- Published: Sunday, 24 November 2013 05:22
- Written by coolshades
Ten years ago, the best-actor Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker and his buddy Kristoffer Winter started buying neglected Los Angeles houses, demolishing them and rebuilding them from the ground up. It's part hobby, part investment strategy, part a desire on Renner's part to do something tangible and concrete in an industry that's generally the opposite.
"We just fell into it. It's something we became good at. I drive by all the houses all the time. It feels good to provide a lifestyle for somebody," says Renner, 39. "I was tired of paying rent and with my buddy bought this first house and ended up fixing it up and selling it. It kept growing."
Much like Renner's career, which is also blowing up.
After appearing both in prestige productions such as 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the short-lived ABC cop series The Unusuals, plus a turn as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2002 movie Dahmer, he has broken out as Staff Sgt. William James, a skilled bomb detonator in Iraq in The Hurt Locker, now out on DVD. As part of an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, James deactivates explosives with icy precision. But off the battlefield, in the cereal aisle, his wires are crossed.
Renner calls Hurt Locker "the role of a lifetime. I knew what we had was great, but I didn't know how it would be received. It was 3½ years ago when we started and here we are now," he marvels. "The role was so rich and complex, and the story of EOD made it so new and fresh. I trained with EOD for over a year to accurately portray these guys, these heroes. I would have sold my sister to play this role — and I love my sister."
Fortunately, he had director Kathryn Bigelow on his side. From the start, she did not want to cast a marquee movie star as her lead soldier. Simply put, she didn't want anyone on the screen who was famous enough to convey a sense of invulnerability in a film that's almost relentless with its sense of danger and personal jeopardy.
"That was the mandate going in. And I quite honestly enjoy working with breaking actors and finding an actor like Jeremy, who I think is one of the most talented actors of his generation," Bigelow says. "It was only a matter of time because within the industry he was fairly well known. It was only a matter of moments before a Spielberg or Ridley Scott was going to get there first. I was a few seconds ahead of them."
She had heard of Renner. But for Bigelow, "Dahmer was really the watershed moment that gave me the confidence that he could play this perfectly. When I met him, there's a kind of excited profound talent that you're struck by immediately. I never had any doubts."
Hot and rocky
In many ways, getting the role — and convincing Bigelow he was right for the part — was easy. Shooting the film, on location in Jordan in 115-degree summer heat, was "hell," Renner says.
"Every film has its own obstacles. This film happened to be in the Middle East," he says. "It wasn't any one thing that made it difficult. It was 1,000 things compiled on each other. How we got it done, I have no idea, but we couldn't have gotten it done without being there."
He wore a real bomb-suit that weighed 80 to 100 pounds in the heat.
"Bigelow told actors to be prepared because your trailer will be a rock. If you don't want to do that, if you don't want to invest yourself in that way, don't do this movie. No one balked at that," says producer Greg Shapiro. "From a physical standpoint, Jeremy was so well-conditioned. At the end of every take, he'd remove his helmet and put a cold compress on his head. I don't know many actors who could deal with that."
Renner, in turn, doesn't confuse his film portrayal of a soldier with the real deal. And he says what matters most to him is the response of real military members to the movie.
"I couldn't believe I didn't know what EOD was — and that's our warfare. Hopefully there's a greater understanding of these guys' lives and what they're doing," Renner says. "Wow, what an amazing gift it's been. EOD can pick (the movie apart). We're trying to make it as honest and truthful as we could, but it's still cinema. We're trying to tell a story. But you get an idea of what these guys go through — a fraction of that, at least."
Renner, meanwhile, also is getting an idea of what it's like to work the Hollywood awards circuit. He has been asked what it would feel like to win the Oscar, a question that baffles him because he hasn't won it yet. Still, he has paid his dues in Hollywood, so Renner is taking all the attention in stride.
"I love to work. I hope to continue working. I don't worry. I don't have control over that. I'm excited to get back to work, because I know how to do that. All this other stuff, I'm learning as I go," he says.
He's apparently a quick study, Shapiro says.
"He's handling it remarkably well. We've gone through this entire process together. He's so grounded because he's been doing this for so long. He's not a kid. He has a very mature attitude, a very evolved attitude," says the producer. "There's a certain amount of patience. He's a very steady and grounded person."
And one who is appreciative of all his good fortune.
"He's very open and available and very, very smart," Bigelow says. "He's such a gracious, humble man. He has so much integrity. He's confident in his talent. He was that way when I met him and he's that way now."
JR just fits right in
In Hurt Locker, Renner's character is wound tight and almost scarily focused. The actor, thankfully, is a lot looser in person, with a quick, deadpan sense of humor. And he's easygoing, says Jon Hamm, Renner's co-star in the upcoming crime drama The Town.
"There's that thing in Jeremy. He's a very passionate guy. He's an intense guy and takes his work and his art very seriously. He's got that good balance where he's not too serious. He can cut loose and make fun of himself. We share that common ground. He's a funny guy," Hamm says. "He's a good guy, easy to be in a room with, can be friendly and friends with a lot of people. We shot in Boston and a lot of the people were locals and JR just fit right in, man. It's a compliment."
Renner promises he's nowhere near as brave — some would say reckless — as William James.
"Now I'm just more fearless more in a spiritual and emotional kind of way, instead of in a physical way. Maybe I don't think about the consequences because I don't care. What's the worst that can happen? I hurt someone's feelings?" Renner says. "It's terrifying to tear down a house and build a new one. If I thought about it, I wouldn't do it. You just gotta do it."
In person, Renner is quietly self-assured and polite, but not a clown or a people-pleaser.
"Where he and William James are similar is a trust in themselves and an innate confidence that you're struck by when you're working with him," Bigelow says. "I suppose the difference is he's not married and doesn't have a son. I don't imagine that will be for long."
His date to the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre March 7? His mother, whom he called when he heard of his nomination.
"That was my only phone call. She was screaming and jumping up and down and I asked her what she was doing," says Renner, who is single.
He acts. He builds. He loves his mother. But there's even more to Renner.
"He's a very good actor but also one of those crazy talented guys who can play the piano and sing really well," Hamm laments. "I mean, you gotta be kidding me. It's not fair."
Getting noticed for: Playing a bomb-defusing thrill junkie soldier in the Oscar-nominated drama The Hurt Locker.
Critical mass: Time's Richard Corliss writes that Renner "slowly reveals the strength, confidence and unpredictability of a young Russell Crowe." The New York Times' A.O. Scott dubs Renner's performance "feverish, witty, headlong and precise." USA TODAY's Claudia Puig says Renner stars in "a hauntingly memorable film that is as visually riveting as it is emotionally intense."
Medal haul: Best-actor Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, plus nods from BAFTA, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Screen Actors Guild. Breakthrough-artist wins at National Board of Review and Palm Springs International Film Festival.