October 5, 2010 -- Call the Shots (Menshealth.com)

Article Index

Jeremy Renner is determined to make it on his own terms. Now that he's succeeding, his resolve has only hardened.


It was Jeremy Renner's idea to come here, to a piano bar called Piano Bar, the kind of joint where he can swill a Ketel One and croon some Billy Joel and, if it so happens, go a little overboard without landing on TMZ. Hollywood is lurking just outside--both the newly dolled-up Hollywood and the perpetually seedy version--but no eyes are on him at Piano Bar. It has the feel of a neighborhood saloon, dark, bluesy, cheap, perfect for a man unwilling to be anything but himself. "It's very anti-Hollywood here," says Renner, steering me to the nearly deserted patio. "If we were somewhere where there's, like, paparazzi, you'd be in the paper"-- and here he predicts how a photo of us would be spun--"We're f--king!"

I laugh at the absurdity of the leap, but we both know the Web is swirling with sightings and speculation about his private life, all juvenile stuff. The dude is 39, not some flavor-of-the-month pretty boy. He has spent the past decade playing complex and unpredictable characters--a serial killer, a neo- Nazi--the most celebrated of them being the hope-to-die bomb disposal specialist of The Hurt Locker.

This month he toys with expectations again in The Town, a film directed by Ben Affleck in which Renner plays a manic yet sensitive bank robber in Boston's working-class Irish quarter. "I've worked so hard to be respected," says the Oscar nominee, who has the slightly elastic face and roguish eyes of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. "I don't need some tabloid running off with something just because I got drunk some night and showed my ass to the bartender."

"Renner is the one to laugh now. Fame is new, a mystery still. Image is not a worry he has ever lost sleep over. "I'm just getting to learn it, brother," he says. "I'm learning as I go."

The kid is 16, a product of Modesto--the safe, suffocating San Joaquin Valley town that inspired the setting for American Graffiti--and his mother, on her second of three husbands, enlists him as her Lamaze coach. He has to come straight from soccer practice, grass stains on his knees, and sit with her at the Y, learning to breathe in unison. "At the time, it was like, 'Oh my God, this sucks,' " says Renner, the oldest of five. "'Why am I watching videos of these vaginas squirting out all this fluid?' It was terrifying."

Years would pass before the traumatized adolescent could see the beauty in birth. Given the choice, he would have opted to remain in the dark about episiotomies a bit longer. But the experience of learning the hard way--enduring, finding value in sacrifice--offered lessons that he would apply many times over. "What a gift I was given," he says.

Renner carried those lessons to Modesto Junior College, where he took his first theater class. "Nineteen years of emotional repression," as he is fond of saying, came pouring out on the stage, a catharsis he knew was worth repeating. He was nudged by his father, a Cal State administrator with a background in theosophy, and then by esteemed acting coach Julie Ariola. They both taught him that self-awareness is more important to success than any single skill.

"If you don't know who you are, how the hell are you going to be able to...?" Renner leaves the thought unfinished, but it would be easy to fill in the blank with a million possibilities, most of them more profound than becoming a movie star. "So I made a very conscious decision to be fearless, to live a life of fear-freeness. I decided to do something every day I was afraid of." Like?

"I swam with sharks," he says, recounting a scuba trip off California's southern coast. "I was terrified of sharks and I'm still terrified of sharks, but at least I was taking action--and not being squelched by something I don't know about."


To fight complacency, Renner developed a tool he calls a "life awareness chart." Draw a circle on a sheet of paper. Divide it, like a pie chart, into per-centages: time spent working, time spent not working, time spent bitching about not working.


"It takes 10 seconds to do, but now you can really assess, like, 'Okay, look here, ass nuts, you spent a third of your year in a bar, getting drunk, singing karaoke'--this is me I'm talking about, right?--and so now it's, 'Oh, wait, I have to be accountable,' " says Renner, who has gone from pointing at my legal pad to jabbing a finger into my chest. His closest friends do charts, too, and then pass them among one another, offering interpretations, making challenges: "Be more communicative." "Lose the gut." "Grow a beard."


"Whatever it might be," he says, "now it's tangible. It's not a thought swimming in my head or a feeling in my heart. It exists on this paper. I own it."


After moving to L.A. in his early 20s, Renner needed all the wisdom he could summon. He wanted roles that were nourishing and authentic, not mindless fun, a standard that left him teetering on the brink of indigence. While holding out, he survived on two-for-29-cent burgers from McDonald's. For months at a stretch his utilities were cut--water, power--forcing him to camp in his own apartment. Even when he was cast in Dahmer, the 2002 biopic that earned him a Spirit Award nomination, the rewards were strictly creative. His pay: $50 a day.


"You could call it making sacrifices," he says, "but those sacrifices have made me who I am, so I don't know if I'd consider them sacrifices or blessings." These days there are more opportunities, but also more opportunities to go astray. He refused to settle when times were tough. Now that he is in demand, he is even more determined not to let money dictate his choices. "My plan is to be able to do what I want to do when I want to do it, and not because I have to," says Renner. "I call it my 'pull-chute' plan. That's a military thing, you know...time to pull chute, like, time to kind of float and enjoy the view."


That may sound risky, and maybe it is, which is why Renner some years ago turned to real estate. Even in a depressed economy, he earns more money flipping houses--gutting, remodeling, decorating-- than he does making movies. He and his investment partner, actor Kristoffer Winters, started with a $650,000 place. Fifteen properties later, they are selling $4 million Greek Revivals, usually living in the construction site until a buyer takes it off their hands. "During the Academy Awards, I was sleeping under painter's plastic in a guest apartment with no plumbing, and I had to go brush my teeth at Starbucks," says Renner, whose mother, now a retired bookkeeper, was his date for the ceremony.


This leaves little time for the gym, but climbing ladders and spackling ceilings is a worthy workout: At 5-foot-10, Renner is still the same sinewy 160 pounds he was when he finished high school. He eats better than he did during those Mickey D years, or, when he feels indulgent, has at least graduated to the haute beef of $12 burger bars. After all, on that pie chart he draws of his life, there must be times he can forget about money--and the paparazzi.


"Sometimes," says Renner, ordering another vodka and eyeing the piano, "I just kind of want to have fun and be unconscious for a while."

Renner's on to something: When you work with your hands, you build impressive strength. That's because your muscles respond well to the tension, speed, and cardiovascular demands of using tools, says Martin Rooney, P.T., C.S.C.S., the author of Ultimate Warrior Workouts. So jump up and chisel your body the old-fashioned way.



Average number of calories an 180-pound man burns in an hour of...


Chopping and splitting wood: 491


Mowing grass (pushing by hand): 491


Cleaning gutters: 409


Painting (exterior): 409


Planting trees: 368


Raking leaves: 352


Trimming (using edger, power cutter): 286


General carpentry: 245


Hanging wallboard: 245


Operating a floor sander: 368


Wiring and plumbing: 245


Heavy cleaning (car, windows): 245



Chopping wood


It's an amazing challenge for your grip, forearms, and core strength as it builds heart and lung endurance.



Mowing the lawn


It's the equivalent of an NFL star pushing his training sled across the gridiron. All that force works your quads, glutes, and calves as it builds shoulder stability.



Using a floor sander


Because of the machine's vibration and the force you generate, your body--and especially your abs--must resist movement, which strengthens your obliques and back muscles.



Source: menshealth.com