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The Many Lives of Jeremy Renner (Esquire Middle East)

To most people, Jeremy Renner is the star of The Avengers and most recently Wind River. What people don't know, is that he's a man of many (surprising) talents.

It takes me a good five minutes to even notice when Jeremy Renner arrives at the kitsch, wood cabin retreat in the hills of West Hollywood. A romantic — if not a little absurd — location for the day’s photoshoot.

It took me a while due to Renner’s persona as the antithesis of a Hollywood celebrity. He embodies the guy next door — and he uses that as a positive, his hook. It’s a slow start to the day, Renner is tired, and as he sits to get his hair and make-up done you can tell there are other places he would rather be.

After the shoot, he is heading off to one of his properties up in the mountains, the smile on his face as he tells me this hints at the true character of the man. An adventurer. A person at ease with the outdoors.

To most people, Jeremy Renner is a Hollywood star. A versatile, top calibre actor that studios can bank on to get butts in seats. His most acclaimed role was as an Iraq war IED bomb disposal specialist in The Hurt Locker (2008). The film won best picture and best director (for Kathryn Bigelow) at the 2010 Oscars. Renner was nominated for best actor.

Critical-acclaim aside, Renner has built his film career on being a proven commercial success, starring in blockbuster action gold including Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011) and The Bourne Legacy (2012). He is best known for his portrayal of Hawkeye in the Marvel Studios universe, the enormous superhero franchise that includes Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Captain America: Civil War (2016).

“There are a lot of good things that come with being in the Marvel universe,” says the actor. “The greatest thing is when you see kids light up when they see you. It’s pretty wonderful, to be able to make a kid’s day like that.”

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

On the more commercially-minded level, the hulking juggernaut that is Marvel has opened up opportunities for him to make other films that might ordinarily be very hard to make happen. His recent film Wind River, being one of them.

Wind River is a murder/mystery thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan and starring Esquire-favourite, Elizabeth Olsen. Renner plays a US wildlife service tracker with Olsen playing an FBI agent who tries to solve a layered murder case on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2017 to an overwhelmingly positive response. Although he refuses to describe it as being a career-defining role, Renner stresses how impressed he was with the film and how proud he was to be a part of it.

“The script was beautifully written, very raw and emotionally intelligent and thoughtful.” It seems despite the success that Hawkeye has brought him, it is the more intellectually-stimulating roles that resonate strongest with him.

Renner is a single father in real life but has never before played one on screen. So when the opportunity arose to play a father, one who has to face emotional turmoil and deal with loss, he couldn’t turn it down.

The film deals with underlying race issues with regards to indigenous people in the US, a subject that touched a nerve with Renner. “People who are often oppressed and forgotten about. It’s important to help people that don’t have a big voice speak out.” As a good-looking, white, male lead actor, he is very sympathetic to the imbalance of casting in Hollywood.

He speaks with clarity — and refreshingly firm stance against it — that few actors of his calibre usually do. “There is an injustice in casting because it’s a financial business. Sure, it’s entertainment, but it’s a business, and people get too scared to take a chance on something” he says with a
long shake of the head.

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

It is women in film and their treatment in the industry that seems to aggravate him most. “I’m so happy that Wonder Woman did really well,” he comments, referring to the Gal Gadot-led film, which is one of the top 50 highest grossing of all time.

“A female-led superhero role had not been a proven winner at the box office yet, so that’s a really good thing that it happened.” He speaks on the subject with not only conviction but an intelligence that if all of Hollywood shared, it would benefit the diversification of leading actors in these big films.

“I personally don’t think it has to do with gender or race at all. Our audiences are open and willing, it all just comes down to the final product, the piece of cinema, and the story” he says. “If the material is good, I think anybody can shine, and it makes me happy when a woman — or anybody who doesn’t get a lot of opportunities — nails it.

It’s a beautiful thing.” It isn’t only his admiration of Wonder Woman (2017) that showcases his progressive stance. He admits that the main reason he took the role in Arrival (2016) was because of Amy Adams. “A very strong character for a female in a lead role is sparse to find, so I wanted to support that.”

With box office and critical acclaim under his belt, Renner’s big screen acting chops are undeniable. However, with the rise of on-demand services like Netflix, and gargantuan shows like Game of Thrones now setting the social agenda, what does Renner think of making the big move over to the small screen?

“Television is where the really good drama now lives,” he says with a surprising enthusiasm for a film star who has only previously dabbled in television — most notably in The Unusuals (2009), an underrated one-season comedic drama about a dysfunctional New York police department created by Noah Hawley (the man behind current hits Fargo and Legion). He continues: “I feel like the real storytelling, the real character stuff is being done there.”

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

But more than just pipedreams, this aspiring television shift could fast become a reality. “I’ve been looking at doing a Doc Holliday origin story as a series for Netflix or Amazon.” Although still in early stages, his focus for it seems intense and genuine.

“It will be one of those cable sort of situations, where you can binge watch 10-hours of it. That deep level of character-driven storytelling really interests me.” Later, Renner confesses that a big draw for signing on to a steady TV gig is that it allows him more time to do his “most important job”, raising his four-year-old daughter Ava Berlin.

“The trouble is with shooting films, shoots can be in London or Dubai, where I shot Mission: Impossible, and it takes you away from your family for a long time. That’s the first and most important box to tick now when I consider signing up to a project.”

There’s a visible change in Renner as he talk about his daughter. The unassuming star who is happy to blend into the background of the manic goings on of our photoshoot, now transforms into a bubbling father. His tone is distinct, different. It’s tangible. A clear love, mixed with pride, peppered with protectiveness. It is clear that in fatherhood, Renner has found his true happiness and a sense of focus.

“Am I a good dad? Without a doubt. It is the thing that I’m best at in life.” As we discuss how the role of fatherhood has developed from previous generations, he perfectly captures how it has impacted his life: “Life becomes very simple,” he says with a smile on his face, “and I’m a very simple man with an incredibly complicated life.”

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

Among the shiny natives of Hollywood, Renner sticks out like a sore thumb. He is not your typical celebrity, not even close. It seems important for him to have a simple life with a clear focus on what’s important and what isn’t. His daughter has helped him find that focus.

“My favourite thing about being a father is the clarity that comes with it,” explains the actor with more than a hint of pride. “There’s a lot of responsibility in my life and a lot of spinning plates that I have to keep going — my business, my career and lots of other things — but none of them, come close to my daughter.” Clarity, commitment, and an all-together open-minded outlook on life, Renner is the poster boy for a modern day man.

But the journey into father-hood hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Renner married Canadian model Sonni Pacheco, his daughter’s mother, in early 2014, but Pacheco filed for divorce less than a year later citing irreconcilable differences. They now share joint custody of Ava Berlin.

There has been a long, drawn-out, messy-at-times, divorce settlement and while the prospect of more children certainly interests him, he is aware of the concerns and pressures that it would bring.

“I certainly don’t want two baby-mamas,” he says wryly. “I don’t wanna complicate my life any more than it already is! I’d have to find a partner to really do it with if it happened. I’d have more kids, but I’m totally cool if I don’t.”

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

So, that’s actor and father, but it doesn’t stop there. Renner is somewhat of a multi-skilled machine, and counts music and property development among his intimidatingly varied skill set.

He recently starred in the campaign for cognac brand Remy Martin. It relied on the concept of how a modern man can be labelled by one thing, and how nowadays, people have different skills, jobs, passions. “I liked the way their campaign was about not being defined or labelled by any single idea. I always found why people do what they do is more interesting than what they do.”

Far from a sheltered celebrity in a bubble, Renner seems hard-wired to always be looking at the bigger picture. He has an intelligence, and refreshingly, an opinion on topics that many in the public eye aren’t as vocal on. “I think it’s pretty archaic to think you can define somebody by one word or even one sentence, I mean I can sit here and say I can define myself by many things I do actionably, but does that still define me, who I am as a man? And what I am as a father? No, it can’t.”

His passion on the subject is clear, as his micro-rant concludes with a list of what he will do when he finishes the shoot and — finally — gets some time to himself.

For the curious, a Renner day off — as you would imagine — is still pretty action packed, with not a TV in sight (he claims not to have watched TV properly in 15 years). That means no Game of Thrones; no The Wire; and only little bits of Breaking Bad. From his personal recording studio where he will continue writing music for a soundtrack he is currently working on; to having a swim; to playing the piano and doing some yard work — which apparently he loves to do. It is tiring just hearing him list it all.

It is clear though, that creating music and being in the recording studio, is a real passion for Renner. A singer-songwriter and musician at heart, he performed with the band Sons of Ben early in his career. “Right now a lot of my free time is spent doing music, I’m transitioning more into recording and writing and things like that, and I think that’s what the bulk of my free time goes when I have it.”

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

It’s evident when talking to him that the concept of free time is a struggle to grasp. He has to keep busy, from filming blockbusters, to raising his daughter, to his successful music career and lastly — but by no means least — his extensive property development portfolio.

While a bit of a random hobby for most A-list actors, Renner has been flipping properties in California for over a decade. It is something he sees as not only highly lucrative, but an activity he can get creative with.

 “I see it as a very tangible art form,” he says when we speak on the phone later in the day. “I’m sitting in my house right now. I built every square inch of this thing. I had hands on every plant, every lightbulb, every slab and piece of tile, the furniture that came into it was all my doing. There’s a huge a sense of pride that comes with that. And most importantly, it still exists!”

He explains: “If I write a song, it doesn’t exist, it’s just out there. A movie is just an experience, it doesn’t really exist. But building something is a tangible art. And one that I get to live in.”

It’s a curious paradox. The world-famous film actor who despite being a household name, finds solace in being on a construction site, or ferreted away in a recording studio. Why is it that the fame-game seems so uninteresting to him?

“I think it’s because I caught fame later on in life when I already had a really good sense of who I am and what I’ll always be,” he says. “I’m still the same dude that grew up in a small town on a farm. Life gets complicated, and I work hard to stay true to myself.”

As expected, someone who appreciates the quieter life outside of the celebrity circuit, there are still sometime struggles with the perils of fame. Asked if he ever gets hounded for selfies, he talks about being approached in restaurant urinals, mid-flow. “People come up to you and they’re like ‘oh my goodness, can I take a picture with you?’ and I’m like, is this really the place? That happens quite often,” he laughs.

This invasion of privacy is half-expected with celebrity life, well, maybe not the urinal stalking but certainly the public interest. Like many an A-lister before him, Renner uses social media as a direct voice to the world.

The actor has amassed 4.8 million followers on Instagram, which he describes as a “necessary evil that’s easy to abuse”. He opened his accounts three years ago to correct a rumour of his death circling online. 

“When I started using social media I was just trying to give a version of my life that is true. People don’t get to know all of me — f**k you, you’re not my friend — but what I can expose are the things that have value to me.”

Jeremy Renner for Esquire

Value is one thing, but Renner maintains a sense of privacy on some subjects. “I don’t talk about everything that is dear to me. For example, social media is not the right place to discuss subjects like cancer and the effect that it has had on my family. Instead, I focus on positive things, like showing how cool it is to be an involved father and being active in your child’s life,” he says bringing up his daughter again. “If that makes three dudes think ‘f**k, Hawkeye’s a really cool dad to his kid! I gotta man up and do that’ then that’s awesome!”

His open ideals and support of women and minorities in film, and their limited opportunities extends to other topics. He is well-travelled and seems to love exploring and embracing different cultures. Perhaps that’s the method actor in him.

“I’ve been blessed to go around this planet a good 55 times and experienced a lot of cultures, architecture, language and beauty.” And he is no stranger to the Middle East; he first visited while filming The Hurt Locker in 2008. “After that I was back filming Mission: Impossible in Dubai, so we spent a lot of time there. Actually, my brother is currently redesigning a house in Saudi Arabia.”

Earlier in the day, as our shoot comes to an end, Renner dutifully poses for selfies and signatures from the eager team with a smile on his face. But despite his celebrity status, there is something unavoidably relatable about Jeremy Renner. He’s a hardworking, middle-aged guy who found success later on in life, after years of “putting the work in”.

Renner is basically the classic modern-day man who doesn’t want to — and cannot — be defined by one thing. Instead, he’s a single parent, who wants to do right by his kid. He is creative and self-sufficient, able to build his own house. A bona-fide Hollywood star, and a writer and performer of music. And to top it all off, is also a vocal pro-feminist and humanitarian.

He is one man who does many things and excels at them all. It’s enough to make any other man feel inadequate. It seems Hollywood’s Mr. Average is not so average after all.

Source: Daniel Higgins at Esquire Middle East

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