August 5, 2012 -- Jeremy Renner Continues "The Bourne Legacy," but not as Jason Bourne but Rather Agent Aaron Cross (nydailynews.com)

Star who made his name in 'The Hurt Locker' did his own stunts in the movie, capping a two-year marathon of shooting films

Jeremy Renner as agent Aaron Cross in "The Bourne Legacy"

Forget the gun battles, motorcycle chases, parkour-style scampering on rooftops in Manila and fistfights that left several stuntmen with black eyes.

One of the toughest sequences for Jeremy Renner to shoot on “The Bourne Legacy,” opening Friday, was a fairly innocent scene at the beginning of the movie, one where his character emerges shirtless from a frigid stream filmed deep in the Canadian Rockies.

Director Tony Gilroy allotted just one take for the scene in which Renner’s secret agent dives in to retrieve a canister for a training exercise. Just in case, a hot tub was flown in by helicopter to dunk the actor in immediately afterwards. Medics trained in hypothermia were nearby.

“That was freezing. Couldn’t we just do that scene in a hot tub?” the 41-year-old actor says, laughing, more than a year later, sitting in the much warmer outdoor courtyard of Manhattan’s Greenwich Hotel for an interview with the Daily News.

“My only concern was I hope this looks cold. I don’t know if it comes across that way, but they’re going to think we’re on a soundstage or something. That was not the case.”

His greatest stunt, however, might just be pulling off a reinvigoration of a franchise left for dead after its star, Matt Damon – Jason Bourne himself – decided in April 2010 not to return for a fourth go-around. Director Paul Greengrass had already opted out.

Universal had been fast-tracking another movie after the three-film franchise earned a shade under $1 billion worldwide at the box office. But Greengrass couldn’t see a way back in after 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” neatly tied up the saga. The amnesiac Bourne had discovered all about his past as a trained killer, avenged the death of his lover and publicly exposed the CIA’s behavior-modification program. No one was sure where the saga, based on the novels of Robert Ludlum, could go — except that there would be no reboot of the same plot or other actor taking over Damon’s role.

Jeremy Rener, star of "The Bourne Legacy," at the Greenwich Hotel in Manhattan.

 

When first approached, Renner couldn’t see it, either.

“I love those movies, I’m a fan of them,” Renner says, but like so many others, he could not think of a way in which the series could continue.

“I didn’t see how you make a Bourne movie without the central character,” Renner says. “Then, when I got the script, it was clear as day. I’m like, ‘This is really exciting.’ But we were privy to information that the fans weren’t. So we understood why we were going to get flack for it.”

What fans didn’t know was that Gilroy, the screenwriter behind the previous “Bourne” films, cracked the nut of how to go on without his central character: introduce a new agent who’s been just as affected by the government’s shady machinations.

“The Bourne Legacy” opens up in the wake of the events of “Ultimatum.” The enigmatic National Research Assay Group, led by Col. Eric Byer (Ed Norton), scrambles to erase all traces of the controversial research that went into the mysterious Treadstone program, including a mirror program for the Department of Defense called Outcome. That includes all of the agents in the field, including Aaron Cross (Renner).

When a failed missile strike leaves him as the last Outcome agent still standing, Cross is off and running — literally. His only hope for survival is to rely on a scientist, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who’s also in the crosshairs of the conspirators.

Off the screen, Renner also has been in perpetual motion since his breakthrough Academy Award-nominated turn in 2008’s “The Hurt Locker.”

Though he eked out a living for years in movies (“Dahmer,” “S.W.A.T.”) and on television, his portrayal of a cocky member of an Army bomb squad unit in Iraq in Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture-winning war drama brought his career to a different level. Ben Affleck immediately cast Renner as a high-strung bank robber in “The Town,” a role that earned him a second Oscar nomination.

Renner is only now emerging from a two-year stretch of filming “Mission: Impossible – The Ghost Protocol,” “The Avengers,” “The Bourne Legacy” and the upcoming “Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters,” all without a break.

“Don’t get me wrong, I would never plan to do five movies in a row without a break,” Renner says. “It’s just not wise. But I felt very lucky and blessed to be given those opportunities, so I did them and tested my limits.”

Over a span of one year and 10 months, he estimates he averaged four hours of sleep daily.

“I travel the world, but I haven’t seen any of it,” adds Renner. “I literally have been in 10 cool, beautiful countries, but I never touched the soil. I go from the plane to the car to the hotel and right back on out. I’m like, ‘Oh that’s kind of tragic,’ but that’s how I have to think about it. I’m not there to be a tourist to have gelato in Rome. I’m there to do press.”

Actually, Renner didn’t even have time to do a screen test for Gilroy, who spent four months scouring for the perfect lead.

Realizing Renner was “right in the sweet spot of what we were looking for,” Gilroy says he and producer Frank Marshall “hustled right over to Germany, where Jeremy was shooting, to talk to him. We sent someone over with the script, and he responded to it, said come on over. And I was really struck how facile and how charming he was.”

Gilroy admired Renner’s previous work.

“My exposure to him had really been that I’d seen him in ‘Dahmer,’” Gilroy says of Rennner’s little-seen 2002 performance as the infamous serial killer. “You see Dahmer and you go, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s a total creep. How did they find this guy?’

“But you meet Jeremy, and he’s very loose, charming and sweet in a way I hadn’t anticipated.”

Renner did stand firm on a condition: He wanted to do his own stunts wherever possible. Like the one he’s most proud of, a scene where he had to pull himself out of a basement window, clamber up the side of an old house and leap into a third floor window, all in one continuous camera shot.

One slip-up — either by Renner or the camera crew or the stunt team manipulating the wire harness — would mean the actor would have to start the physically challenging sequence over from scratch.

“Because it was a ‘oner’ and there was no cut, I had to be perfect all the way through,” Renner says. “Otherwise, I’d make myself do it again. That was the most tricky. Even though they were happy after take seven, [I thought] ‘I can do it better.’ I think I did like 25 takes.”

“I’m sure he was sore for days and days after that,” adds Gilroy.

The stunt sequence was part of a 12-week stretch where “The Bourne Legacy” filmed in and around New York City. Many of the interior scenes were shot on the sound stages of Queens’ Kaufman Astoria Studios. A wooded stretch of Staten Island doubled for Virginia for a key sequence.

If he’s suddenly been anointed into A-list status, Renner says he’d never know it when working in the Big Apple.

“New Yorkers are really easy and cool. They leave me alone,” he says. “In L.A., it becomes a little more difficult, just to shop in a grocery store. So I just go later at night.”

Renner says he’s never really gotten over the mindset of an actor scrambling to find work to make the rent. When he moved to Los Angeles from his hometown of Modesto, Calif., in the mid-’90s — close on a map, but completely different worlds to a small town boy — Renner couldn’t even land a waiting job.

“You needed to get a demo real just to go wait tables somewhere. s,” he says, only half-kidding.

Renner has a few weeks left of a whirlwind, worldwide tour to promote “The Bourne Legacy.” Only then will he finally carve out time for a break.

“I have another month, then I’ll take a nap,” he says, grinning. “A nice, long nap.”