June 26, 2009 -- Interview: Jeremy Renner (incontention.com)

Jeremy Renner doesn’t have one of those handy “I always wanted to be an actor” stories.  His journey to the screen was, much like the man, a rather unpretentious, play-it-by-instinct series of events that began to unfold in college.

“I was fumbling around with different majors like most people do,” the actor says, calling from somewhere on the road to Los Angeles in Northern California.  “I was a criminology major and I was interested in science.  I took an elective, which was an acting class, and that was a pretty wonderful place for me to express 19 years of repression, and I fell in love with it.  I fell in love with the stage.”

Even though Renner is making his screen impact felt in films like “28 Weeks Later,” “The Assassinantion of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” opening in limited U.S. release today, he says he still holds a special place for theater.  “There’s something that you can’t get anywhere else,” he says, “that living, breathing sort of synergy that kind of happens on stage and with your audience, it’s a wonderful cohesive feeling.”

Nothing he had performed could serve as any sort of preparation for his role as an Army bomb squad officer, a cog in the wheel of the military’s Explosive Ordinance Detail (EOD).  Mark Boal’s thoroughly researched screenplay first crossed Renner’s path when he was in London filming Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “28 Weeks Later.”  Producer Greg Shapiro approached him with the material and the character leapt off the page at the actor.

“It wasn’t one of those things that I needed to decide to do it or not,” Renner says.  “There was no choice in the matter to me.  I’ve never been so affected or so interested in a project.  I just thought that EOD was a whole world that had never been explored in cinema.  On paper, he was one of the best-written characters I’d seen in a long time.  I had so many questions and answers, at the same time, to what made this guy tick and I was just so curious I couldn’t wait to figure it out.”

To prepare for the role, Renner underwent a training regimen at Fort Irwin, just east of Los Angeles in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.  He dived headlong into the “arduous and seemingly impossible” process of training in the detail’s bomb disposal suits, featured prominently in the film and attempted a better understanding of his character by chatting with various soldiers on the base.  But even with a background in psychology, he couldn’t properly absorb the mindset in those professionally formal surroundings.

“Watching these people and understanding them, it’s hard to break into who they are as human beings,” he says.  “There were all doing a job.  They were there to work and were very professional.  So I learned a lot about acronyms, but I didn’t get any insight into who they were and what makes them tick.  It wasn’t until I got them off base and they stayed at my house and we hung out, had a few beers, and it became a much more relaxed environment.  It’s really interesting.  It’s one of the reasons I like my job.  You really get to step into someone else’s life for a minute.”

The film is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, one of the precious few successful female directors in Hollywood.  She nevertheless manages to mix thematic machismo and independent financing in her work.  “The Hurt Locker” follows a string of hits and misses, from an impressive debut in 1982′s “The Loveless” to an electrifying break-out four years later in the vampire chronicle “Near Dark,” the calm waves and tense shoot-outs of “Point Break” to the war-time submarine setting of “K-19: The Widowmaker.”

Renner says he got along with Bigelow straight away.  “We communicated well,” he says.  “I had very strong ideas about what I wanted to do and she was on the same page.  And Kathryn is a very light-handed director, which I like as an actor, so I felt very blessed.”

Having worked with a number of great female directors — “some of my best experiences,” he says — the notion of a female director handling such male-oriented story never really came under his scrutiny.  In fact, Renner says, Bigelow’s attraction and adeptness at conveying testosterone-laden narratives might be more of an extension of who she is as an artist, rather than merely indicative of her preference in subject matter.

“I think it’s just her attention to detail,” he says.  “She has a very strong interest in detail.    She’s sort of a voyeur.”

Summit Entertainment is unleashing “The Hurt Locker” on rather cold marketplace when it comes to Iraq war cinema.  Dud after dud has entered and exited the marketplace stretching all the way back to Irwin Winkler’s “Home of the Brave” in 2006.  Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs,” Kimberly Pierce’s “Stop-Loss,” Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah,” all failures at the box office.

None of that concerns Renner, however.  But he nevertheless feels more positive about “The Hurt Locker”‘s chances of finding an audience because he views the film as a character study first and foremost.

“That’s not, for me, a reason why I do a picture,” he says regarding the box office drought of Iraq war films.  “Do I think this film is an Iraq war film?  No, not really.  I think that’s why it has the opportunity to have a lot more eyes on it because it’s just an interesting job and interesting people doing it.  It just happens to be set in Iraq, but it could be any war.  It’s a character-driven piece that could be about three firefighters, as far as I’m concerned.  I think it’s just a really fascinating study on the human condition and how we look at life and death and dangerous situations.

“What separates this from any other film, and any Iraq war film especially, is that it’s such a boots-on-the-ground view, as an audience member.  To me, it’s not just you go into the movie and sit down and watch the story.  You feel like you’ve experienced it.”

Source: incontention.com