you feel you had take a crash course in what’s involved in these movies? Or were you guys sort of creating, from the ground up, your own thing?
Well, I think that’s a lot of things. I was a fan of the franchise to begin with. And 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 kind of separate, as movies on their own, stand-alone movies, that if you didn’t see the first two, the third one still will makes sense. And the only through line is Tom’s character, for the most part.
There have been characters that have trickled in and out, but with this one, having Brad [Bird, director of “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”] 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 Simon Pegg there for that, which is awesome), Brad Bird is all over this movie. And if you’ve seen “The Incredibles” or any of those movies, you definitely see that in this.
What will happen with your William Brandt character that you can share?
Well, I can’t [say]. That’s giving away the movie. I’m not going to tell you if I live or die, if I’m good or bad. I might create more questions than answers for you. But that’s what the character is. It’s 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 [William Brandt is] sort of buttoned-up, sort of a 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 all four characters are very strong archetypes and how they play off each other ends up being. Really, it’s 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 Cruise is known for his enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Are you that way too?
Yes, I’m enthusiastic about it. 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, the opportunity to do the stunts and to do the things that we were able to do this movie; 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, but it just becomes sort of icing on the cake to help Brad Bird tell the story.
In the Burj Khalifa skyscraper scene, even though you don’t get to be the guy out on the building ….
What was it like to be up there in that room, looking out the window and just be involved in that sequence?
It’s one of those things, like if you 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 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 then once that went away, Tom was laughing, he’s hanging upside down, he’s all red-faced and he’s like, “Look at this view!” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’m going to vomit on you!”
But once that went away, he was right. It was like, “This is beautiful!” It was fantastic. And 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 William Brandt as a “desk jockey.” How much physical stuff do you get to do? And then how much training do you have to do, even if your character is maybe not supposed to be as physical as Ethan?
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 I had to make up for lost time and spend five hours a day learning certain disciplines, like Muay Thai 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. Yeah, it’s a very physical thing, and you have to treat it like you’re a professional athlete.
Has “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” prepared you for the “Bourne Legacy” film that you’re doing?
Oh, yeah. Tom has prepared me for, especially “Bourne,” but also “Hansel and Gretel” and then “The Avengers” and then now “Bourne,” for the sort of mental place to, 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 only 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.
Was getting involved in three different movies franchises “Mission: Impossible,” “The Avengers” and “Bourne”) part of your career plan?
I don’t know whose plan maybe, but not my plan. [He laughs.] But it just sort of happened to come that way.
How do you deal with expectations when one, you have a comic book character who maybe everyone knows and now that you have a series that people know, but a new character they’re inventing for it?
I don’t do well with expectation in my life, or 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, like 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.
I also 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 Trick Shot, and being a this and a that. What mattered to me is that page one to Page whatever the heck it ended up being and serve that story. That’s what mattered to me.
How has your life changes since getting Oscar nominations for ‘The Hurt Locker” and “The Town”?
I’m not different, but a lot of things around me have shifted. And some in pretty, pretty great ways. Artistically, there’s a lot more opportunities; bigger opportunities, big directors that you love their cinema or the quality of scripts, the amount of scripts, that sort of thing. That’s really shifted for me.
And people just being aware of who you are all of a sudden. And people that you think you know, like for instance, some big movie star … and then all of a sudden, they say your name. That’s strange, but really great.
Is continuing to do independent projects something that’s important for you, going forward in your career?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll never, never abandon completely the stage, even where I started, actually trying to do that next year. I’ll see if I can manifest the energy to go and do that. It takes a lot out of you to do a stage play, but I’d love to do that. I’d love to continue to do challenging material. I mean, whatever shape or form that comes in.
I want to not know the answer. I want to not do anything I’ve done before. It can come in I don’t know what form. Now it’s action movies, at this point. But where it is after that, as long as it has a certain requirements for me to want to get up every morning and be happy to go to work, then I don’t care the size of the movie. I just care about who I get to learn from.
Talking about your new projects, you are currently filming “The Bourne Legacy”?
“Bourne Legacy,” I’m currently shooting, yes.
Could you share with us something about the project?
Yeah, but I’m going to have to kill you … Because we’re in the middle of shooting it, I can’t say a whole lot about it. But what I can clarify, since there’s been some confusion that I was taking over for Matt [Damon], 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, 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 Weisz, [who] are some of the most talented actors out there. But it’ll be just a different program, and different spies, essentially. It has that same sort of pace to it.
Have you spoken to Matt Damon about being in “The Bourne Legacy”?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
What advice did he give you?
He’s such a cool, grounded guy that how do you give advice to somebody on something? If anything, he said, “Just listen to your guys that know what they’re doing.” He’s worked with Dan Bradley who did all the action on all the “Bourne” movies. He’s actually our second-unit director on “Mission.” And so I was happy to know that he was part of this “Bourne” movie. And so he’s the guy with if you’re doing action, you’re working with Dan Bradley.
“So,” he says, “Kust trust that guy.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, perfect. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve already worked with him. He’s awesome.” Because he’s going to ask you to do some really terrifying things. And you can just trust that it’s all all right.
Where are filming “The Bourne Legacy”? In Los Angeles?
Oh, wow, no, I haven’t filmed in L.A. since 2002. No, we’re in New York. We just finished. We go to Calgary, and then we go to the Philippines.
And how long does the shoot go for “The Bourne Legacy”?
Until the end of February .
What can you say about your interest in music?
Yeah, I do love music. I do play. I have no time to even think about a project. But I certainly bring a piano or a guitar with me. It’s like mathematics, and it’s also emotional. It’s nice to sort of just play to play, for no other reason than just to play.
William Brandt has a compicated past. How does that play into the story?
I think it’s revealed throughout the movie. It becomes like a B or C plot, whatever number or letter you want to put on it. But it becomes a part of the character drama within the group. And then it’s slowly revealed all the way, kind of throughout, the secrets that characters hold in general and specifically Brandt.
Can you talk abut your “Low Life” movie that you’re doing with writer/director James Gray?
What a great opportunity. I mean, it’s an amazing story. And I do it such injustice by giving it three words. But it’s it’s James Gray, man! And it’s Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix. Again, 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 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 1900s immigration movie on Ellis Island.
Do you have to be careful at all about sort of what kinds of roles you take so that you aren’t typecast?
I think that’s where you know, real life and cinema kind of blend for me. I like to play unpredictable characters, and I like to be unpredictable in what movie I’ll do. I want to skip to work. I don’t want to repeat anything.
So yeah, what the future holds, I don’t know. I’ll take any risk there is, so I’m not concerned about what people think or what they want. What matters to me is learning and growing and getting to skip to work and do what I love to do. As long as I can do that, I’m happy.
Marvel Studios has afforded you a somewhat unique opportunity where you got to set up the Hawkeye character in “Thor” for a brief scene, and then really establish your own character in “The 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, in “Thor,” it’s like 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.
And am I trapping myself by anything? I don’t know. Yeah, it’s a little strange. I don’t know if it’s a good thing. I don’t think I’d go about it normally that way, but it was certainly a different way to kind of go about taking on a role. It was so small and miniscule, that it was just saying a few lines. And I think 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, as if they’d want to make one, what it would be about or anything. There’s 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.
What else can you say about “The Avengers” as an ensemble movie?
Huge, huge! Look at how many characters are in that thing. It was the ultimate challenge for Joss Whedon, who’s 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 you know, with that, so you know, you have to sort of pass the baton. You get to work with very few of them, because everybody’s got their own thing kind of going on. Someone’s in the air, flying around. I’m on the ground, shooting a bow and arrow, and there’s a lot of things happening. So like 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. Yeah, I have no idea. I feel like I might be an extra in it. I’m not sure.
It’s a great, amazing cast. And I wish I got to do more with them. But you know, I had fun with the people I did get to work with.
What can you say abou your movie project about the late Steve McQueen?
Yeah, I’m 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 I wouldn’t say 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 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 all these other things that undercut what we know him as. 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 felt like the script 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 could be fascinating. So that’s what we’re exploring. James Gray is also, is actually the one writing that [screenplay].
So it would be more of a personal look at Steve McQueen rather than focusing on his career?
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 playing Steve McQueen a daunting role for you?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen the script. I’m already imaging it to be almost impossible, but I’d love to take on the challenge. It’d be an honor.
For more info: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” website
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