December 30, 2009 -- Jeremy Renner: "Shooting Kind of Took My Soul" (

We introduced you to Jeremy Renner in The Verge a little over six months ago, when the rugged The Hurt Locker star with the deceptively boyish face (he'll be 39 on Thursday) was still relatively unknown. That was then; now, Renner's moment has arrived. As Staff Sergeant William James -- a courageous, crazy, compassionate military technician who thrives on defusing bombs for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit stationed in Iraq -- Renner has crafted a war film hero for our fraught times. It's a marvelous performance, both subtle and bombastic, and we therefore offer it up as another "For Your Reconsideration." Fresh off shooting Ben Affleck's second directorial effort and busily running the awards season gantlet, we checked back in with Renner to see how life has changed since the film's release.


What's your take on awards season?

It's pretty awesome. I feel great. A little run down and tired, but so fortunate. I realize every day how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. This whole awards thing is obviously new experiences, and I just take it day by day, meet a lot of cool new people, and we'll see what happens.


Have you put work on hold to focus on this now?

Yeah, it's pretty impossible to work right now. I just finished a movie three weeks ago, so the timing worked out pretty good.


That was The Town.

The Town, yeah.


How was working with Ben Affleck?

It was a lot of fun. We had a blast. It was like shooting a short film with one of your good buddies. He set a really good tone on the set, just really affable as a human being. He made it very pleasant for everyone.


Did anything about him surprise you or not conform with his public persona?

I always knew he was smart, because I'd see him on interviews and he was such a charming dude. And every day, I was surprised by just how smart he is. He's almost autistically smart, the guy is. It's ridiculous. And so experienced in the industry. He's obviously been through a lot, as an actor, as a writer, in good and bad ways. With that experience, he's very wise to a lot of things. And it's invaluable.


What's your part?

Ben and I play career bank robbers, and we're best friends. The movie is sort of a crime/romance/action movie, similar to something like Heat. He's trying to get out of the life of bank robbing, and I sort of refuse to let him go. It was a lot of fun.


It seems like The Hurt Locker has become more than just a movie -- it's become a sort of mental touchstone. Every time I hear about troop surges, or car bombings, it's the first place I go to in my head. I'm wondering, what's your year been like since it came out? Have you been approached by many soldiers?

That was another big surprise for me doing this -- when I do get approached by military, especially, because those are the guys that we wanted to portray in a good way. Those were obviously our toughest critics, and did they pick apart the film? Sure. But they get what the film means. I get approached by guys on the street, families of fallen troops. I support a group called TAPS, that supports families of fallen soldiers. And I realized how it's changed me so much just shooting it. I've realized now it's not just a moviegoer and a piece of cinema connecting, but a piece of cinema that affects people's lives. And that is not why I did the movie, let's just be honest. That wasn't my intention. But what a wonderful gift that has been given to all of us -- something that can connect civilian life and soldier life. I cannot take responsibility nor accountability for that, but it is happening, and it's a powerful, powerful thing.

It's kind of hard to take, to be honest with you, on the street. Because again, I can't be responsible for how they're affected. But I'm glad they're affected. It's so wonderful, yet so hard to take, when you got some guy who literally, almost creepily, comes up and stands next to me at the ATM. And he's a big dude, so he's kind of intimidating to me. He stands there, a stranger invading your personal space for about 30 seconds. That's a long 30 seconds with no one saying anything. And I could see the guy is having trouble talking -- his lip's quivering and he kind of starts crying. And he just wanted to thank me. He begins to tell me that he had just gotten back from Iraq, and he was EOD, and I stop him, and I say, "Look, my friend. Thank you, for your service. I didn't do anything." He just wanted to explain that if he ever saw me, he promised his wife that he'd come up and thank me; because it helped him a lot to explain to his wife, using the movie, maybe a fraction of what is going on over there, in a very visceral way. How does one really explain that? So it really helped him a lot, and he said it really helped his marriage, which was falling apart.



And I'm not accountable nor responsible. Dude, I didn't do anything but the movie. Like, don't thank me, I'm thanking him. But regardless, it's a really interesting exchange.


It is. The problem is that the news just does a terrible job of relaying this stuff. So it falls to a movie, and a good movie, to do it, and do it well.



Are you ever revisited by moments from the shoot? Do you get Post-Traumatic ... Shooting Disorder?

Not so much from shooting, but from being uprooted and exposed to the Middle East. And it was a terrible shoot, very difficult, and not easy for anybody on this movie, being a smaller budget, and really a big movie. And being exposed to the military and what's going on -- I was on it for a year before we started to shoot the film. So I spent a lot of time with guys on base, off-base, and what a wonderful gift it was for me to do that. But in that experience of prep and shooting, I became so aware of how naive I was to Muslim culture, to the Middle East, to what's going on, to what EOD was. I don't think most people know what EOD is -- and that's our warfare. So I was so affected by all those things, being slapped in the face by reality.

Then I come back to Los Angeles after shooting, and shooting kind of took my soul in a lot of ways, and I come back and I hear girls talking about their chipped toenail polish. It was kind of hard to swallow. And I'm an actor, right? I was exposed to a lot of things that most civilians aren't, but I'm just an actor shooting a movie, and I was really adversely affected. So I can't even imagine what our men and women who really do it go through when they come back. It's gotta be really tough. And what I keep hearing is that cereal aisle scene at the end of the movie kind of speaks volumes without any words. And that was what the girls and the toenail polish bit was for me. That's my life now?


The last time we spoke with you, you were heading home for your 20th high school reunion. How did that pan out?

[Laughs] Yeah, it went really great. I was pretty nervous about going, you know? But I ended up having a really good time, hanging out with one of the two friends I've remained friends with after all these years. I was actually one of the last people to get out of there. It was really fun.


Had people seen the movie?

Yeah, I think there was a handful of people. The Hurt Locker didn't show in Modesto yet, where I'm from, but it definitely was open in the bigger cities. So there was somewhat of awareness. You know, when you come from a small town and you do a Kellogg's commercial, you're kind of a big deal. [Laughs] It's just so foreign to people in Modesto.


Your movie was one of my favorite films of 2009. What were some of yours?

I unfortunately didn't get to see a whole lot. I really enjoyed Moon. Sam Rockwell is a good buddy of mine and I thought he was really, really tremendous in that role, which was pretty challenging for him. The movie I thought was slightly cryptic, but for Duncan Jones, I think it was his first movie, it was really an amazing job. Where the Wild Things Are I really liked. Slightly depressing, I was hoping it would be a little more uplifting, but I really enjoyed that. Spike Jonze is pretty amazing. I haven't seen any of the movies that are getting a lot of heat right now amongst the awards circuit, so that's definitely on my list of things to do. Precious -- I keep seeing Lee Daniels at every one of these events and awards ceremonies, and I haven't had a chance to see his movie yet!


Has he or anyone else on the circuit talked you to talk about your performance in The Hurt Locker?

I guess. Yeah, there's been a lot of ... uh ... talk about it. And it's great. You know, it's hard for me to take. When it comes to my peers, it's nice to have guys you've come up with like Ben Foster, and Rockwell, who support you when things are going terrible, and support you when things are going great. It's like comfort food -- it feels really nice. Then you get guys like Robert Duvall, who I've not met. We have mutual friends, and I keep hearing how he wants to meet, how he wants to talk about The Hurt Locker, how he says it was better than Apocalypse Now. And I'm like, what? This guy's crazy! Stuff like that just blows me away.


One last thing. There was a rumor floating around that you'd play Hawkeye in Thor. Did that ever pan out?

That was just one of those things that got blown way out of proportion. It was an idea. Those Marvel guys, I'm a big fan of them. They're so smart about how they want to do these things -- they have Captain America, and Thor coming around, Iron Man 2, and then I happen to know Zak Penn, who's writing The Avengers. So they thought Hawkeye is an interesting role, and asked me if I knew anything about him. I said no, so they gave me their sort of spiel on what he was, and I thought that it was kind of interesting. The only reason it came out this early, because Avengers is two years away, is that they're thinking OK, we may throw him in Thor, we may not, as a cameo. You know what I mean? So there's truth that we talked about it, but there's no truth to me doing it.