December 19, 2011 -- Jeremy Renner Didn't Shoot to Fame, He Climbed (

If you spot Jeremy Renner, don't be shy. He won't ignore you or act put-upon.

"All of a sudden after Hurt Locker, people knew my name. Hey, man, it's great. When people recognize you for something you're proud of — why not?" says Renner, 40. "But I don't consider myself famous. You have to look at it from where I'm standing. I've been doing it for 20 years. It's been a slow trajectory. I don't want to say it feels right, but it's palatable, I suppose."

It has been a slow and steady ascent for Renner, who earned a best-actor Oscar nomination for playing a frighteningly intense member of a bomb squad in The Hurt Locker. He earned a second chance at the Oscar as a volatile thief in Ben Affleck's The Town. And things are only ramping up.

In 2012, he'll play Hawkeye in Joss Whedon's The Avengers, a fairy-tale-based bounty hunter in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and a character about whom he reveals nothing in the secretive The Bourne Legacy.

And oh, yeah, that's him helping Tom Cruise scale the world's tallest building in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which is now playing in IMAX theaters and will expand Wednesday.

"Now there is more awareness of me publicly and in the industry. More opportunities, better opportunities. You have to wait for a big star to come in and generate interest on a project, and now that has become me, which is an amazing blessing," says Renner, calling from Calgary, Alberta, where he's shooting Legacy.

For directors such as Mission: Impossible's Brad Bird, Renner is the rare actor who combines serious talent with the ability to believably blow stuff up.

"Besides his amazing charisma and his technical skills as an actor, he has the physical chops to go into action scenarios and look like he means business. He has an amazing physical presence. He looks like he can take care of himself," says Bird, who cast Renner as an inscrutable intelligence analyst in Ghost Protocol.

The key to Renner's on-screen appeal: He's an ordinary guy who won't let you push him around.

"Jeremy has a realistic lived-in presence. Hawkeye is the quiet one, the sniper. He's the least likely to play with others. You put a suit on Jeremy, and he looks as much like a superhero as Chris Hemsworth does, but he's always downplaying it," says Whedon.

Like the character he plays, Renner can be a little difficult to read. He's direct, with a dry sense of humor. "He's an interesting cat. He's fully present, but he thinks a lot about something. He circles. He's very unique. He's both guarded and wide open. It's a strange contradiction," says Bird. "He definitely holds parts of himself in reserve, but he'll let you know what's on his mind. He enjoys his life."

In fact, Renner is a man of many talents. He plays the piano. He's an avid skier. And for fun, he renovates houses with his business partner and then resells them. This year has been about filming. Next year, he'll pick up the hammer again.

"It's a nice sense of accomplishment. I really enjoy doing it. It's always been an investment. I like tangible things, in the sense of investing," says Renner. "When I first got money, I never wanted to invest in the stock market. I don't understand it. It's like blackjack. I'm very ignorant when it comes to the stock market. It's not my world. I come from a very different background. I believe in things I can actually use. When it goes to hell, at least I have a roof over my head."

Renner's equally pragmatic about fame. It hasn't gone to his head, and it likely never will.

"I don't change. The things around me change. I'm 40. I'm learning a lot. But I'm not changing. It's amazing to have all these things happen to me now because I'm not wavering and I have a good sense of who I am as a human being," he says. "I'm not teetering on anything. I know what I like and what I want, and I can sit and enjoy every 10 minutes that go by. And truly enjoy it. It's such a blessing to be where I am at this age."

Renner, who's single, says he doesn't care what may be said or written about him. And he sounds like he means it. "You can screw with me all you want. It's no big deal. People can say whatever the hell they want. Just don't mess with my family," he says.

He's gone from journeyman actor to an A-lister whose schedule is set through 2013. Renner isn't quite sure how he feels about that and says he misses the freedom in not knowing what's ahead. "I have jobs lined up for a year and a half. That's really difficult for me to manage and try to carve out what my life is going to be like. I don't want to know what my life is like tomorrow, let alone in 20-(expletive)-13," he says.

Renner is, in fact, very similar to the focused, often stubborn characters he seems to gravitate toward. "He's very serious without ever being pretentious. He's very working-class and wants to have fun," says Whedon. "He's a lot like the people he plays: very precise in his movement and in his thoughts."

Big budgets don't entice Renner. After this many action films back to back, he's looking for projects that involve no explosions or car chases.

"I have certain requirements to do a job. It's not how big or small the movie is. Money doesn't matter. What matters to me is who I work with and what I can learn and is there enough for me to do as an actor," he says. "The last 18 months — I had my head down, just working away, jumping from one set to another. I forgot that there's output to all the work. Oh, my God, that's so exciting. That's when it starts to become sort of surreal. I'm not a result-oriented kind of guy. I just go do the work every day."

He says he learned plenty about the sometimes-tricky relationship between hard work and stardom from Cruise.

"Someone who's that big a movie star turned out to be a nice human being. That's always a nice bonus. And how hard he works. It's inspiring, and it pushed me to want to be better. A lot of actors I've seen, 20 years in, they hang out in their trailer and mosey out 25 minutes later. They're late to work. I hate that. I hate that," he says. "Tom is up two hours early, training, working out. I can't believe how much he gets done in a day."

Not that Renner is a slacker in any sense of the word.

His track record since the two Oscar nominations has been impressive, with nothing embarassing in the mix — yet. "That's the goal," says Renner. "You never know how something will come out. I choose projects that I believe in. I'm just happy to be working. Let's see where we go from here."