April 13, 2012 -- Jeremy Renner's Shot at Playing Hero (thehollywoodreporter.com) - 3

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Renner's work ethic, perhaps part of his late-stardom gratitude, has made an impression. "Oh my God! It's a very explosive performance," says Gilroy. "This is the highest degree of difficulty, emotionally and physically."

Renner prepared intensely for the picture, training for six weeks in hand-to-hand combat and Filipino stick-fighting and keeping in mind the advice Cruise gave him while making Ghost Protocol: "Since you are doing all your stuff, there is no second string and you have to do due diligence not to get injured."

But he hasn't been so lucky. On Bourne, "I got injured kicking a table and missing and hyper-extending my leg! I had to get an MRI." He also hurt his arm, which "will be f--ed up for a while. I can't really grab anything" with one hand.

Ditto for injuries on Avengers. "He's an amazing fighter -- his fight work is wonderful: precise, heroic, and you seldom have to double him," says director Joss Whedon. "But one day he just turned wrong and his whole body shut down. He could not do anything. He was in enormous pain, and we had to shut that sequence down and shoot it a couple of weeks later." (Explains Renner: "I tore the muscle from my back to my shoulder. I got chewed up pretty good.")

Then there were scenes that required more than the evident stunts, such as running across roofs or jumping from one tree to another: "I had to wrestle this stuffed-animal version of a wolf. I had to animate the wolf, and it took all this extra effort, and it's like a street fight, just wrestling around in the snow with this stuffed animal slapping me in the face." For another scene, "I had to degrade to near death in the movie, where I had to shake for many minutes, and it looks like it's nothing, but when it's over I was more sore than I was the entire shoot."

The eldest of six children, Renner was born to young parents who worked in a bowling alley and split up when he was 8. He discovered acting while a student at Modesto Junior College, initially thinking of becoming a detective until he stumbled on an acting class and later moved to Los Angeles, where he launched his career.

In the mid-1990s, he started to get regular work in commercials, TV and movies and then drew serious attention for 2002's Dahmer, which earned him a Spirit Award nomination for best male lead. At the time, he was making more money flipping houses with Winters.

It wasn't until he was shooting the 2007 virus horror film 28 Weeks Later that he was shown the script that would change the course of his career. Kathryn Bigelow had seen Dahmer and cast Renner as bomb defuser Sgt. William James in The Hurt Locker, a role for which he trained intensely with explosives experts.

The shoot was almost impossibly hard, given that it was filmed in Jordan in 135-degree heat. "People had full-on mental breakdowns; I did," he says without elaborating. "Pure loneliness, that's what it came down to. It was a whole rainbow of good and bad."

He earned his first Oscar nomination (though Locker grossed only $17 million domestic). Subsequent efforts failed to quell doubts about Renner's blockbuster potential, though no one questions his enormous talent. Credit for The Town went to director-star Ben Affleck even as Renner drew a second Oscar nom for his role as the hotheaded James Coughlin, who helps Affleck's character stage his heists.

And the global success of last year's Ghost Protocol, with its $692 million worldwide gross, was ascribed to Cruise, reminding the world what a real movie star is. (Renner is committed to a follow-up but says, "It's Tom's franchise," and adds that speculation he is being groomed to succeed the 49-year-old Cruise is wrong.)

He had already agreed to play Hawkeye, the one character not gifted with superhero powers but just gigantic archery skill, in Avengers, before Ghost Protocol.

"Avengers was the first big movie I signed on to," he recalls. "It was something Zak Penn was the writer on; he's a friend. Then I met [Marvel Studios president and Avengers producer] Kevin Feige, and Zak was really pushing, saying 'You guys have got to hire Renner.' "