May 2, 2012 -- "It All Seems a Little Crazy"; After a Slow Rise to Stardom, Jeremy Renner Stars in The Avengers (

LOS ANGELES — A decade ago, Jeremy Renner was wondering if the rejection would ever end. The actor was living on day-old doughnuts, favours from friends, and lots of disappointments.

In 2002, he thought playing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the biopic Dahmer would change everything, and he was wrong — again.

After some acclaim for the role and a few minor awards, he went back to his journeyman status, and all the frustration that goes with working just enough.

“I wasn’t having fun,” admits the 41-year-old at a swanky Beverly Hill hotel suite.

It’s amazing what a few Oscar nominations can do for an erratic career. In quick order, Renner picked up a best-actor nod in 2010 for his intense bomb-squad soldier in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker. And he followed that up last year with a supporting-actor nod for his role as a volatile crook in Ben Affleck’s The Town.

After 20 years in the business, Renner was an overnight success.

To say he has made the transition from low-budget indie pictures to big-studio blockbusters is an understatement. The man is nothing, if not busy.

He co-starred opposite Tom Cruise in last December’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which made $693 million US worldwide.

He also replaced Matt Damon in the Bourne franchise, playing agent Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy, which will hit theatres Aug. 3. Early next year, he can be seen as Hansel in the action fantasy, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a post-modern take on the fable in which brother and sister are bounty hunters.

And finally, Renner plays S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hawkeye in the superhero movie, The Avengers, opening May 4.

“I know it all seems a little crazy,” he says. “But I’m really comfortable with how things have worked out.”

No kidding. In The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s 3-D epic, Renner appears alongside fellow agent Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a superhero ensemble of stars. They include Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Captain America (Chris Evans).

Together, they take on Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has organized an alien invasion force to take over the world.

While Hawkeye is initially compromised, he recovers sufficiently to join the battle. Before that, the bow-and-arrow expert has a few hand-to-hand confrontations against Black Widow.

It meant Renner squared off with Johansson. Both tried to do as many of the mixed-martial-arts scenes as they could. “We beat each other up pretty good,” says Renner, smiling. “And you know it was fun. I loved getting beaten up by Scarlett.”

He did suffer for it, however. He ripped a muscle in his back during one of the sessions, and the injury shut down production for a week.

In recovery mode these days, Renner says the physical discomfort was worth being a part of the ensemble. He was especially excited when everybody was in costume on set at the same time. “It was like Halloween,” he jokes.

Renner can be glib about the costumes, because he had fewer frills to worry about; Hawkeye’s getup in the movie is simple, compared to some of the more flamboyant outfits.

“If you have to wear a superhero costume, Hawkeye’s would be it,” says the actor of his all-black shirt, vest, and pants. “I was in hair and makeup for only five minutes, then I’d get into my tight biker pants, and I was ready.”

Other than that, Renner is quietly preparing for his Marvel future.

Tentative plans are in development for a Hawkeye-Black Widow spinoff, which may include Nick Fury.

In the meantime, Iron Man 3 starts filming soon. Thor 2 is ready to shoot this summer, and a second Captain America will get going by early next year.

Even if a Hawkeye-Black Widow movie gets pushed for a second Avengers picture, Renner says he will be “ready and willing” to do what’s required.

“It really is a great honour to be a part of something so massively huge, with so many great actors,” he says.

After promoting The Avengers, Renner has something else on his to-do list: He’s planning a summer vacation.

“I am taking a break for while,” he says. “I did five movies in a row, which is two years of my life, so I want to take the summer off, and see my family and friends.”