December 15, 2011 -- Blowing Up: Renner's Ready for Action (

Talk about an impossible mission.

How could an actor possibly have a year even bigger than the two previous, which brought him rare back-to-back Academy Award nominations and consistent raves from industry critics and insiders?

Yet, Modesto’s Jeremy Renner is on the cusp of having that bigger year — and he’s doing it, literally, in Hollywood blockbuster style.

Renner has not one, not two, but three big action movies coming out in quick succession — with a fourth smaller-scale but no less fascinating film in between. Two already are part of hugely popular film franchises, and a third is a near lock to join those ranks when it’s released in May.

Not such an impossible mission, as it turns out for the affable, accessible and incredibly busy guy from Modesto.

“I don’t know how it happened so close together,” Renner said in a phone interview last week, after a day of filming in Calgary. “It happened seemingly quickly in some instances. They (the films) were all kind of percolating for a while.”

First up for Renner is a role opposite Tom Cruise in the anticipated fourth film in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, “Ghost Protocol.” The film opens today in IMAX theaters, is playing at Galaxy in Riverbank and opens Wednesday in wide release. It already has garnered favorable reviews, including for Renner himself:

“Renner’s a great addition to the cast, and if there are more missions down the road, hopefully he’ll be back,” Associated Press film critic David Germain wrote in a three-star review of the film.

Next will be the smaller among Renner’s upcoming outings, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” scheduled for a March 2 release. In the action film, the Beyer High graduate plays Hansel to Gemma Arterton’s Gretel, 15 years after their horrifying meeting with a child-eating witch in the forest. The Grimm fairy tale follow-up casts the pair as bounty hunters.

On May 4, “The Avengers” lands, with Renner as the Marvel archer Hawkeye. It carries an all-star cast and the wide-eyed anticipation of the comic-book crowd. And it has future franchise written all over it.

Finally, on Aug. 3, Renner turns the page in the “Bourne” film story, taking over as the new action hero in the series. Renner plays Aaron Cross in “The Bourne Legacy,” a new CIA operative in a tale based on the Robert Ludlum novels.

It was filming for “Bourne” that found Renner in “the frozen tundra up in Calgary” last Thursday evening, from where he spoke about his quadruple-threat foray into action films.

“I didn’t go out looking for big blockbuster action movies, but the opportunities that were presented to me, it would be very very difficult to say no to,” he said. “I like to kind of explore, drive myself and overcome challenges that come my way. And as long as any movie has certain requirements that I kind of need to want to go to work and be happy, as those movies did — and do — I’ll try it.”

One of those requirements seems be the fun factor, which he’s enjoyed while filming both “Mission: Impossible” and “The Bourne Legacy” — including doing many of his own stunts.

Trailers for “M:I” have shown Renner hanging out a window of the 2,700-foot Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. He’s holding onto Cruise, who’s become famous for doing his own stunts, and Renner was not about to take a back seat in that department.

“Yeah, that (doing stunts) was one of the reasons for me kind of wanting to do it,” Renner said of the film. “It wasn’t as emotionally demanding as (past) jobs that I’ve done, but there were the physical challenges to overcome.

“Doing stunts was a great opportunity in my life to kind of go do things that people can’t buy a ticket and go do, so I figured why not? There was no reason to say no to that. That was just icing on the cake, really.”

He’s doing the same for “Bourne,” evidenced by the day he’d had filming: “I wish I could tell you about it, ’cause it was a really great day,” he said, “but I can’t tell you the details of it, unfortunately. A lot of fun stuff.”

But filming almost nonstop for the past year and a half and doing press tours for “M:I” has had its downside; Thanksgiving found him in Berlin, “eating bratwurst and drinking glühwein.”

“Nothing says Thanksgiving like weiners and wine,” he laughed. “I was a little bummed that I couldn’t be with the family, so I’m definitely going to do my best to be with them for Christmas.”

That means coming home to Modesto, a place he proudly holds dear to his heart. “I love going to Modesto, it’s the hometown, I’m really proud of it,” Renner said. “It’s a really great place to come back to for me.”

Modesto offers him a chance to break away from his hectic Hollywood pace and to reconnect with family.

“I have a really, really great circle of friends in L.A. that I’ve known for 19 years, at this point. Coming back to my family, I mean, that’s a different thing.

“When I get back to Modesto, the difference is it’s a change in pace, and I really appreciate the simple times that I have there — ‘simple’ meaning all I have to do is just get up and hang out with my family,” he continued. “If I want to go bowling, I can go bowling. If I want to go hang out downtown, which is actually quite fun, it’s just a way of life I don’t get to do very often.”

But before he can do that, there will be the New York première for “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.” In the film — which opens wide on Wednesday — Renner plays William Brandt, a CIA aide who joins the Impossible Missions Force after the team has been disavowed, leaving operative Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and crew on their own as they attempt to stop a lunatic from kicking off a nuclear war.

Renner said he enjoyed working with Cruise, calling the veteran actor “a great human.”

“I’ve never met such a hard worker. You can see why he’s been on top of his game for 30 years, even with the swells and tides as careers go. He works very, very, very hard,” Renner said. “You know, I’ve said it before, Tom Cruise has 48 hours in a day, where we have 24 … he can get so much done, it’s unbelievable. And (he’s a) great sort of mentor in a lot of ways.”

Brandt is another in a long line of intense, complicated men Renner has portrayed since playing Jeffrey Dahmer in 2002 — a role that netted him his first Independent Spirit Award nomination, for best male lead. A second Spirit Award nomination came for his lead in “The Hurt Locker,” which also brought him that first Academy Award nod last year and went on to take the best-picture Oscar. His second Oscar nomination, for supporting actor, came earlier this year for “The Town.”

And while “Mission” carries “a lightheartedness” and some comedic elements, he says, he has no plans to move from those dramatic character studies into comedy.

“I don’t know if I’d do a straight comedy, if I have it in me,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s in my wheelhouse.”

What might be in his wheelhouse, however, is a role that would play off his love of — and talent for — making music.

“Well, that would be interesting, you know, that would be something that I’d be really interested in,” Renner said. “It just depends on the situation and the role and if someone would want to hire me for that.”

In the meantime, music continues to be a hobby for the actor, who turns 41 next month. And while he doesn’t have time these days to do more with his musical skills, he said he does take a guitar or keyboard with him on location “so I can just tinker around and chill out with a glass of wine.”

Being busy shows no sign of letting up. After he finishes filming “The Bourne Legacy,” Renner will move right into an as-yet-untitled film for director/writer James Gray in which he plays a magician. The movie, which also stars Joaquin Phoenix (who starred with Mark Wahlberg in Gray’s “We Own the Night”) and Marion Cotillard, is set around Ellis Island in the early 1900s.

Also possible, but not yet greenlighted, is a starring role as legendary Steve McQueen in a biopic on the actor that Gray also is writing.

Clearly, Renner’s career is blowing up — in a more positive way than some of the scenes in all those action films he’s been making. Such an explosion might be more than some actors could handle — particularly with the public glare that the Hollywood spotlight can emit, but Renner takes it in due stride.

“For me, it’s been such a low-angle trajectory, that it’s been all easy to swallow for the most part. There are things I like about it, that I don’t like about it,” he said. “You take the good with the bad in those situations … It’s all high-class problems, you know what I mean?”

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